Last month, Tarrant County committed $2 million toward the construction of a new African American museum in Fort Worth, but the timeline for the project to break ground is unclear as questions remain about where the museum will be built.

The location of the Fort Worth African American Museum and Cultural Center has been a matter of debate among some community members and leaders. That decision has made the timeline of the museum’s groundbreaking and construction uncertain.

The museum and cultural center has been in the planning stages since as early as 2020, when a steering committee was created after town halls showed there was strong public interest in the project.

The museum is distinct from the National Juneteenth Museum that’s scheduled to open in the summer of 2024 and the Fred Rouse Center for Arts and Community Healing, which also focus on elements of African American history and culture in Fort Worth.

Since 2020, the African American museum’s steering committee has held a workshop with museum and cultural experts, interviewed community stakeholders, and determined potential sites for the museum.

Possible museum sites selected

In April, the Urban Land Institute Dallas-Fort Worth presented the committee with a site selection study of six properties, five that were asked for by the committee and one that the Urban Land Institute initiated on its own. Four of the potential locations were in the Historic Southside neighborhood, and two were in the Cultural District.

The institute ranked its top three choices: repurposing the Community Arts Center in the Cultural District, building a new space between the Community Arts Center and the Museum of Science and History, and building a new space on top of the Southside Community Center in the Historic Southside neighborhood. The third choice was the additional site initiated by the Urban Land Institute.

The committee was set to carry out a feasibility study on the Community Arts Center repurposing plan — the Urban Land Institute’s top choice — but residents questioned that decision during a May town hall at the Como Community Center.

Some residents and community leaders voiced support for having the museum in the Historic Southside, a historically Black neighborhood, saying it could encourage growth and visitors into that part of town.

The Historic Southside neighborhood is also set to house the National Juneteenth Museum.

In June, the Fort Worth city council gave the steering committee $40,000 in research funding, with the requirement that it must evaluate multiple potential sites for the museum. A few council members were concerned with moving forward with the Community Arts Center location.

District 9 Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck said she was concerned with putting so much weight on the Urban Land Institute’s decision on the site, as there is some richness of the other sites that may have been missed.

Beck said repurposing the Community Arts Center may not be the best approach to such a significant museum for African American culture.

“I would hate to see us shoehorn such an important project into a building that wasn’t designed with that very intentional thought around it,” she said.

Councilman Chris Nettles, who represents the Historic Southside as a part of District 8, said he wants the museum to be given every opportunity to be the best it can be.

“I want to make sure that we as people, we as the Black culture, don’t just get leftovers and hand-me-downs when we deserve the very best as any museum that’s out there,” he said.

Councilman Leonard Firestone, who represents the Cultural District as a part of District 7, said he was concerned about potentially disrupting the local arts nonprofits that are currently located at the Community Arts Center, such as KWC Performing Arts and Arts Fort Worth.

Steering committee chair John Barnett, a local pediatric dentist and art collector, said those organizations wouldn’t be moved and would share the 96,000-square-foot building with the museum.

Barnett said the Urban Land Institute’s study and the committee’s plan to do a single feasibility study were steps intended to save money, but the committee will employ a firm to do three different feasibility studies at the city council’s request.

“I’d rather take the time on this side of it than not have dotted every I and crossed every T,” he said.

New fundraising timeline

Barnett said feasibility studies will now be done on three locations: the Community Arts Center, a site in Downtown Fort Worth across the street from city hall and a site near the James E Guinn School in Historic Southside.

A location near the James E Guinn School on East Rosedale Street is being considered as a site for the Fort Worth African American Museum and Cultural Center, on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023.

A location near the James E Guinn School on East Rosedale Street is being considered as a site for the Fort Worth African American Museum and Cultural Center, on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023.

Barnett said the committee chose the three locations because they have distinct benefits and characteristics as potential sites for the museum.

He said the committee decided not to include the Southside Community Center location suggested by the Urban Land Institute because the center’s resources would be difficult to replace.

The committee must now raise about $300,000 to complete these studies, he said.

Aside from the $40,000 from the city council, the committee had already received $40,000 from Fort Worth Housing Solutions and $30,000 from North Texas Community Foundation. The $2 million from Tarrant County is to reimburse construction costs. A feasibility study is not an eligible expense under the contract.

Barnett said the committee has raised about a third of the total amount and hopes to complete its feasibility study fundraising by the end of March. After the funding is secured, a firm will conduct the feasibility studies, which could take about three or four months, Barnett said.

“We can present that to the city council and get them to give us a decision on a site that they would be willing to back,” he said.

This new fundraising timeline makes a groundbreaking and construction start date uncertain.

Once the committee shifts into fundraising for the construction of the museum, a more accurate timeline for a groundbreaking will be possible to map out, as well as an estimate on construction costs, he said.

Despite the additional funding and time required to study and select a site, Barnett said he is confident the process will be beneficial, and he has high expectations for the project.

He said he looks forward to the museum being a center for growth and empathy.

“We have as our purpose to have this institution to be something that unites and to help people to understand each other, and be a cohesive force,” he said. “And we don’t want to take any shortcuts.”


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