Just got back from the ground breaking ceremony for Downtown Austin’s Waller Creek Tunnel project. Not long ago Austin City Council officially adopted the Waller Creek District Master Plan (link). This groundbreaking is milestone in downtown Austin’s revitalization. The tunnel is expected to be completed in 2014, at which point 28 acres of downtown land [Read more…] about Waller Creek Groundbreaking Ceremony
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (512) 381-6270
Last week’s meeting of the Waller Creek Citizens Advisory Committee hosted an update on the Tax Increment Financing district that was established to fund the construction of the Waller Creek tunnel. Below is a summary of Q&A between WCCAC and Leslie Browder with the City Budget office
1. How much land is in the TIF (acres)?
TIF Reinvestment Zone No. 17 includes approximately 126 acres.
2. What are the geographic boundaries of the district?
The boundaries of the zone are within the area bounded on the west by Red River Street from 12th Street south to 3rd Street, then west along 3rd Street to Trinity Street, then south along Trinity Street to Lady Bird Lake; on the south by Lady Bird Lake from Trinity Street east to Cummings Street, then east along Cummings Street to East Avenue; on the east by East Avenue from Cummings Street north to the south bound access road of IH-35, then along said access road north to 11th Street, then west along 11th Street to Sabine Street, and north along Sabine Street to Red River Street; and on the north by 12th Street between Sabine Street and Red River Street.
We had a great turn out at last night’s Waller Creek District Town Hall. A packed house of ~150 people were in attendance to learn about McCann Adams Studio’s (formerly ROMA Austin) final draft of the Waller Creek District Master Plan (“the plan”). The plan consists of recommendations on infrastructure, pedestrian and bicycle use, and appropriate development standards. These recommendations will guide the design of surface level improvements for the nearly 25 acres of downtown land that runs adjacent to Waller Creek.
This was the third town hall for the WCD Master Plan, and the audience had the opportunity to solicit questions of the members of the Waller Creek Citizens Advisory Committee. The comments will be attached to the final draft as it begins to make the rounds through boards and commissions.
It’s unclear how the recommended improvements will be funded. One or two of the sub-projects could be included in the upcoming $100MM mobility bond package. Most likely we will see improvements paid for on an ad-hoc basis by private development, once the tunnel is complete.
In June, the WCD Master Plan is expected to reach city council for adoption and be incorporated into the much larger Downtown Austin Plan.
Upcoming Review Process
April 12th – Waterfront Planning & Parks Board: Land & Facilities Committee
April 21st – Downtown Commission & Planning Commission’s Neighborhood Planning Subcommittee
April 26th – Design Commission
April 27th – Parks Board
May 4th – City Council’s Comprehensive Planning & Transportation Cmte.
May 5th – Environmental Board
May 11th – Planning Commission
June 10th – City Council briefing
June 24th – City Council action
The City’s Consultant, ROMA Design Group, is putting the finishing touches on a draft master plan for the Waller Creek District. The Consultant will present the plan to the public at a Town Hall meeting hosted by the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee.
Waller Creek District Master Plan Town Hall
April 7, 2010 6:00-8:30 pm
Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) Auditorium
600 River Street, Austin TX 78702
Light refreshments will be served.
Public input gathered will be used to finalize the draft Master Plan before it is taken to boards and commissions, the Planning Commission and to Austin City Council for approval. The meeting is the final step in a series of public outreach efforts that the City has conducted over the last year. The plan has been posted online at: http://www.wallercreekplan.org
Back in November we reported on the City’s interest in an assemblage of lots at E 5th and Frontage Road. Earlier this week, the ABJ reported the City approved the use of eminent domain should it be needed. The land is required for staging the construction of the Waller Creek Tunnel. This morning, according to the Statesman, the City decided to actually use its power to force the purchase of these “four lots along East Fifth Street for $928,416 for a flood-control tunnel project along Waller Creek.”
OK, not really troubled water, but I couldn’t resist a title so apropos for a city that likes to bitch and moan about growth, yet doesn’t make the hard decisions necessary to steer growth and prefers to react to it, (breath) imagine the hostility we’re going to see for this bridge. One look at the notoriously poorly moderated comment sections of the Statesman’s online posts (seriously, take a look to feel less good about humanity) is all you need to run far, far away from the headaches of local public policy making and sound urban planning.
Last week’s commentary by a Milago resident about the perils of walking in the Rainey Street district has spurred the City into action. “Those people” move into the district and now they want to change it with crazy things like sidewalks. Less than 48 hours after this video editorial aired, there were pneumatic traffic counters straddling the district’s streets recording passing cars, and adolescent kids (primarily DAB readers/writers) jumping on them.
City approves the use of eminent domain, should it be necessary, to get control over an important piece of land for the Waller Creek Tunnel Project. For decades this assemblage of lots that front I-35 has been a surface level parking lot. For the next 4-5 years it will be a staging area for creek diggin’.
Just received this note from Carolyn Perez with the City of Austin, “In 2008 APD, together with the Watershed Protection and Parks Departments, launched an initiative to clean up the creek and enforce ordinances, including those related to vagrancy.”
Operation Reclaim Waller Creek helps clear urban waterway
The City of Austin will launch next week the next phase of Operation Reclaim Waller Creek, an initiative to improve the safety and environmental conditions along this urban waterway.
Austin Police officers, along with crews from Watershed Protection and Parks and Recreation will be focused on cleaning up the ¼-mile stretch of the creek from Cesar Chavez Street to Lady Bird Lake. Previous efforts have cleared areas upstream.
Work will include:
- Cutting overgrowth in and along the creek.
- Removing graffiti.
- Picking up trash and debris.
- Concentrated enforcement of City ordinances.
