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Thursday, June 29, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Updated: Plaza Saltillo development finally breaks ground

A giant empty field east of downtown Austin has at long last commenced its transformation into hundreds of apartments and thousands of square feet of office, retail and restaurant space.

On Tuesday, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority President and CEO Linda Watson presided over the official groundbreaking on the agency’s 10-acre Plaza Saltillo tract. Scores of Capital Metro staffers, local officials, neighbors and other stakeholders gathered at the East Austin MetroRail station from which the property gets its name to celebrate the occasion with food, drinks and a live conjunto band.

The project has been decades in the making and faced the potential of further delays as it approached the finish line at both Capital Metro and City Council. After several close calls, Council approved the project in early March.

On Wednesday, Council Member Pio Renteria hailed the project and its affordability component and contended that it will help check displacement of longtime East Austin residents.

Endeavor Real Estate Group principal Jason Thumlert told the assembled crowd that the project “will bring more vibrancy to an already culturally rich East Austin.” Built partially on what was once a post-emancipation freedmen’s colony known as Masontown, the development will feature a memorial to that community. It will also integrate the Trail of Tejano Music Legends and Tejano Healthy Walking Trail.

In addition to the 800 residential units, the Plaza Saltillo development will include 120,000 square feet of office space, and 115,000 square feet of restaurant and retail. According to Endeavor’s website, the retail businesses alone will include 540 covered parking spaces. Watson told the crowd that several tenants have been lined up and although she couldn’t yet reveal them, she promised they are all “homegrown.”

The good spirits of the celebration around Capital Metro’s most ambitious transit-oriented development to date were somewhat blunted by the lack of any MetroRail trains passing through the station. That was due to a rare train wreck in North Austin that occurred almost simultaneously with the opening of the Plaza Saltillo festivities.

According to the Austin Police Department, the driver of an SUV attempted to bypass closed gate arms along Research Boulevard. A northbound MetroRail train slammed into the truck, damaging both vehicles. Police said no one was injured.

UPDATE: Capital Metro spokesperson Marietta Hummel provided new details about the crash to the Austin Monitor on Thursday. Hummel explained that the driver of the SUV attempted to beat the train to the intersection and drove through the gate arms at a rate of high speed rather slowing down and navigating around them. Although the train operator saw the oncoming and activated the brakes, the train did not stop in time. Even though the train was slowing down, the SUV did not come close to beating it and instead slammed into the side of the train. The driver was cited for the crash.

The wreck temporarily shut down MetroRail service. A Capital Metro spokesperson said the damage to the train won’t affect MetroRail service.

Construction on the Plaza Saltillo is expected to wrap up in late 2018.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Capital Metro: The city’s urban transportation system.

Plaza Saltillo: Capital Metro's 11-acre tract in East Austin is slated to be developed by Endeavor Real Estate Group after a 20-year process.

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