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Manager discards all proposals for Block 21, Seaholm

Wednesday, August 25, 2004 by

New bids needed to insure a broad range of choices

City Manager Toby Futrell has thrown out proposals for both Block 21 and Seaholm, citing a need to have a broader range of applicants.

“We are taking the five proposals for Block 21 and the six for Seaholm and we are basically returning the proposals and re-initiating both requests," Futrell told In Fact Daily . "That will happen on Friday, which is when we can get advertising space.”

Futrell notified the Council by memo last night of her decision, which was sparked by a desire to have as broad a range of qualified applicants as possible. New or recycled proposals, including a Request for Qualifications for Seaholm, will be due on September 10.

The requests for proposals and qualifications will be on the street for two weeks, Futrell said. In the memo, Futrell wrote, “We acknowledge that is an unusual step,” but it was the choice she made “rather than attempt to determine whether we should consider late responses or whether we should only consider,” those that arrived the exact minute they were due.

Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department, rejected proposals on two different grounds. ( See In Fact Daily, August 23, 2004.) Seaholm Venture Group by Simmons Vedder & Co. and Zydeco Development submitted proposals one minute and five minutes late, respectively. Cypress Real Estate Advisors, Inc., the landowner developing Rock Creek subdivision in northern Hays County, offered to trade some land to the city for the prized downtown block, but Librach labeled their proposal as “non-responsive.” That left only two proposals—one from Stratus Properties, Inc. and one from Endeavor Real Estate Group—for developing a critical piece of downtown.

Only three of six descriptions and conceptual proposals for Seaholm arrived by the deadline and met all the necessary requirements, Librach said. That left proposals from Faulkner USA, Seaholm Power LLC by Southwest Strategies Group and Stratus Properties. The Simmons Vedder Group’s proposal was late, and proposals from Gables Residential and Rick Watson of the American Center for Entrepreneurship failed to meet all the city’s requirements, Librach said.

Mueller neighborhoods, Krusee, want spur to RMMA

The Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition and Rep. Mike Krusee have jumped into the debate over Capital Metro’s commuter rail proposal. Capital Metro has not included the Mueller spur in its recommended plan, saying that the addition would be too costly.

The final vote on the rail plan is less than a week away. Under the current plan, Mueller is considered a "circulation area" up for further study, whether that turns out to be bus transit, express buses or a rail spur. Yesterday, Jim Walker and the Mueller Neighborhood Coalition urged Capital Metro to conduct the necessary studies and then act on the findings "without an additional referendum."

Mueller and mass transit go hand in hand, Walker said. Mueller has been predicated on transit since the master plan was developed. That includes high density near a planned rail station. Transit is important to get the maximum benefit of the Mueller master plan, Walker said. The redevelopment of Mueller is a step forward for Austin. With mass transit, that redevelopment becomes an evolutionary step.

"No one here disputes the need to do a study," Walker said. "It's important to determine what is the best alignment and what is the best technology for it. We need to get some surety of when transit will be there."

After yesterday's House Transportation Committee meeting, Chair Rep. Mike Krusee said he supported including the Mueller spur in the commuter rail plan. Krusee also wants to encourage Capital Metro to extend the commuter rail line across downtown to Seaholm.

Capital Metro is taking its most conservative proposal to the voters, a plan that will require no more than the $60 million the transit agency has on hand for rail. All of the line would run on current rail. Adding a spur out to Mueller and pushing commuter rail across downtown to the Seaholm site would likely add another $60 million to the total cost.

Walker estimates that a spur out to Mueller from the commuter rail line is no more than a quarter to a third of a mile at each end. It's not that far off the right-of-way, Walker said.

Mueller was planned with high density and mixed use in mind, an ideal intended to reflect both new urbanism and the chance for developer Catellus to make a profit on the property. Greg Weaver of Catellus says the Mueller property, when completely developed, will be home to both 10,000 residents and 10,000 workers within 700 acres. That figure will make Mueller one of the densest areas of the city, second to downtown.

Walker says the plan for Mueller always has been both dense and walkable, driven by the community's goals for the ideal development. That kind of plan demands both high traffic and additional parking, Walker said. Transit and development must be developed in tandem.

"Not very many neighborhoods want to invite that in without assuming that there is transit there to support it," Walker said. "Mueller is probably the most transit-oriented development ever planned in Central Texas. Very few communities can claim to be that."

Walker said he respects the decision that Capital Metro must make. The transit agency must be responsive to the larger community. He indicated the group’s support for the commuter rail proposal was not solely contingent upon the Capital Metro board adding in a spur to Mueller at next week’s meeting. “There are a lot of people in these neighborhoods who are going to support rail in Austin in order to get it started,” he said. But he also suggested that a rail line to Mueller could become a selling point for Capital Metro in the upcoming rail campaign. “There are a lot of people throughout the city who recognize Mueller who I wouldn’t want to lose for lack of addressing it,” he said.

