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Austin Energy to build $67 million office building in East Riverside area

Wednesday, April 23, 2014 by Bill McCann

Facing continued cramped quarters and a big-dollar lease, Austin Energy officials say they hope next week to take a major step toward construction of a new office building for the city’s electric utility.


Austin Energy officials plan to ask the City Council May 1 for approval to negotiate a design-build agreement with Turner+Page, a joint venture of Turner Construction and PageSoutherlandPage, to construct the office building and parking garage at an 18-acre site owned by Austin Energy at East Riverside Drive and Grove Boulevard.


At the same time, Austin Energy will seek council approval for funding of up to $9.1 million for the design and pre-construction phase of the project. The design work is expected to take about a year to complete. Then, plans call for Austin Energy officials to return to the council for approval to build the project, which is scheduled to be substantially completed in May 2017. Total project cost currently is estimated at about $67 million.


The City Council in May 2013 approved the design-build concept for the project. At that time, Austin Energy was considering a 120,000-square-foot office building with a 300-space parking garage. The project has grown to a 180,000-square-foot building, with a parking garage for about 600 vehicles, according to the latest utility documents.


Austin Energy issued a request for qualifications in January for the project. Turner+Page ranked highest among 12 firms that submitted statements of qualifications, according to the utility.


Austin Energy staff discussed the office project at a meeting of the advisory Electric Utility Commission Monday. The commission recommended Council approval of the agreement and design funding.


Pat Alba, Austin Energy’s director of administrative services, and Sandra Strauss-Jones, the project manager, told commissioners the new office building will offer a number of benefits. For one thing, they said it would relieve crowded conditions at the utility-owned headquarters building at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road. Austin Energy will continue to keep its headquarters at the Town Lake Center, they said, but will move some offices that are currently there to the new building. This could include the call center operated by Austin Energy for all city utilities.


One longtime employee recently described the situation at Austin Energy offices as “bursting at the seams.”


Also, it will mean that Austin Energy will no longer need to lease offices at a nearby building at 811 Barton Springs Road., which also is overcrowded, Alba said.

Austin Energy’s five-year lease cost is $12 million for about 72,000 square feet at the 811 Barton Springs property, Alba said. The lease expires in September 2017.


Before deciding to construct a new building, utility officials studied both purchasing and leasing property, but concluded that constructing a new building on utility-owned land would be the most cost-effective, according to Alba.


The East Riverside site also would offer the advantages of being close to Austin Energy’s System Control Center, public transportation, major highways, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, the downtown area, and Austin Community College’s Riverside campus, Strauss-Jones said.


“This is a perfect opportunity to develop the site as part of the East Riverside Master Plan,” Strauss-Jones said. “We are looking forward to being a big part of the community.”


Responding to questions from Commissioner Karen Hadden, Strauss-Jones said the new building would be energy-efficient and would include such things as solar panels and sustainable construction materials. Details will be worked out during the design phase, she said.

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