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Landmark panel reviews plans for Seaholm, Norwood House projects

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

Members of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission heard about plans for two long-anticipated preservation projects Monday night: the Seaholm Power Plant and the Norwood House. Both will be headed to Council for consideration in the coming months.


The preservation of the Seaholm Power Plant, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, will clearly be the higher-profile project. Architect Emily Little of Clayton & Little Architects outlined the basics of the Seaholm preservation proposal, one that will incorporate elements of the decommissioned power plant into a new mixed-use, multi-tower, high-end downtown development.


The entire redevelopment of the Seaholm site is described as “Seaholm Power,” so it’s no surprise that prominent elements of the existing decommissioned city power plant will figure prominently in the redevelopment of the project, which is steered by Southwest Strategies Group.


“This will allow an injection in the arm of this pretty sleepy site that happens to house one of Austin’s favorite buildings,” Little told the Historic Landmark Commission. “Hopefully we’ll bring back some respectful modifications to its façade.”


Clayton & Little’s job is to figure out just what can be preserved from the decommissioned iconic city property, which has served as the site of a number of high-profile party venues in the last couple of years, including the site of New Year Eve celebrations.


Seaholm’s future configuration, beyond both power plant and party venue use, will come to the commission in February in the form of a demolition proposal.


As for this month’s Historic Landmark Commission meeting, Little was happy to show the commission what the project will preserve, which would include the two exterior smoke stacks on either end of the project and the well-known “City of Austin Power Plant” lettering to be preserved on the future structure.


Commission members appeared content to deal with the demolition permit on the power plant next month, one that would demolish a number of smoke stacks in the building and reconfigure the space within the structure.


However, commissioners were a bit more vocal on the Norwood House proposal, which Chair Laurie Limbacher noted appeared to be headed towards a dead end when the commission was briefed in June.


In the intervening months, coordinator Marty Stump has met with stakeholders to hammer out which of six alternatives might be best for the space. Those stakeholders included the existing dog park users, who considered the green space use as important as the preservation of the historic house on the site.


Limbacher noted that she was encouraged by the progress made on the project.


“We were all feeling discouraged when we heard your report in June,” Limbacher told Stump. “I am so glad that you all persisted. I know it’s been a challenge, with all the stakeholders and the demands of the cost of the project. I think you’ve done a masterful job with all of the sometimes competing forces of the project.”


Restoration of the existing structures will include the existing circa-1922 house, as well as the greenhouse and the immediate gardens. Additional space on the property might be devoted to an open-air pavilion or other public space reserved for events, Stump told commissioners at last night’s hearing.


The historic home on the property has been in decline – without a roof and open to the elements for more than 13 years – so a commitment to its restoration is a coup for supporters. The choice to restore the core buildings on the property, as well as replacing the long-time pool with new performance space, was chosen from among six options.


The location, as Stump stressed, does provide connectivity to the city’s existing trail system along Lady Bird Lake, a point only enhanced with the financing of the new boardwalk. This location, Stump said, would provide new connectivity for the neighborhood.


The project cost will be an estimated $7.5 million. That cost will likely be divided between the city’s 2012 bond issue and the Norwood Posse, which the South River City Citizens created as a fund-raising tool for the site.


“This would allow a public-private partnership to occur,” Stump said.


Supporters hope to see the project on the 2012 bond election ballot.

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