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Mike Kanin is the Publisher of the Austin Monitor. As such, he doesn't report on much--aside from the workings of the Monitor--any more. In his previous life as a freelance journalist, Kanin has written for the Washington City Paper, the Washington Post's Express, the Boston Herald, Boston's Weekly Dig, the Austin Chronicle, and the Texas Observer.
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Council briefed on Green Treatment Plant redevelopment status
Proceeds from the proposed sale of the former Green Water Treatment Plant grounds to a development group that includes national firm Trammell Crow, locals Perry Lorenz and Constructive Ventures would net the City of Austin $42.4 million. However, that amount has already been committed to the decommissioning of the Green facility, the reconfiguration of Austin Energy’s South Substation, and public infrastructure and amenities that will be constructed in the area.
All of that will be laid out in an agreement that would pass the land from City of Austin hands on to a private firm for redevelopment. There are, however, a handful of complications. That list features environmental remediation, including recently-discovered seepage, which is making it tough for project officials to give Council members a firm date on when construction might start.
The sale is set for final approval at the April 5 Council meeting. It would come with a host of provisions that would guide development over the four city blocks covered by the sale. Should the agreement pass as is the city would also have to reimburse the firm behind the project’s construction for $9 million worth of construction fees related to the completion of Nueces and Second streets.
In return, city officials project that the project will result in $112 million of property tax revenue and $9.6 million in sales tax revenue over 30 years. Additionally, staff predicts that the construction will result in $4.95 million in development fees. Should the project join the downtown Public Improvement District – which it has promised to petition for – it could mean $500,000 in contributions to the district.
Coupled with the redevelopment of the former Seaholm Power Plant, the Green Water Treatment plant project would complete a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly corridor that would extend from Seaholm to the City of Austin’s Convention Center. Thompson & Knight attorney Andy Ingrum told Council Members that the Green project promises 1,861 jobs, 1600 residences – including provisions for seven years’ worth of affordable housing – and a large, underground parking facility.
Plans call for 826 apartments, 200 hotel rooms, 82,000 square feet of retail space and 456,000 square feet of office space.
Council Member Chris Riley did his best to get project representatives to commit to a start date. He looked to the slow redevelopment of the former Seaholm Power Plant. “On the Seaholm site, we waited literally years and years for the environmental (work) to be complete,” he said.
Like Seaholm, the Green site will require some environmental work before construction can begin. However, staff and project representatives suggested that there were differences between the projects, and that the fact that a contractor was eagerly awaiting a go-ahead to begin work made the Green project less likely to extend into years of limbo.
Still, Riley continued to push for a start date. After repeated, lengthy non-responses from staff and Ingrum, Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards summed the situation. “There was environmental remediation on the site itself,” she said. “Later on, it was discovered that there was seepage coming down from the north, so on the north piece of property we found new contamination. It goes down about 20 feet.”
“We are not sure how long that is going to take,” Edwards continued, “but we do have a commitment – they’re ready to go right now.”
Council Member Kathie Tovo honed in on the affordable housing portion of the proposal. She wondered why the sale agreement would cover only seven years of affordable housing. Ingrum told her that city policy on affordable housing had changed since the city had originally begun looking for a buyer for the property. “The city’s affordable housing policy has evolved over the past few years,” said Ingrum.
As part of the agreement, the city could extend the affordable housing arrangement annually after the initial seven year period. However, it would have to make up the difference in what development owners might otherwise make on the open market.
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