View from the mezzanine at the Amon Carter Museum looking out toward downtown Fort Worth. Museum officials are looking into saving view sheds such as this from the Cultural District. Richard W. Rodriguez Star-Telegram archives
View from the mezzanine at the Amon Carter Museum looking out toward downtown Fort Worth. Museum officials are looking into saving view sheds such as this from the Cultural District. Richard W. Rodriguez Star-Telegram archives

Fort Worth

Fort Worth leaders want to keep ‘canyon of hotels’ out of Cultural District

August 05, 2017 12:43 PM

UPDATED August 05, 2017 07:30 PM

FORT WORTH

It’s not just what’s inside the city’s world-renowned museums that demands an unobstructed view.

What the eye sees around the museums matters, too, especially when it comes to nearby buildings.

Feeling the pressure of development encroaching around them, including the burgeoning West 7th corridor just to the east, the museums have begun the process of establishing protected view corridors in the Cultural District.

The move results from circumstances that arose from the planned development of a hotel — called Hotel Renovo — across Camp Bowie Boulevard from the Kimbell Art Museum. While it might be a little too late for the Kimbell — which would prefer a much smaller building on that lot to protect the aesthetics of an interior sculpture garden — the push to protect views is not only from the museums, but to them as well.

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Michael Bennett, chief executive of Fort Worth’s Bennett Benner Partners architecture and planning firm, told the City Council that he’s working with the museums on a proposed design overlay district, which could regulate such things as height, setbacks, landscaping and architectural guidelines within a certain boundary.

In this case, the overlay would likely deal with setbacks of buildings that could distract from the architecture of the museums themselves and the well-thought out layout of the Cultural District, Bennett said. It will mostly be in place so that developers and property owners can begin a dialogue of what’s being built early on, or as Bennett said, “to get ahead of these kinds of issues.”

“I don’t think there will be a lot of things,” Bennett said of a possible overlay district. “One might be setbacks,” or the positioning of a building further off the street so it doesn’t distract from the architecture of the museums.

The Kimbell’s concerns are for its Maillol Courtyard, an interior space near the cafe in the Louis Kahn-designed museum. The courtyard features a nude sculpture by the French sculptor Aristide Maillol. Courtyard patrons, the museum says, would sense the hotel “looming” over them and impacting the serene space.

The Kimbell got in the fray of the Hotel Renovo project earlier this year, but the project was long down the road on the developer’s time line.

Hotel ‘will address the concerns’

The Kimbell did receive some help from the City Council this past Tuesday when council members approved zoning ordinance changes that had been in the works for two years and were driven by citizen committees.

But before those changes were approved, Mayor Pro Tem Dennis Shingleton, whose District 7 includes the Cultural District, added an amendment that limits hotels to five stories, or 60 feet in height, which ever is less, on property that is zoned for mixed use. The amendment covers zoned property citywide.

The amendment would solve the Kimbell’s issue of the planned 10-story Hotel Renovo interfering with the courtyard’s ambiance. But, if the developer adds residential units in the hotel, the building can go to 10 stories. Further, if a multifamily building is built in place of the hotel, it too can go to 10 stories.

Museum, city and Moline, Ill.-based Heart of America officials, the hotel’s developer, have met privately during the past several months to address concerns.

What we don’t want in the Cultural District is a canyon of hotels ... side by side, and they could be.

Dennis Shingleton, District 7 councilman

Kirk Whalen, Heart of America’s vice president, said they have again redesigned the hotel and hope to show it to museum officials soon. He said they are anxious to get the project under construction with a goal to have it completed in time for the 2019 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, which is held at the Will Rogers Memorial Complex, across the street from the Kimbell to the south.

Rendering of Hotel Renovo lobby planned for Fort Worth.
Courtesy Heart of America Group

Whalen declined to disclose what those plans are and how many rooms the hotel will have. He said he’s confident the redesign “will address the concerns.” At one time, the hotel was planned with 212 rooms.

“Our plan is to move as fast as possible with the Hotel Renovo,” Whalen said. “We’re going to address that one last concern.”

The City Council has approved incentives worth up to $7.2 million for the Hotel Renovo.

We don’t want to be reactive to development, but proactive to development. The architecture needs to be considered very seriously when making decisions about development.

Andrew Walker, Amon Carter Museum of American Art director

Shingleton said he’s confident the issue can be resolved with the hotel and protections put in place for future developments.

“What we don’t want in the Cultural District is a canyon of hotels ... side by side, and they could be,” Shingleton said. “We can work through this. I’m trying to get it done with protections of things that have been there for decades.”

‘Proactive to development’

Bennett said the museums are not wanting to be adversarial and certainly understand private property owner rights. They just want something in place to be able to start conversations with them so that they can understand the significance of the museum’s architecture and design compatibility. That might include having a design review board, much like the board that reviews downtown projects before they can be built, he said.

“They understand they can’t take away developer rights,” Bennett said. But, he added, “there is no review today.”

It could take more than nine months to get a design overlay district through city approvals.

A Kimbell spokeswoman said its director, Eric Lee, was out of town and not available for comment.

View of the Kimbell Art Museum from the Piano Pavilion.
Joyce Marshall Star-Telegram archives

But, Andrew Walker, executive director of the Amon Carter, said, “We don’t want to be reactive to development, but proactive to development. The architecture needs to be considered very seriously when making decisions about development. This is very much about the architecture context set by the museums.”

Marla Price, director of the Modern Art Museum said, “The architecture of Fort Worth’s Cultural District is the envy of many cities and should be maintained and developed using the highest standards. We hope that a cohesive district will continue to be the catalyst for growth in urban Fort Worth.”

Bennett said the design overlay district for the museum district likely would stretch from Interstate 30 on the south to Camp Bowie Boulevard on the north, and from University Drive on the east to Montgomery Street on the west. In addition to the art museums, the area includes the Will Rogers Complex, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens and the adjacent Botanical Research Institute of Texas campus.

Other design overlay districts

The city has several design overlay districts, with the last one being created for the Historic Stockyards on the north side to address development concerns.

Currently, the only formal view corridor recognized by the city is in a design overlay district approved a decade ago for Trinity Uptown, now called Panther Island. It covers the area just north of downtown along and around the Trinity River that will be created from the $950 million Trinity River Vision economic and flood control project. Development is now starting there.

In that, buildings are subject to height requirements so views of downtown, and in particular the historic Tarrant County Courthouse, are not blocked by tall buildings.

Issues concerning views arose 11 years ago when Hughes Development, developers of So7 on West Seventh Street next to Trinity Park, wanted to build a 16-story, 200-foot condominium tower next to the park. Hughes dropped the project when pressure mounted from the Amon Carter and Kimbell museums over concerns the building would block views from the museums of the park and the downtown skyline.