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Seaholm proposals showcase music

Friday, February 18, 2005 by

Public spaces most important party of most proposals

Once, the Seaholm Power Plant’s massive oil- and gas-fired generators produced 100 megawatts of electricity, more than enough to power the small but growing City of Austin back in the 1950s and ‘60s. Now, the expansive Art Deco building stands empty on eight acres along Cesar Chavez Boulevard across from Town Lake, its turbines removed but its place in the city’s history firmly intact.

With that sense of history in mind, and a detailed list of goals and requirements, four groups presented their vision to the City Council yesterday of how to develop the Seaholm site into a signature landmark for the City of Austin. The proposals ranged from a multi-purpose gathering place with retail, restaurants, office space, a residential tower and a bus and rail station, to an Austin music mega-showcase with a 6,000 seat live music amphitheatre, a 1,000-seat studio for “ Austin City Limits,” and the Texas Music Hall of Fame. Backers of the four proposals included an array of nationally known developers, architects, engineering firms, and even a promotions firm with Willie Nelson as one of its owners.

The city put out a request for qualifications ( RFQ) in September 2004, asking for companies to submit plans for the redevelopment of the Seaholm building and its surrounding grounds. The request specified that the development must, among other things, preserve the architecture and history of the building, accommodate cultural entities, incorporate local businesses, provide a transit hub incorporating bus, rail and all other forms of transportation, and enhance tourism.

Four groups made proposals to the Council: Seaholm Power, Faulkner, Stratus/Trammell Crow, and Seaholm Venture Group. Each was give 30 minutes to impress on the Council not only its vision for the project, but the qualifications of the partners in each group. Like last week’s presentations on Block 21, each group put together a PowerPoint presentation, coupled with architects’ drawings or models to illustrate their plans.

The Seaholm Power group proposed turning the 130,000-square-foot main turbine building into a gathering place where major events such as South by Southwest, New Year’s Eve, or a Lance Armstrong victory celebration can be held. According to Southwest Strategies’ John Rosato, the main building would retain its open-air structure, housing a mixture of cultural, commercial, retail and gallery spaces. Elsewhere on the eight-acre site would be a two-story, 60,000-square foot cultural/commercial structure, a ten-story residential tower with ground level retail, and a Grand Plaza designed to host a wide variety of outdoor public events. The north edge of the plaza would contain a transit hub for bus, rail, bike and auto transportation. Two levels of underground parking is planned, with 225 spaces on each level

“It’s important to preserve the power of the space of the turbine building,” Rosato said. “It is an incredible structure. The main hall presents numerous opportunities for public space, including music venues, restaurants, galleries and other attractions. We want people to come away from it thinking ‘City living is cool.’” Partners in the Seaholm Power Group include Southwest Strategies Group, Centro Development, H.C. Beck, and Design Collective.

The Faulkner group proposed a design that keeps the main building’s open style, anchoring it with a major cultural entity, such as the Texas Music Hall of Fame or the KLRU-TV studios. A hotel-condominium development is planned on the east side of the development. To the north of the main building, they plan a plaza-oriented area for outdoor activities that could be integrated into the 2nd Street Retail District and other surrounding developments, and a transit station for bus and rail service is on the north edge of the area.

Team leader Ruben Rodriguez told Council Members that the Seaholm plant project should not be developed as a stand-alone project. “We think it should be the centerpiece of development in the downtown area,” he said. “But the project should also be coordinated with what’s going on in other areas, like Block 21 and the Gables project. All this must be looked at jointly.” Other principals in the Faulkner group included leader Tom Garvin, Sinclair Black of Black & Vernooy and Gensler architects, and Hyper Entertainment.

The Stratus/Trammell Crow proposal focused on the “ Economic Power of Music.” Though there would be some retail, commercial and office space, the majority of the site under this plan would be dedicated to Austin music. Plans include an outdoor amphitheatre with seating for up to 6,000, an indoor music studio seating 1,000 for taping “ Austin City Limits,” space for the Texas Music Hall of Fame, and other large public spaces. Attorney Steve Drenner said high-density development was not a priority. “We want to keep it open,” he said. “There’s already a lot of green space, and we are looking to add more. “

Drenner emphasized the economic impact his group’s design could have on the economy, pointing out that Austin does not currently have a “middle size” venue such as the one in their plan, and presented a list of major touring acts that passed on Austin last year because of the lack of a proper size, costing the city upwards of $12 million. Included in the Stratus/Trammell Crow team were architect Arthur Andersson, and Music Promoter Freddy Fletcher, nephew and business partner of Willie Nelson in Pedernales Recordings.

And the fourth presenter, the Seaholm Ventures group, wants to turn the area into Austin’s version of Rockefeller Center, making a Mecca for both live music and broadcasting. The group envisions partnering with Emmis Media, which owns a cluster of six radio stations in Austin, to build new broadcast studios as part of the main building. Also included would be studios for KLRU and spaces for public performances, according to John Cullen of Media Realty Partners, part of the group.