“This operation will help improve the quality of life for those who work, live and visit the downtown area,” said APD Officer Jason Huskins, Downtown Area District Representative. “We have had issues with illicit activity along this portion of the creek. This cleanup will allow us to have better access to the area and better means to protect our community and the environment.”
Downtown Austin Community Court will assign persons needing to fulfill community service requirements to help with the cleanup.
This month-long operation will help prepare for the Waller Creek Tunnel Project, which will alleviate flooding and reduce the amount of debris in the creek. Construction on the project is due to begin later this year in the area targeted by this phase of Operation Reclaim Waller Creek.
*** UPDATE: Sabine auction results ***
A selection of the remaining units in downtown Austin’s Sabine On 5th building will be auctioned on February 28th. A lawsuit filed by residents against CWS, the developer of the Sabine On 5th, and the building’s condominium association (which was under CWS’s control) has been withdrawn as the parties have reached a settlement agreement. The lawsuit was filed last year as residents grew tired of lack of action by CWS regarding “persistent and major problems” relating to elevator repairs, amongst other problems.
The HOA has been turned over to the owners, which is unusual in buildings where less than 50% of the units are sold. The specific terms of the settlement agreement have not been released. Scott Dixon Smith, president of the Sabine On 5th HOA, indicated that “there will be major renovations to the building to alleviate the concerns of the lawsuit.”
Greg Miller, vice president of investments at CWS, has confirmed that steps are being taken to prepare the Sabine for the auction. 27 of the remaining 44 units will be available for bidding.
During the litigation no units were available for sale, and CWS’s loan had twice been posted for foreclosure by Compass Bank. The first time in September, when Compass Bank granted CWS an extension to remedy issues. Then in December, it was reposted for January’s courthouse auction. CWS was able to restructure the debt and is expected to offer most of the remaining inventory for sale via an auction this February.
There were several condo auctions in 2009, and when the Sabine goes to auction, it will be the second major development in downtown Austin to do so. The first, Brazos Place, was auctioned last year by Kennedy Wilson. Brazos Place is frequently compared to the Sabine on 5th since both structures are located east of Congress Avenue and are adaptive re-use condo conversions
Originally built as an office building in 1981, and converted into condos in 2007, the Sabine is located along the west bank of Waller Creek, on Sabine St between 5th and 6th Streets. With the success of developer discounts at 360 Condos and the Shore Condos, the Sabine is the last “attainably” priced building with new inventory left.
At last night’s WCCAC meeting:
Downtown Austin’s Waller Creek District and tunnel project continues to get more interesting. At last night’s meeting of the Waller Creek Citizens Advisory Committee we covered a lot of ground.
1) 21c developer, Poe Companies, updated us on the status of the project. They’re actively pursuing stakeholder input, so I’m comfortable saying that this the only new residential project in downtown Austin that still has legs. The site plan calls for three structures: 1) apartments 2) hotel 3) future site tbd. The condos are out, for now, but could be built on the future site. The current focus is a 31 story, 350 unit apartment tower at the southwest corner of Red River and Cesar Chavez. The tower would provide 400,000 inhabitable square feet with target lease rates from $1.50-2.50 per foot. Steve Poe anticipated a unit mix of 70% 1bd/1ba. They are volunteering 10% of the units to meet affordable housing standards (80% MFI), although they are not required to provide any. There will also be ~10 artist studios facing the creek. It’s unknown how these units will be priced. When asked about quality of construction, we were guided to look at AMLI on 2nd as a comparison. This proposed downtown Austin apartment tower is fully entitled (needs no variances), and the only hurdle is locking in the funding, which they are seeking a substantial portion of through the HUD 211(s)(4) loan program for multi-family development.
The hotel concept would be located closer to the corner of Davis St and Red River. It would have have 200-250 keys spread across 12 stories and 225,000 inhabitable feet. In the near term, the hotel is less certain to be built than the apartment tower, as it is more challenging to find financing for a hotel – I find this ironic given that Austin has a shortage of hotels and [some would argue] a surplus of apartments. Such is the state of the financial markets.
After several years of tunnel planning work, this is the first project to come before the WCCAC. The development team seems to be very progressive and in tune with the Waller Creek District Master Plan. They understand the importance of public space and improving public connections from Red River into Waller Creek trails. The earliest the project could begin is mid-2010, and I’m optimistic they will obtain their funding.
One of the most important questions you’ll see asked of every project that comes before the WCCAC is the estimated contribution to the TIF. The $120MM bond that pays for the tunnel improvements is paid back through the incremental increase in ad-valorem taxes along the creek. 21c estimated that it would generate $1MM per year ($20MM over twenty years), to repayment of the bond.
2) A summary of the Waller Creek District Draft Development Standards were presented by city staff. This is a set of guidelines to reinforce the vision for Waller Creek as identified in the master plan. Sub-districts are defined which spell out appropriate design for each sub-district. These rules could be codified into law within the next 6-9 months. It’s good that we’re establishing these guidelines now. City council could potentially allow development to begin along the creek on a case-by-case basis by providing variances from building in the floodplain prior to completion of the tunnel. Depending on the timing of adopting these development standards, the 21c project may/may not be subject to them.
3) The WCCAC has been trying to find a way to assure world-class design standards along the creek while working within the legal constraints of the city’s procurement processes. Currently, the city will hire a firm capable of delivering a product. THEN they seek input to design the product. The city hires the firm before knowing what the final design looks like. This process precludes “design competitions”, but the WCCAC has a much better understanding of how and to deliver aesthetic design input. With enough lead time, a private sector “design competition” could occur such that the winner’s concept is delivered to the firm hired by the City, via the WCCAC.