The New Capitol Complex Vision – What Else Is So Important About This?

The New Capitol Complex Vision – What Else Is So Important About This?

As a clued-in DAB reader, hopefully you already know about the recent announcement of a very exciting vision and plan to potentially redevelop some 20 or so blocks of Downtown Austin land  surrounding the Capitol.  It’s land owned by the State, most of it terribly underutilized and poorly built out today.  The plan could transform the area into as much a 7 million square feet of new office and mixed use space.

Info on the plan has been well covered by both the Austin Chronicle and the Statesman.  And Chris Bradford does a nice job of discussing the economic impact aspects in his Austin Contrarian blog.  Obviously getting so many blocks onto the tax rolls would be a huge boost to the local economy while also bringing alive the virtual “dead zone” of downtown space between the Capitol and UT.

But the one further exciting possibility to work into this equation that I have not seen explored yet: the opportunity for new housing.  AFFORDABLE HOUSING, to be specific.

This has started to be investigated somewhat as part of the planning work being done around the Waller Creek Tunnel & Redevelopment project.  Now, this Capitol redevelopment plan raises the possibility of really connecting these pieces into a solution of great possibilities.

The target properties are all those hideous parking garages that line San Jacinto and Trinity streets.

And the target population to serve should be:  State office workers, of course.  But also downtown service and support industry workers like bar and restaurant staff, hotel housekeepers, retail clerks, musicians and artists.  And also UT and ACC students, too (that would help take some pressure off of over-development of multi-unit housing along the East Riverside corridor where the EROC Neighborhood Association is fighting for survival of what SFR neighborhoods they have left).

Jude is better qualified than I to comment about the supply versus demand of half-million-dollar-plus condos within the CBD,  But I am a business owner who works in and close to the aforementioned “service and support” infrastructure that provides downtown with its excitement, vibrancy and great economic vitality in this area.

In that capacity I can say that we have a massive missed opportunity right now to build out a whole neighborhood of mid-rise,  mixed-use buildings that has as its core focus affordable housing.  I’m talking smaller studio, 1BR and 2BR rental units that can lease for $500-$1,000 per month.

That would give us places to house our critical service industry workers, students and state office support staff within walking distance of the places where they work, study and play the rest of their dayparts.  Right now, these folks are having to live in far north or south Austin, thus adding to the traffic congestion on local roads or having to add hour-long bus rides in two directions to their already long and hard days.  (Not that Cap Metro runs any bus service after midnight when loads of these folks get off of work or leave our multiple downtown entertainment districts.)

If you would like to see and hear more about the Capitol Redevelopment vision/plan, the Downtown Austin Alliance is hosting a forum next week — June 3rd, 7:30am — where you can have a close up look and hear directly from the folks involved with the project.  It’s early in the morning but you can do it!  🙂  Free and open to the public but an RSVP is requested to make sure there are enough breakfast tacos and OJ on hand to reward your attendance.  Details can be found here.

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WHAT: Downtown Austin Alliance, Issues & Eggs Breakfast Forum
TOPIC: Capitol Complex Redevelopment Plan
WHEN: Thursday, June 3, 2010; 7:30am breakfast, 8:00am presentation
WHERE: St. David’s Episcopal Church, Sumner Hall, San Jacinto betw. 7th & 8th
RSVP by June 1 to:  rsvp@downtownaustin.com  or call (512) 381-6270

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avatar About Fred Schmidt

Fred Schmidt is co-owner, with wife and business partner, Shelley Meyer, of longtime Downtown Austin retail stores Wild About Music Art & Gift Gallery (26 years) on Congress Ave, and Toy Joy (29 years) and Austin Rocks (5 years) in the 2nd Street District. Concurrently he is also Director of International Affairs at Capital Factory, Austin’s premier incubator/accelerator facility for startups, already located in the proposed new Innovation District in the northeast quadrant of Downtown. He has served as a past board member of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA), and 6ixth Street Austin. He thinks this is one of the best places in the world to live, work and play! Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the positions of any affiliated organizations.

Comments

  1. The State has a tremendous opportunity to provide affordable housing [for civic-employees] here if for no other reason that you don’t have to try and convince/manipulate/wrangle a private property owner to do it.

    Indeed, the infrastructure costs required to house civic-employees in the ex-urbs are unnecessary when we have surplus of SHOVEL READY surface level parking lots located in the Capitol Complex.

  2. JMVC – Thanks for the tip about Cap Metro’s 400-series Night Owl routes. I’ve always looked at and used the “regular” service routes like the No.1, etc. which all end around midnight. The Night Owls only run once per hour, but at least that’s something. Now if only Cap Metro would add another couple buses to the 100-Airport Flyer service to downtown after 11:20pm (including weekends!) we’d really be rolling. There are around 20 flights still arriving after 11pm at AIBA (I’m often on one of them) and there’s no way to get back home downtown on a bus. Costs $20 for a cab instead of just that dollar. Arggg.

  3. Good post, but Cap Metro DOES run service after midnight for downtown service employees. In fact, there are a whole series of special routes (night owl) for just that purpose. http://capmetro.org/riding/routes_400.asp

  4. can we get a planetarium in this space or any space?

  5. avatar Amber Gugino says:

    Fred, I totally agree!

  6. Oh, this is so exciting. As both a State worker and a downtown dweller I think this is a wonderful opportunity! I wish I could attend the forum, but since I can’t I definitely look forward to updates through your blog. Thanks for keeping me in the loop.

  7. While “government workers” might very well be more disposed to suburban living and commuting, I again point out the legions of important service industry personnel who are much more likely to be desirous urban dwellers: bar and restaurant staff, hotel housekeepers-catering-front desk, retail clerks, musicians and artists. And also UT and ACC students, too. Just add up the number of hotels, bars and restaurants downtown right now. That’s a lot of folks, many of them single, who would love to live close by.

  8. avatar Amber Gugino says:

    Personally, I’d support almost anything over the parking garages. However, if this sort of housing is built, I’d be curious to see how many people working for the nearby government entities actually take advantage of the nearby housing options.

  9. I’d love to see more affordable housing and it’s such a dead part of town too. Maybe we can run the Formula 1 race through there.

  10. The State has a tremendous opportunity to provide affordable housing [for civic-employees] here if for no other reason that you don’t have to try and convince/manipulate/wrangle a private property owner to do it.

    Indeed, the infrastructure costs required to house civic-employees in the ex-urbs are unnecessary when we have surplus of SHOVEL READY surface level parking lots located in the Capitol Complex.

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