Architect Thomas Demetrius envisions a floor-to-ceiling glass wall behind a stage in the performance area in the main hall, a separate building for KLRU, a transit hub for rail and bus traffic, a residential building and a plaza between all the main elements. “We want to showcase everything Austin has to offer,” he said. “We want to recognize the full potential of the district.” Other partners in the Seaholm Ventures group include Simmons and Vedder, Simon Properties and the Gottesman Company. Attorneys for the project include former Mayor Kirk Watson, Richard Suttle and Jay Hailey.

Council Members discussed some of the general site requirements, including the location of a rail link to the site and the possibility of moving the electric substation next to the site. Both options turned out to be problematic and expensive, with a rail station needing to be at least a bock northwest of the Seaholm site because of the current location of the tracks, and cost estimates of up to $80 million to move the substation.

None of the groups disclosed the price they were willing to pay for lease or purchase of the site, although the Stratus/Trammell Crow group offered its project as a lease, with the city sharing in the revenues.

Council members will be submitting written questions on the various projects to the groups, and the answers will be shared with all members. Although there is no firm timeline, it’s expected the Council will decide on both the Seaholm and Block 21 projects sometime in the next six weeks.

Brandt Road annexation completed

Role of neighboring Lumbermen's subdivision revealed

Despite some early controversy, the annexation and zoning of 33 acres at the corner of Brandt Road and I-35 on the southern edge of the city sailed smoothly through the City Council on third reading last night. Although Ford Motor Co. looked like the only big company in the battle, Lumbermen’s Investment Corp., which owns single-family subdivisions in the area, had an even bigger stake in the outcome of the case.

The annexation of the state-owned property started out looking like it would be a contentious neighborhood versus big business battle, with yellow-shirted Ford opponents urging the Council to annex the property and make auto sales a conditional use. Six acres of the property, owned by the General Land Office, is in the process of sale for a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. The Texas Department of Transportation will use the balance of the property, 26.5 acres, for a maintenance facility.

In December, Darlene Louk of the Parkside at Slaughter Creek Homeowners Association presented a petition with 1,026 signatures, asking for annexation of the site. Louk, it turns out, was acting on behalf of Lumbermen’s. She explained Thursday that she is the project manager for the Parkside subdivision and president of the developer-controlled homeowners’ group.

When negotiations over the property appeared to be at an impasse, Council Member Betty Dunkerley intervened to negotiate terms on the annexation. Last night was the final Council meeting for approval before the 90-day window on the annexation expired.

The motion actually came in two parts. First was the vote to annex the 33-acre property into the city’s boundaries. The second motion was to rezone the property from interim community commercial (I-GR) to GR zoning. The city’s ability to zone the property to GR was simply an action the state had allowed on the property, said Mayor Will Wynn.

“The state has the ability to do virtually anything it wants to do with its property,” Wynn told his colleagues. “Even if we take this action today, the state could reverse our decision… It behooves the long-term interests of everybody involved that we attempt to restrict this property with the ordinance today.”

The Council voted to zone the property I-GR late last year. Recommendations for the property were to zone one tract GR-CO and the other tract GO-CO. The conditional overlay would limit the number of driveways on Brandt Road to two. The buyers of the dealership property also agreed to restrict uses on the property to only auto sales. Last night, Attorney Richard Suttle added off-site parking and off-site accessory parking to the prohibited uses on the property.

The neighborhood said more aggressive limits on lighting and requirements on landscaping had been cut from the neighborhood agreement the week before it went to Council. Suttle disagreed, saying that most of the changes were simply issues of clarification, such as a clarification of the types of lights that would be used.

Suttle pointed out the site had complied with far more restrictions than any other car dealership in the city, most of which are zoned CS or LI. This site would be doing more than most of the dealerships on the Interstate 35 corridor, Suttle said. None of the changes made to the agreement were substantive, Suttle said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman did ask why an entrance had to be cut on Brandt Road. Suttle said the dealership would be limited to one driveway onto I-35, given the proximity of the property to the nearest intersection.

Dunkerley said she was most comfortable with the fact that state had agreed to a restrictive covenant, agreeing to roll back the property RR if the deal with the Ford dealership on the property fell through. The Council unanimously agreed to rezone the property for the Ford dealership.

Notes from the campaign trail:

Kim kickoff energetic; labor candidates promise to join AFSCME

Jennifer Kim, the youngest candidate in the talent-heavy race for Place 3 on the City Council, drew an enthusiastic crowd to her official kickoff last night at El Sol y La Luna. Her supporters included numerous Democratic activists, as well as members of minority and business communities. Old line Democrats like Walter Timberlake, Cecilia Burke and Cecilia Crossley joined younger Austinites like Paul Saldaña, Jim Walker, Niyanta Spelman and Glen Coleman in applauding Kim’s call for holding the line on property taxes and limiting incentives for large businesses.

Mike Martinez, president of the local firefighters union ( AAPF), has already made it clear that his group considers Place 3 an important battle for diversity on the Council. Kim, Martinez said, represents “the face of the future of Austin. She represents all that we want to be and are going to be in the coming years.” The firefighters’ president is willing to say what the female candidates in the race have yet to focus on—that losing this seat would give women only one out of seven seats on the City Council. So far, Gregg Knaupe has garnered all the endorsements, save that of the AAPF. Also running for Place 3 are community activists Margot Clarke and Mandy Dealey.

