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Austin Green-Lights $750 Million Redevelopment in CBD

The City of Austin has selected developers to bring approximately 2.6 million sq. ft. of mixed-use space to a swath of city-owned land in the central business district. Trammell Crow Co., loft developer Constructive Ventures Inc. and USAA Real Estate Co. have proposed approximately $750 million in improvements to the five-block area on the northern shore of Lady Bird Lake.

City Council members unanimously selected the Trammell Crow-led team on June 18 after reviewing several proposals to redevelop the Green Water Treatment Plant and adjoining Austin Energy Control Center. Both city-owned sites are slated for decommissioning to make better use of their collective six acres at the heart of Texas’ capital city.

“This will be the largest development project in the history of downtown Austin, and it is the first development project of this generation that will have housing in all price ranges,” says Mayor Pro Tem Brewster McCracken. The selected team’s plan calls for 1,177 residential units, including 235 independent-living residences for senior citizens. Rent at 25% of the apartments will be affordable to residents who make only 80% of Austin’s median family income.

The proposed plan, designed by Mith?n Architects and Planners of Seattle, includes nearly 1.5 million sq. ft. of residential condominiums and apartments, along with 583,000 sq. ft. of offices and 170,000 sq. ft. of retail. The commercial space will be arranged around five public squares, along with 350,000 sq. ft. of lodging including a boutique hotel. The developers plan to meet standards for LEED gold certification on the entire project, including buildings outfitted with solar thermal collectors, double-skin membranes, solar screens and vegetated roofs.

At the City’s request, parking will be sufficient to handle needs generated by the new development as well as some spillover from a new public library planned for construction on an adjacent tract. The Trammell Crow-led team’s plan calls for a total of 5,000 spaces that includes an 1,800-space garage. “The hope is that by having one large common facility, the parking will be better utilized,” says Lance Sallis, managing director of Trammell Crow’s Austin office.

The developers and city leaders are working out a formal agreement to reflect the recent City Council vote. When that is signed, the parties will likely spend several months working out a master development agreement that will nail down details, such as whether the developer or the city will own and/or operate the parking facility and other assets upon completion. In the meantime, the city must decommission the Green Water Treatment Plant, built in 1925 as its first water treatment facility. Construction on the redevelopment is expected to begin in 2010.

Sallis credits city staff with establishing a clear directive for the project in its request for proposals, which took more than a year to create. “This proposal is our vision for the Green redevelopment, but that vision was crafted by a very specific request for proposals from the city that outlined all the details the city wanted.”

The City of Austin has initiated a series of projects to turn the central business district into a vibrant, livable environment, McCracken says. Those efforts have included establishment of the Second Street Retail District and the planned $117.2 million redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant, set to begin construction in 2009 by a team headed by Austin-based Southwest Strategies Group Inc. The Green Water Treatment plant is directly between those two redevelopments.

“When the City of Austin embarked on a New Urbanist vision for downtown a decade ago, it was controversial,” McCracken says. “Now it has become a widely embraced vision for how the community should grow.”

When the Green Water Treatment Plant and Energy Control Center are redeveloped, the dense mix of uses in the southwest corner of downtown Austin will enable residents and local employees to complete nearly all of their daily errands on foot, McCracken says. “You’ll be able to go downstairs in this development and go for a run around Lady Bird Lake, go eat at a café on Second Street or go downstairs to the grocery store.”

Perry Lorenz, founder of Constructive Ventures Inc., believes the project presents an important opportunity to transform downtown Austin. “Our goal is to make a place where Austin’s core values are embraced and promoted,” he says. “We want the entire community to benefit from what happens here.”

Lorenz says the development partnership plans to make a $500,000 donation for improvements to the nearby Shoal Creek. It will also donate land for the completion of the Shoal Creek Hike and Bike trail, construct a pedestrian bridge connecting the planned new Central Library and the Green Water Treatment Plant site, donate up to $1 million to Austin’s Art in Public Places program and set up a music endowment. The partnership also plans to donate approximately $2.5 million to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

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