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Council set to dissolve relationship with ARA today

Thursday, September 30, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Urban Renewal Board, in a special-called meeting last night, dropped the last piece into place so that Council can choose to dissolve its relationship with the Austin Revitalization Authority (ARA) at today’s Council meeting.


The tri-party agreement among the city, ARA, and the URB expires Friday. Last night, the URB disposed of two pieces of property, handing over 903 Juniper and 905 Juniper, on Block 16, to the city and giving Block 17, the remaining portion of the lot behind the Street-Jones Building, to the Austin Housing Finance Corporation.


Local neighborhoods, hoping that outside interests might kick-start development along the 11th and 12th street corridors, are likely to be unhappy with the arrangement. After last night’s meeting, however, URB Member Mike Clark-Madison said the transfer of the property allows the city to dissolve its standing development agreement with ARA as the tri-party agreement expires.


Council is expected to pay out $430,000 to ARA today, which would cover what the group said it has invested in developing plans for a market-rate mixed-use townhome project on Block 17. The city would get all work products that ARA has completed on the block. The only difference with the project in the end will be that the city’s efforts, possibly in partnership with a community housing development organization, will be geared toward affordable housing.


The city’s development efforts may not bear fruit immediately, given the market, but they will be faster than those of ARA, which hasn’t built a major commercial building along the two corridors since the Street-Jones Building opened in 2003.


“We’re at the point at which we have to collectively decide which way to go,” said Clark-Madison of the choice to move forward with AHFC. “Compared to ARA, the city is going to be quick, as far as these things go. If we have a chance to expedite development, why not take it?”


No immediate plans for development are on the table. The two lots on Juniper, behind the historic Detrick-Hamilton House, likely will be used for a driveway, utilities, and as a staging area for the historic house’s eventual expansion. URB still maintains ownership of about half of Block 16, minus the house and lots, which the board eventually intends to redevelop with a private partner.


“You look at it now and say, ‘What is that slum house? How did they miss that one?’” Chair Ben Sifuentes said of the current condition of the Detrick-Hamilton House. “Once it gets developed, it’s going to be pretty attractive, and we’re going to want to do something next to that.”


Sifuentes and Clark-Madison are positive about the Urban Renewal Board’s role moving forward, post-tri-party agreement. URB now can serve as both the formal and informal gateway for community feedback on future development efforts, Clark-Madison said. That was the role ARA was supposed to fill and didn’t. And the new relationship with the city means the board can move forward with direct redevelopment efforts, such as market studies on individual blocks, without a lot of its energy being diverted to dealing with ARA.


“From here forward, this board will be able to be free because we’re going to be dealing directly with the community,” Sifuentes said. “We won’t have to deal with ARA, being the negotiator and the middle guy, so it will truly be the way the world really works.”

ARA still has control of the Street-Jones Building and the East Room. URB controls portions of Block 16 and Block 18. The city still owns at least two parcels on East 12th Street. Moving forward, those who have vocally complained about the tri-party process will have to step up and deliver, Clark-Madison said.


“For a long time, so much of the energy was protecting this structure and the organization of the ARA, to realize their vision of the deal,” Clark-Madison said. “Whether it was good in the first place or not, they didn’t do it.”


Already, a new controversy is brewing on East 12th Street. Caritas and Summit Housing Partners, who were at last night’s URB meeting, are interested in renovating the 100-unit Marshall Apartments on Salina Street as short-term transitional housing, with city financial assistance.


The renovation would be a significant project on East 12th Street. The project, however, does not match the long-term goals of the East 12th Street corridor, nor is it likely to win the praise of either neighbors or the URB.

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