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Manager provides update on Seaholm and Green redevelopment

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

This week, city Project Manager Fred Evins updated the Design Commission on the specifics of the Seaholm and Green redevelopment projects, two downtown public-private partnerships that are so dense that the combined housing on the sites will bump the current downtown housing units up by 25 percent.


That wealth of new density, however, is sometime in the future. The city completed its master development agreement with the developer of Seaholm and is still in the process of completing the master development agreement with Green. Neither project is likely to start, however, until the capital markets rebound and the housing market comes back, Evins said.


“Our overall objective is to initiate construction as soon as the capital market has recovered,” Evins said. “This should be the first product that comes back out of the ground when the markets loosen up.”


The Seaholm and Green sites are in the southwest quadrant of the original downtown, home to the city’s first water treatment plant and first electric generation facilities. The team to redevelop the site was picked almost five years ago, and an agreement was signed off on in June 2008.


While the Seaholm site itself is large, the fact that the old power plant must be adapted for reuse means only the northeast quadrant of the site is available for development outside the Capitol View Corridor. As part of the partnership arrangement, the city has invested up to $18.6 million to upgrade utilities, address infrastructure issues, and build an on-site parking garage.


The developer will hold a ground lease on the site, Evins said. The city has dedicated $4.5 million toward the rehabilitation of Seaholm, with the intention of shifting the main entrance of the building to the west, toward the new extension of Second Street. In essence, Second Street will dead end at the Convention Center on one side and the rehabilitated Seaholm power plant on the other side.


The tenant mix for the actual Seaholm plant is still up in the air, although Evins anticipates it will be a mix of retail, office, and event space. The city will spend $3.8 million to build a 315-space above-ground parking garage for those tenants on the piece of city-owned land often referred to as the “crescent tract.”


Two buildings will occupy the northeast quadrant of the tract. One will be a low-rise building with 66,000-square-feet of office/residential over ground-floor retail. The second building will be a 205,000-square-foot high rise with a hotel and condominiums over ground-floor retail and restaurants.


The city will maintain a public plaza on the site, which will be located on top of a parking structure and loading dock. Commissioner Juan Cotera, in particular, wanted to make sure that the site would be open and accessible to the public.


Commissioner Eleanor McKinney, a landscape architect, was also interested in the ebb and flow into the public plaza.  She was interested in seeing further updates on how open space on the site would be utilized.


In anticipation of the site’s preparation, the city has relocated utilities in two separate projects: moving a transmission line and relocating a 72-inch water main. Land is being remediated and a 24-inch water main has been connected to the property, Evins said. The land has also been officially rezoned for use.


The city continues to negotiate with Union Pacific to release its easement along the north end of the property, Evins said. And questions about the chain of ownership to parcels along the south end of the property remain, Evins said.


The redevelopment of the Green Water Treatment Plant and Energy Control Center, located at 3rd Street and West Avenue, was incorporated into the same bid, Evins said. The winning partnership, selected in June 2008, was TC Austin Development, led by Dallas-based Trammell Crow.


As was the case with the other site, redevelopment will include upgrades to infrastructure and the street grid, as well as decommissioning of the sites.


Buildings on the ECC site will be two mixed-use point towers, totaling 700,000 square feet, sitting on a podium with ground-floor retail and parking.


A total of 1.9 million square feet of development will go on the four combined Green tracts. From west to east, the lot south of the Austin Music Hall will be a boutique hotel. The lot south of Ballet Austin will be an officer tower with parking. Adjacent to that parcel will be a parcel with mid-rise and high-rise development, including senior independent living. And the final parcel to the east, known as “Block 1,” will be mid-rise mixed-use along Cesar Chavez, as well as a high-rise with condominiums, a hotel, public open space, and underground parking.


The developer of the Green/ECC site has made significant contributions to public amenities, Evins said. Those include completion of a pedestrian bridge over Shoal Creek that will connect to the new Central Library, contributions toward bank and trail improvements, and donations to art in public places and a public music program for the city.


The developer also agreed to a $2.7 million fee in lieu payment to the city’s housing trust fund to provide for affordable housing units.

Decommissioning of the Green WTP is ongoing, to be completed on schedule by this summer, despite some recent safety issues, Evins said. Decommissioning of the Energy Control Center won’t happen until a new systems control center is completed on the Toyko Electron site, possibly around March 2013.


The original timeline for construction on the Green site was to begin the first quarter of 2010. This, too, will wait until the market recovers.


Chair Bart Whatley was concerned about mass transit connections. Evins said a city study had indicated the best place for a multi-modal connection – including the Cap Metro and Lone Star rail lines — would be closer to the Amtrak station. Still, Third Street is being configured to accommodate a platform in the median, if necessary, to accommodate mass transit, Evins said.


The construction of these sites, when it occurs, will bring another $2 billion in new construction to downtown, Evins said. Commissioner Richard Weiss said the number of housing units on the properties would be equivalent to somewhere between 20 and 25 percent of the current downtown market.

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