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Plaza Saltillo development raises concerns

Thursday, September 25, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The redevelopment of East Austin’s Plaza Saltillo area is just underway, and some residents are already worried.

This summer, the Capital Metro Transportation Authority board selected Endeavor Group to head the redevelopment of the 10-acre tract of the former East Austin rail yard. The developer’s plans include 800 units of housing, parkland and a grocery store. However, while those plans are far from finalized, Austinites are already concerned about what may happen to nearby buildings.

Regina “Reji” Thomas, who is an artist known for her glass art, spoke to the Historic Landmark Commission during its last meeting. Thomas has restored, lived and worked at 414 Waller St., or as she put it, “ground zero” for the Plaza Saltillo redevelopment project. She explained that the building — as well as its sister building, the Texaco Station — are the two “last living structures of the rail yard.”

Thomas expressed concern that the building hasn’t been properly evaluated for historical significance, and asked for an investigation to assess whether it is qualified for at least a partial historic designation. She said that, previously, Capital Metro had told her “without a doubt, not to seek any type of historical preservation for that space.” Although Thomas is leaving the building, she says she wants to see it preserved.

“I have no problem leaving the building,” said Thomas. “It is just the idea that it could be demolished and removed … It’s about the building.” Commissioner Mary Jo Galindo commended Thomas on her stewardship of the building, saying that she had “polished a diamond.” In addition to living in the building, Thomas told the commission that she completed all of the glasswork for the state Capitol restoration.

Elizabeth Purcell also spoke on behalf of the building’s preservation: “This is just going to be a travesty to see this building go.” Purcell explained that Thomas has the option of moving the building or tearing it down, but believed the building belongs on its present land. Thomas told the commissioners that she has purchased the building, but not the land.

Purcell said her goal was that “this little bit of Austin is still left” even if Thomas leaves.

John Julitz, a Capital Metro spokesman, said that while the development contract had been awarded to Endeavor Real Estate Group, no development decisions had been made and negotiations were ongoing.

Julitz said the developers were well aware that many of the buildings near the redevelopment area had sentimental value for the community, and Capital Metro would continue to have outreach with the residents about its plans.


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