Downtown Fort Worth and its central entertainment area, Sundance Square, has long been a popular gathering spot. Now, thanks to a extensive plaza project that's 30 years in the making, Sundance Square is about to become even more attractive.
The simply-named Sundance Square Plaza is scheduled to open November 1, 2013. A series of parking lots have been transformed into a nearly one-acre open area featuring fountains, an indoor/outdoor pavilion, a multi-purpose permanent stage and, strikingly, four giant umbrellas.
Although the plaza project has only officially been underway since summer 2012, it's actually been part of the plan for Sundance Square since its early days.
"Sundance Square has been in varying stage of development for over 30 years now," Sundance Square president and CEO Johnny Campbell says. "The master plan had a 'central plaza' on it that would be sort of the center of the development and the centerpiece of the city."
Each umbrella measures 40 feet by 40 feet and consists of a telescopic mast, folding steel frame and a Teflon fabric capable of handling high wind speeds.
Recent developments, including Sundance Square hosting ESPN's coverage of Super Bowl XLV, helped the project to finally get underway.
"I think the Super Bowl reminded us that Fort Worth can be and is a regional and national attraction," Campbell says. "And we were also reminded of just what a great backdrop downtown Fort Worth can be for these kinds of functions. Those two parking lots were probably two of the most programmed parcels of land in North Texas, but now, instead of programming them on two ugly asphalt parking lots, we’ll have a great plaza."
The construction of the plaza and the surrounding area has dramatically changed the look of Sundance Square. In addition to the plaza, the central part of the square will boast two new buildings, the Commerce and the Westbrook, that also open November 1. Main Street between third and fourth streets will be closed to normal vehicular traffic, effectively making it part of the plaza.
The part that everyone will be talking about, though, are the four giant umbrellas that have just been installed. Each umbrella — the only ones of their kind in the United States — measures 40 feet by 40 feet and consists of a telescopic mast, folding steel frame and a Teflon fabric capable of handling high wind speeds in open and closed positions.
The umbrellas will react automatically to changing weather conditions, and will provide their own sort of entertainment in addition to protection from the sun and the rain. Each umbrella comes equipped with multi-colored LED lights that will be lit up at night.
Campbell thinks that the umbrellas will become a draw in their own right.
"We were looking for something that would be dramatic and that would be an attraction, but was also very convertible and very flexible," Campbell says. "If there is no weather reason for what the umbrellas are doing, they might just open or close from time to time as part of a show."
Flexibility is key to the entire plaza. The stage on the west end can host concerts, movies and other events, and a pavilion on the east side has indoor and outdoor seating, public restrooms and spaces for small events. Meanwhile, the south side features a double allée of trees, and three different fountains offer everything from water shows to a children's play area. There's also a 65-foot pool replete with a wave wall.
"This is going to be a great space where you can just be downtown without necessarily having to be in a store or in a restaurant buying something," Campbell says. "When you think of the umbrellas and the tree allées and the dancing fountains and the stage and the pavilion building — it’s full of features that should provide a great place that’s interesting for everyone."
Officials have a full weekend of activities planned to help open the plaza on November 1-3. In the following days, weeks and months, expect every major Fort Worth event, from the Lone Star Film Festival to the Stock Show to the Main St. Arts Festival to ESPN's coverage of the NCAA Final Four, to utilize the new plaza.