Urban Land Institute

Sundance Square Plaza

Fort Worth, Texas

Sundance Square Plaza is a redeveloped two-acre parking area in downtown Fort Worth where innovative, artistic heat mitigation has directly contributed to the space’s tremendous success. The plaza was previously two parking lots (about 195 parking spaces total) separated by Main Street. Opened in November 2013 as part of a long-term, 35-block redevelopment to revitalize Fort Worth, the plaza has become a gathering place, economic driver, and symbol of downtown vibrancy.


The design of the plaza was driven primarily by programming; even when it was parking, events were held there year-round. A key concern was the comfort and experience of the occupants. According to landscape architect Michael Vergason, “Summer heat was part of the discussion from the first conversations.”

We thought of it in terms of ‘how do we make this a comfortable space for people to gather in before, during, and after their experience downtown?’ –Johnny Campbell, CEO, Sundance Square

The goal was to develop an effective, comfortable space that would allow expanded programming but would also be architecturally beautiful.

Extreme Heat Resilience Strategies
The plaza’s most noticeable heat-mitigation feature is its four 86-foot mechanically operable shade umbrellas. Imported from Germany, the umbrellas provide almost 5,800 square feet of shaded space, are illuminated at night by multicolored LED lamps, and can easily be closed on cooler days when the warmth of the sun is welcome. Cedar elm trees provide additional shade along the sidewalks.

There are also two water features in the plaza—a large fountain and a water wall—that provide tangible and psychological cooling. Terraces around the park not only are comfortable places to sit but also effectively provide eddies for draining and funneling water toward the vegetation. Red-brick pavers match the nearby roadways and have a higher solar reflective index than the previous black asphalt.

I have never seen a shopping center make such a jump in sales at that age and at that level of maturity. It’s been four years of double-digit growth. –Johnny Campbell, CEO, Sundance Square

According to Sundance Square CEO, Johnny Campbell, the plaza was an excellent investment “in terms of driving vibrancy, creating foot traffic and making sales happen.” The number of people attending events increased on average by more than 10 times, and retail sales in the vicinity jumped over 20 percent after the plaza opened. The per square foot sales price of downtown residential units also jumped 5 percent in the six months after the plaza’s opening.

The plaza has also demonstrably changed people’s opinions of and experiences in downtown Fort Worth; it’s not uncommon to hear “I’ll meet you under the umbrellas.” “The city is now seen to have a center,” explains Vergason; “it has become a destination.”