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Capital Metro board chooses two finalists for Plaza Saltillo project

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 by Jenny Blair

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority selected two finalists Monday in the competition to develop the East Side’s Plaza Saltillo. They were Endeavor Real Estate Group and Saltillo Collaborative. The board plans to announce a final choice at its June 23 meeting.


The other two developers the board considered, Riverside Resources and Argyle Residential, a project of Cypress Real Estate Advisors, are no longer in the running.


The announcement followed a two-hour closed-door executive session. The two finalists were announced by John Hodges, vice president of Cap Metro’s Real Estate & Asset Management department.


Both developers’ proposals include affordable housing and a mix of retail, but they largely diverge after that.


Endeavor Real Estate Group & Columbus Realty Partners jointly proposed a Plaza Saltillo that would include a 60,000-square-foot grocery store and 800 housing units. Two hundred units would be affordable, and half of the affordable units will be reserved for seniors in a unit on the eastern end of the development. The other housing units include more than 500 apartments and a smattering of two-story townhouses and live-work units.


The proposal also adds 1.7 acres of public parkland, 1.8 acres of “elevated private open space,” underground parking, and ground-level retail with wide sidewalks and trees. Their proposal would not require a variance.


Perhaps best known for developing The Domain, the group also developed an office building at 2021 East Fifth, very near Plaza Saltillo. Its Plano Transit Village also includes retail, housing and transit, while its Lofts on 7th in Fort Worth mix market-rate and affordable housing units. It is also responsible for the Downtown Austin Project, a housing-retail development on West Third Street.


Endeavor would work with the Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, which designed Mellow Johnny’s, the restaurant Uchiko on North Lamar, and the Lamar Union Alamo Drafthouse.


Saltillo Collaborative’s plan sets aside 25 percent of its 170 housing units as affordable housing for 99 years, keeping them together in one stretch of the development. The plan also offers retail, a hotel next to I-35 and a five-story “creative” office building east of the hotel that Saltillo Collaborative said could wind up house South by Southwest’s headquarters.


The proposal places the affordable units just east of the office building, with parking places for one car per unit. Continuing east along Fifth Street, the market-rate units cluster together and get parking spaces for 1.3 cars per unit. The proposal includes a generous planting of sycamores, Monterey oaks and cedar elms, some within enclosed residential courtyards. Its buildings will vary from 25 to 120 feet in height. The hotel would require a variance.


Saltillo Collaborative includes Constructive Ventures and  Trammell Crow Company, which developed Midtown Commons at Crestview Station. They have worked with  nonprofits like Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation and Foundation Communities, which provides affordable housing. The group enjoys the endorsement of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team. (Additional information was added to this paragraph to clarify the original copy.)  


Cap Metro did not disclose financial details of the bids.


“Based on our legal counsel’s advice, we won’t be releasing any of the financial information because it could have a negative impact to the agency,” said Capital Metro Board Chairman Mike Martinez in an interview after the meeting. “Obviously that is something that we strongly considered in the decision we made today.”


Martinez is also a member of the Austin City Council and is running for mayor.


Attorney General Greg Abbott recently authorized Cap Metro to keep its cards close to its chest.


On May 8, Abbott wrote to Cap Metro’s chief counsel Kerri Butcher, saying the agency could withhold information from a Public Information Request that sought to learn about evaluation criteria for Plaza Saltillo. He based the decision on Section 552.104 of the Texas Government Code, which deals with protecting the integrity of a competitive bidding process.


Cap Metro has stated in the past that its Plaza Saltillo evaluation criteria would include financial return, funding sources and capabilities of the developer, and the developer’s history of meeting housing and other service needs, as well as how well the proposed land use would fit Cap Metro’s goals.


Financial terms could involve a long-term lease or other financial participation in the development that would bring money back to Cap Metro’s general operating fund. An outright sale of the land to developers is possible but less likely, according to a FAQ issued by Cap Metro.


Plaza Saltillo comprises eight undeveloped blocks occupying 10.1 acres in East Austin, plus a MetroRail Red Line station that occupies an extra acre and will be left unchanged in the proposed developments. The site lies between I-35, Comal Street, East Fourth and East Fifth Streets.


Formerly Austin’s train depot, it was abandoned in the 1980s. Cap Metro has owned Plaza Saltillo since 1995 and has been discussing its development with stakeholders since 2003.


Last October, Cap Metro issued a Request for Proposals to develop Saltillo. The area is zoned as Transit Oriented Development Mixed Use, which translates into a walkable community with homes, jobs and public transportation.


Once the board chooses a developer, it will start legal discussions. Asked about a timeframe for the latter process, Martinez did not specify.


“Expediency is a goal,” Martinez said. “But it’s not the overriding goal. It’s getting the project right.”

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