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Colony Park development expected to move forward this fall

Thursday, July 6, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s next big planned unit development will begin moving forward this fall when potential developers begin showing their bona fides and ability to handle the multistage project.

The Request for Qualifications process for the Colony Park community in Northeast Austin is expected to begin in September, with the formal proposal process open to selected developers soon after the new year. Before either of those begin, the city manager’s office and community members will receive a presentation about the scope of the project and how it will move forward.

The 208-acre project located on Decker Lane near Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park will be the largest redevelopment of city-owned land since the Mueller property development. It is expected to bring more than 2,400 housing units, a mix of retail and office space, a transit center and an “innovation district” to one of the last frontiers of largely undeveloped land in Austin.

Christine Maguire, redevelopment division manager in the city’s Economic Development Department, touted the upcoming RFQ process to local real estate leaders during last week’s Urban Land Institute Austin membership breakfast.

The RFQ process will be the first movement on the project since the completion of its master plan in 2014. In the time since then, responsibility for the project was transferred from the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, which managed a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create the master plan, to the city’s Economic Development Department to oversee the redevelopment process.

Colony Park’s master plan creates allowances for a mixture of single-family attached housing, town homes, accessory dwelling units, commercial uses and civic space plus improvements to nearby park property. A town center on the area’s frontage on Loyola Lane will sit adjacent to the innovation district that could have more than 400,000 square feet of space for trade schools and classrooms dedicated to education in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.

There is no timetable spelled out for the development of the master plan, but the Colony Park project would join a cluster of potential economic development efforts that have the potential to transform the area. Among those are the proposed expansion of the Travis County Expo Center, creation of a golf course at Walter Long Park, a hoped-for transit center and a combination of other residential and commercial development projects.

The master plan also points out the expected economic “halo effect” that the different components of the Colony Park development could have on their surrounding areas, saying the project is designed to “maximize the benefits to the adjacent community.”

Of all the nearby economic drivers that could complement Colony Park’s impact on the area, the transit hub with bus service, or a MetroRail green line, is seen as the most important piece.

“In most areas the plan can stand alone and be a success but it is pretty reliant on having a green line station there because of the situation with transit access,” said Martin Barrera, the city’s redevelopment project manager for Colony Park.

Barrera said pre-RFQ meetings with master developers to review the master plan have created interest in the Colony Park project, with some offering their preliminary ideas on how they’d execute the development within the city’s guidelines for affordability and environmental and economic impact.

“We wanted to get their opinion of the master plan and hear how they’d approach it,” he said. “The forums were very aspirational and we have to look at the intuition of the developers, any financial concerns there are, because the project needs to be a winner for the developer, the city and the community around it.”

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