Representatives of the Austin Central Labor Council tried hard to pull the media away from presentations on the future of the Seaholm Power Plant yesterday so they could praise the candidates the group has endorsed in the spring City Council races. (See In Fact Daily, February 15, 2005.) Those candidates are Lee Leffingwell for Place 1 and Council Member Betty Dunkerley for Place 4, as well as Gregg Knaupe in the crowded Place 3 race to fill the seat being vacated by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman.

“Gregg understands that it’s important to set a floor down for workers, both in terms of safety as well as wages and a fair benefits package,” said labor City council President Louis Malfaro of their decision to endorse Knaupe. “Gregg also distinguished himself when he took a role as a community leader in promoting the Hospital District. He understands the need to protect workers in the health care industry as changes come to the way that we deliver, at least from the public sector side, health care services…and to make sure that city and county employees don’t suffer as the result of those changes.”

Knaupe pledged to work with the members of the umbrella labor group both during his campaign and afterward. “If elected, I will join AFSCME the first day I’m in office,” he said. Leffingwell offered a similar pledge. “I was an active member of a labor union for almost 32 years when I was a pilot for Delta Airlines, so it kind of feels like old home week being back among union folks again,” he told a small group of union representatives gathered outside City Hall Thursday afternoon. “If elected, I look forward to once again becoming an active union member by joining AFSCME as soon as possible.”

Malfaro said the union group has established a set of priorities for the upcoming year for the City Council, which includes improving conditions for day laborers in Austin. “The city runs a day labor facility that meets some, but not all, of their needs,” he said. “Our organization has been working with advocates of day laborers in the community to try to address the needs of these individuals.” Another priority will be establishing further guidelines for tax abatements to promote economic development. A company’s track record with organized labor, Malfaro said, should play a role in the Council’s decisions to grant those abatements. “We want the city to have a standard that says if you’re looking for some sort of break or an abatement, then we have certain expectations of your behavior toward our citizens that will be your employees,” he said. “We want to move into exploring those issues more.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Technical difficulties continuing . . . In conjunction with our move to a new server, In Fact Daily has experienced outages and spotty service. We changed servers because the prior company was going out of business. Now we are dealing with computer related problems that try our patience as well as yours. We apologize for any difficulties you may have had in accessing the site and hope you will understand that we’re doing all we can to remedy the problem. If you still have questions or problems with your passcode, or know of someone who is having such problems, please email . . . Monday holiday . . . In Fact Daily will take Monday off along with city and county employees. The Legislature is not taking the day off. Council Member Brewster McCracken and city staff will be hosting a public forum on proposed design standards at 6pm Monday at City Hall . . . Luckens’ last City Council meeting . . . Planner Ben Luckens, who handles the city’s annexations, will be retiring at the end of the month after 21 years of city service. City Manager Toby Futrell and Mayor Will Wynn recognized Lukens with a proclamation last night, and Futrell talked about how Luckens developed his own female fan club during the annexation process of 1998, despite the hate mail other members of the staff received during the contentious process . . . Congratulations . . . Laurie Swan of Stratus Properties and Jon Andrus of Trammell Crow will wed in mid-April. The bride and groom met while working on the Stratus Properties’ PUD . . . Postponed . . . The Council postponed consideration of changes to the city billboard regulations for two weeks . . . The Council also put off consideration of a $6.5 million contract amendment for Carollo Engineers to provide preliminary engineering design services for Travis Water Treatment Plant #4. Council Member Daryl Slusher pulled the item as a result of environmental concerns. The Environmental Board asked the Council on Wednesday night to postpone the item until the Board could consider the implications for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. (See In Fact Daily, February 17, 2005.) That matter was postponed to April 7 . . . Appointments . . . The Council reappointed Sarah Reams as the minority Chamber of Commerce representative to the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee and appointed Anna Fink to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs yesterday . . . Joseph firm hires Lucio . . . Eddie Lucio III, the son of the state senator from Brownsville, has joined Minter Joseph & Thornhill. Lucio, who attended Place 3 candidate Jennifer Kim’s official campaign kick off last night said he is a third year law student and has already begun working on development cases. At the same time, John Joseph Jr. has returned from North Carolina and is once again a part of his dad’s firm . . . Working overtime . . . The Environmental Board will tour the City of Austin Water Quality Protection Lands on Saturday from 10am – 3pm. The group will meet at the Slaughter Creek Management Unit and depart from there at 10am . . . Austin Now features historic courthouses . . . KLRU’s will highlight the Texas Historical Commission’s courthouse preservation program during today’s segment, beginning at noon and airing again at 8:30pm. The 30-minute program will be repeated on Sunday at 4:30. Texas has more historic courthouses than any other state, 22 of which have been restored and rededicated through the program. Other states are now looking to Texas to begin similar programs.

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