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Panel taps historic house for African American cultural center

Thursday, October 2, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The African-American Resource Advisory Commission clarified its stand last night on Detrick-Hamilton House, which has been identified as the likely location for the city’s proposed African-American Cultural and Heritage Facility.


At today’s meeting, City Council is expected to authorize the negotiation of a $400,000 contract with the Urban Renewal Agency to provide maintenance and upkeep of property within the East 11th and East 12th street urban renewal district. That contract also will include funding to stabilize the vacant and dilapidated Detrick-Hamilton House at 912 E 11th Street.


Like every project within the district, multiple boards signed off on the decision to remove an unstable addition and renovate the Detrick-Hamilton House. One of the first slaves freed in Travis County, Thomas Detrick, owned the home, constructed in 1880. The house was in the Detrick family’s hands until the city’s Urban Renewal Agency obtained control of the site in 2004.  


Austin voters approved $1.5 million in funding to create a cultural facility in the 2006 bond issue. According to current plans, the facility will house the Pro Arts Collective, the Capital City African-American Chamber of Commerce and a visitor’s bureau. Ultimately, the house will be stabilized, its original 800 feet replaced and another 400 feet constructed. Another 3,500 square feet of space will be built next door at 908 E 11th.


At last night’s meeting, the AARAC clarified it wanted to move forward with renovation of the house as quickly as possible, instead of packaging the renovation with the rest of construction on Block 16. Under the proposal – which still must go to Council – construction of the building could start in the second quarter of 2009, almost a year sooner than might be expected if the house was demolished or was included in the overall construction package for Block 16.


The renovation of the Detrick-Hamilton House will not be cheap. According to an early cost estimate presented to the AARAC in June, stabilizing the site alone will cost $470,000, with the historic construction costs adding another $400,000 and new construction at a cost of $429,000 and parking at $350,000.


All told, the estimated cost is $2.4 million. In its motion in June, the AARAC requested the city to shoulder the cost over and above the approved bonds. However, it is not clear where the city would find those funds.


According to documentation presented at last night’s AARAC meeting, the anticipated timeline for stabilizing the Detrick-Hamilton House would be next March.

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