Capital Metro picks Endeavor Group for Plaza Saltillo development
Tuesday, June 24, 2014 by Jenny Blair
The choice of a Plaza Saltillo developer came down to a nail-biter in the final minutes of the Capital Metro Transportation Authority board meeting Monday. In the end, the board chose Endeavor Real Estate Group and Columbus Realty Partners in a 5-3 vote. The board’s other option, Saltillo Collaborative, will not continue negotiations with Capital Metro, disappointing community activists.
That vote followed two successive tie votes and failed motions to postpone and to work with both developers. Board members said the decision was difficult and that both developers would do a fine job.
Finally, board member John Langmore changed his vote and went with Endeavor, which was also the developer that Capital Metro staff and consultants recommended.
Endeavor development associate Jason Thumlert called its project a “culturally authentic, vibrant, mixed-use, multimodal community.”
Endeavor will negotiate with Capital Metro to develop the 10-plus-acre former rail yard in East Austin, which lies between I-35, Comal Street, East Fourth and East Fifth Streets. A MetroRail Red Line station will continue to occupy an acre on the site.
Endeavor may be best known in Austin for The Domain, an upscale development in northwest Austin.
Endeavor’s development for Plaza Saltillo will include 800 units of housing, of which 200 will be affordable. Half of the latter will be set aside for seniors in a dedicated building. Endeavor also plans to build a grocery store alongside I-35, 1.7 acres of parkland, and 1.8 acres of “elevated private open space.” It plans to improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities, strengthen north-south connectivity, and increase ridership on public transportation. The project won’t require any variances. (See Austin Monitor, May 20)
Voting against Endeavor were chair Mike Martinez, vice chair Chris Riley and board member David Siebold. Martinez and Riley are both Austin Council members and Siebold is a member of the Leander City Council. Siebold noted that community members had expressed an overwhelming preference for Saltillo Collaborative.
“It’s an easy decision when I look at it,” Siebold said. “The most important thing is the public and what they’re looking for.”
Riley, too, said that though he thought both proposals were good, Saltillo Collaborative’s plan “represents a better fit.”
Community activists with the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan contact team had rallied behind Saltillo Collaborative, making “No Domain @ Saltillo” their tagline. Neighborhood leader Lori Renteria looked askance at Endeavor’s partnership with Austin Habitat for Humanity.
“I want to remind you that Habitat is not in the rental business,” Renteria told the board. “What we need to help low-income people on the East Side who are being displaced….is very low, low-income housing.”
Saltillo Collaborative, she continued, brings on board “two well-respected trustworthy affordable housing developers” in Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation and Foundation Communities.
But Austin Habitat CEO Kelly Weiss testified that Endeavor is on the right track, praising its plan to integrate affordable and market-rate units. Both proposals included 25 percent affordable housing units, but the collaborative’s proposal clustered those units on one end of the development, while Endeavor’s clusters only the 100 intended for seniors.
Endeavor’s working conditions also concerned activists. Saltillo Collaborative had agreed to a set of criteria from Workers’ Defense Project to ensure fair conditions for construction workers, which include not only living wages but also workers’ compensation, safety training, and independent monitoring. Endeavor pledged living wages and said it was ready to talk about related issues.
“We’ll definitely have a dialogue with them (Workers’ Defense Project) and see what other concerns they have on top of that that we might be able to address,” Thumler told the Monitor. He also said Endeavor looked forward to getting community input.
Renteria told the Monitor she was most disappointed by board member Beverly Silas’ vote for Endeavor.
“Her job is to be a community engagement consultant, and to completely go against the community is odd, just odd,” Renteria said.
Renteria added that she was concerned now for the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center, a senior apartment complex that is slated for redevelopment. Silas is part of the team involved in that effort, while another board member is also involved, according to Renteria.
“I can now see the writing on the wall, that it doesn’t matter what the community wants, with these two people,” Renteria said. “It’s all about the money.”
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