Today, Panther Island is an established neighborhood district in Fort Worth. The active, outdoor-lifestyle district currently boasts attractions like Coyote Drive-In, Panther Island Brewing, and year-round outdoor signature events which includes Rockin’ the River, Oktoberfest and Panther Island Ice. The Island is also just months away from opening the first large private development on the island which will bring over 400 residents to the area and the first section of Fort Worth’s Riverwalk. As you can see the transformation of this 800-acre area is now before your eyes. But looking back, why name it Panther Island?
Between 2001 and 2003, the third phase of the Trinity River Corridor comprehensive plan was developed for the entire 88 miles of river and major tributaries in the greater Fort Worth area. This phase, known as the Trinity River Vision Plan, was underwritten by the Tarrant Regional Water District and Streams and Valleys, Inc., in association with the City of Fort Worth, and Tarrant County. The planning process involved extensive collaboration with numerous stakeholders throughout the city culminating in over 200 public meetings. In October 2003, the Trinity River Vision Plan was adopted by the City of Fort Worth and is now included in the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The plan divided the city into eight segments. Seven segments followed the meandering paths of the forks of the Trinity throughout Fort Worth. The eighth segment was the near downtown area through which each section connected to. The near downtown segment of the Trinity River Vision Plan was familiarly known as Trinity Uptown at that time. The name was derived by the influence of an inspiring development that was breaking ground at that time that overlooked the island, Trinity Bluffs. And, within that development, the highest density portion was referred to as Uptown. Through no formal process, the new near downtown section started being casually referred to as Trinity Uptown.
At the same time that local partners were working on their next phase of their river plan, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was studying options to address flooding threats that were created by explosive growth in Fort Worth. In the same geographic area where the Trinity Uptown segment was to occur, the Corps recommended a flood management solution that involved rerouting a section of the Trinity in Fort Worth. The crux of the Corps plan is to build a bypass channel in a location that reroute major flood events away from slamming against the bluffs below downtown which backs of water and creates flood risks along the upper West Fork and Clear Fork in Fort Worth. The bypass channel is located along the western edge of the downtown segment. It would carry flood waters around then 800 acre area immediately north of downtown which creates a natural geographic boundary for the downtown segment and what appears to be natural island upon completion.
The final version of the TRV Plan incorporated the Corps’ flood solution into the Trinity Uptown segment. The original Trinity Uptown Plan adopted by the City of Fort Worth proposes an urban lake, with a publicly accessible waterfront and a mix of urban land uses. These exciting components will bring attention back to the central city and encourage citizens to live, work, play and learn in this urban setting. The area has the potential to attract over 10,000 households and an additional 3,000,000 sq ft. of commercial, educational, office, and civic spaces. In today’s dollars. The area is expected to attract over 29,600 jobs upon full build-out and generate over over $3.7 billion dollars per year in economic activity. Parks, transportation improvements, environmental restoration, water quality management and other civic amenities are also included in the plan.
The development of this once blighted area is, and has always been, for the public. Therefore, project stakeholders have always listened to the public to make sure they are getting a project that Fort Worth feels they were a part of creating. As the Trinity Uptown area moved from vision to a reality, two questions kept popping up from the public. First, if Dallas already has an established neighborhood named ‘Uptown’ how do we distinguish this very unique Fort Worth district by name so people know this is Fort Worth and not any other Uptown, USA? The second, how would one know, by name, that Fort Worth has a unique accessible waterfront community with a name like Trinity Uptown? Especially, when people not familiar with the Trinity River often make a religious association with the term Trinity and the name Uptown says nothing about being on or near water.
Both very valid questions. Because this project has always been for Fort Worth, project stakeholders let the citizens of Fort Worth decide the naming of the area. Years prior to the formal name change of the area, community activist, Fort Worth architecture enthusiast and avid blogger, Kevin Buchanan had been writing about the impacts of this area to Fort Worth on his popular blog, FORTWORTHOLOGY. Recognizing that the bypass channel created an island in the heart of Fort Worth and appreciating the community’s embrace of the unique historical connection with the Panther, Buchanon would refer to what was then Trinity Uptown as Panther Island. The name resonated with Fort Worthians, it captured some of Fort Worth’s rich history while making no mistake that this new district is on the water!
In 2014, project stakeholders let the public decide. In a Star-Telegram poll, 63 percent of the readers said they favored the name Panther Island over Trinity Uptown. After that, the formal name change was adopted by the stakeholders and the area became formally named Panther Island as we know it today. But wait, where did Fort Worth’s identity connection to the Panther come from?
Well as the story goes…In 1875, the Dallas Daily Herald published a column about an alleged scandal in “our suburban village of Fort Worth,” written by a lawyer named Robert Cowart. Cowart claimed Fort Worth was so sleepy that nobody noticed a panther napping in the middle of downtown. Rather than take the insult from the Dallas paper, Fort Worth’s citizens adopted the panther as a new icon. The city named its first fire engine “panther” and new saloons, meat markets and dry goods stores opened with the panther name. Fort Worth newspaper publisher B. B. Paddock even bought two panther cubs, placed them in a circus wagon and paraded them through downtown Dallas to show off the mighty mascots. In 1912, the Fort Worth Police Department added a panther to its badge. Fort Worth High School — later renamed Paschal High School — adopted the Panthers as a mascot. When minor league baseball came to town, the team was dubbed the Cats. Large bronzes of a sleeping panther were also commissioned and placed in front of the Tarrant County Administration Building and in City Hall Plaza Park outside Fort Worth City Hall.
Fort Worth became, and is still known as, Panther City.
And, Trinity Uptown became, and is still known as, Panther Island.