Representatives of the Austin Film Studios at Mueller said the prospect of rail serving the neighborhood played into their long-term plans for growth. “When we have hundreds of people working at the studios every day, we think it will be an important mode of transportation. As the studios evolve with the development, we could be open to the public for tours and it could become a destination in and of itself,” said Studio Director Suzanne Quinn with the Austin Film Society. “Without the rail, that will congest the traffic so much that it won’t be a pleasant destination.”

Design Commission weighs in on commuter rail plan

The Design Commission approved a letter of support for Capital Metro's " All Systems Go" commuter rail plan Monday night and offered its services as a liaison on station design.

After an hour of discussion, commissioners agreed on broad support for the commuter rail plan and suggested connections to Seaholm with an emphasis on strong design principles for stations. Although a number of commissioners supported rail connections to Mueller and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the group did not make a recommendation on those lines due to a lack of consensus.

Specifically, commissioners agreed to support a rail plan with commuter rail and urban rail connections within the downtown circulator area as suggested by the map on the "All Systems Go" website. The commission also recommended that the rail line eventually extend to the Seaholm site across downtown.

"It's going to be a disaster if they take it as it's now planned out to the Convention Center and leave it there," Commissioner Girard Kinney said. "Having said that, there's a good chance that if we pass an election in November and only take it to the Convention Center, we're pretty much dooming the future success of rail in Austin, Texas."

Commissioners decided, however, it was more important to express support for the plan than to suggest the plan wouldn't work without extending it across downtown. So, the Seaholm extension became a suggestion rather than a mandate.

Kinney also argued that Capital Metro should offer a rail spur to the Robert Mueller site. The master plan for Mueller has never been without some type of integrated commuter rail stop. Kinney has been active in the planning process for Mueller for almost two decades.

Commissioner Ellie McKinney supported a plan with an extension out to ABIA, saying no plan would be complete without a connection between the city's airport and downtown Austin.

But the airport extension plus the RMMA proposal likely would cost an extra $250 million, according to some estimates. Commissioner Juan Cotera argued that Mueller could be served by rapid bus or express bus service, that the commuter rail line primarily served workers out in Leander who want to use mass transit into Downtown Austin.

Commissioner Joan Hyde proposed a suggestion, which the group supported unanimously, that the line's eight stops should use strong, attractive design principles with easy pedestrian connections to large work places and landmarks. Stations should serve as gathering places, as well as transit stops and intermodal hubs for the community.

Commissioners want to serve as liaisons for the community groups designing the station stops. They also would like to review station design plans.

Anti-recall PAC to announce . . . CRCL-PAC, the group formed to combat attempts to recall Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Danny Thomas and Brewster McCracken, plans to release a diverse list of community leaders who have agreed to serve on the group’s steering committee. In Fact Daily has heard that some of those agreeing to work against recall include former Mayor Gus Garcia, Pat Hayes, Beverly Silas, Jon Beall, Walter Timberlake, and Rodney Ahart. Former RECA President Tim Taylor is the group’s treasurer . . . Today’s meetings . . . An Environmental Board committee studying mitigation policies for the Barton Springs zone is scheduled to meet at 9:30am at One Texas Center, 4th Floor Team B Conference Room . . . The Downtown Commission will have its plate full at a 5:30pm meeting at Waller Creek Center. The commission, which has already recommended that the Rainey Street area be zoned CBD, will hear a city staff presentation at odds with their recommendation. They will also talk about what should be done with proposals for the Waller Creek tunnel and discuss Capital Metro’s “All Systems GO” commuter rail plan. It seems likely they will endorse the downtown community’s wish to extend the line, currently slated to end at the Convention Center, to Seaholm . . . Southwest Market Place in trouble?. . . Even though the plan reduces impervious cover for the Forum PUD and has enthusiastic support from surrounding neighborhoods, the zoning change appears to have less than the unanimous support of the City Council. Rumor had it yesterday that more than one Council member was leaning against approval. The Save Our Springs Alliance is unlikely to remain silent, especially since environmentalists have been winning the Lowe’s lawsuit. So far, judges have ruled that six Council members are needed to override provisions of the SOS ordinance, even in settling lawsuits. Members of the Save Barton Creek Association’s board decided Monday night that they would take no position on the PUD . . . Basics on designing a neighborhood . . . The Mueller Neighborhood Coalition and the City of Austin are hosting Mueller 201, an update on the Mueller redevelopment project, from 6-8pm tonight at the Region 13 Education Service Center, 5701 Springdale Rd. Topics will include design guidelines, affordable housing, community governance, Capital Metro's long-range transit plan and a construction update.

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