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Stratus endorsed to transform Seaholm intake

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 by Jo Clifton

The city’s Parks and Recreation Board has endorsed city’s staff recommendation that the city choose Stratus Properties to transform, operate and maintain recreational and meeting facilities at the historic Seaholm Power Plant intake facility on Lady Bird Lake. The vote was 6-0 with three abstentions. Two board members were absent.

Those who abstained, Mark Vane, Tom Donovan and Alison Alter, said they felt they did not have enough information to weigh in on the subject. Board members Rick Cofer and Rich DePalma were absent. DePalma is recovering from a serious injury that he sustained when he fell off his roof.

Parks department project manager Lyn Estabrook and Marty Stump, assistant director, described the proposed facilities as including a boardwalk, event space, convention space, outdoor recreation space, a roof deck, public gardens and public plazas. Estabrook said Stratus would transform the historic intake structure for the Seaholm Power Plant as well as the smaller intake structure for the old Green Water Treatment Plant.

The city will not invest any funds in the project and will maintain permanent ownership of the property as parkland, Estabrook said.

A team of evaluators from several departments – Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Economic Development, Watershed Protection, Library, Financial Services, Planning and Zoning and Development – recommended Stratus over the other finalist, Southwest Strategies Group. In addition to staff’s evaluation, the city conducted an online survey of the top two contenders, with Stratus receiving more votes, according to Terry Nicholson of the Purchasing Department.

Southwest Strategies is the developer of the other portion of the Seaholm property, now called Seaholm Power. That site features commercial and residential spaces as well as a Trader Joe’s, a new downtown library and public spaces.

Stratus Properties, if selected by City Council, will be responsible for the financing, design, construction, management, maintenance and operation of the facility. The agreement will take the form of a public-private partnership, according to a memo from Parks and Recreation Director Sara Hensley.

Susan Rankin, executive director of the Trail Foundation, told the parks board that her organization was on both the Stratus team and the Southwest team, so that no matter which Council chooses, the Trails Foundation will be involved with the project.

The Trail Foundation has installed restrooms, trailheads and native trees and has helped raise money to complete the boardwalk along the lake, east of I-35. Regarding the intake facility, Rankin said, “The Trail Foundation is totally committed to the adaptive reuse of the section between the Butler Trail and Lady Bird Lake and Austin’s downtown growing residential and business areas, the library and all of that.”

“The intake will in fact transform the trail user experience,” Rankin said. “The use and the programming that will be developed will affect the trail enormously. The Trails Foundation will help fund the exterior grounds improvements and moving the trail over water. It’s very important to get the trail on the lake side of this building away from East Cesar Chavez. The project also has the potential to reveal the lakefront that’s currently hidden behind the intake.

“The historic architecture surrounded by the beautiful older trees is the perfect setting for the public to take advantage of the site’s natural and man-made beauty,” Rankin added. “As the steward of the public trail, we’ll continue to be involved throughout this public process to protect the trail and ensure that the uses of the buildings and grounds will enhance the trail and the public experience.”

Finally, Rankin said, “One thing that you may not realize is the fact that there will be nonprofit funds brought into this that will really have an impact on the amount of public use versus private use that can be done here. … You should understand that in a global sense, the Trail Foundation will provide some private funds for this project similar to the significant funds that we brought into the boardwalk, and that will go to the cost of building the trail over water and for the exterior grounds improvements.”

Although staff was reluctant to discuss certain details of the project proposal because of its status in the purchasing pipeline, Nicholson said that Stratus has estimated that the city will receive $18 million over the 20-year term of the contract. However, he cautioned that city staff needs to sit down with Stratus to negotiate. The contract also includes at least one 10-year option.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

This story has been corrected to reflect the correct name of the Trail Foundation, which was previously misidentified as the “Trails Foundation.”

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