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Praise pours in for county’s downtown deal

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

Late Tuesday afternoon, the county formally announced its deal with Lincoln Property Company and Phoenix Property Company to ink a 99-year ground lease at 308 Guadalupe St., the empty block that was once eyed as the site for a brand new civil courthouse.

County Judge Sarah Eckhardt told reporters that the Travis County Commissioners Court had in a prior executive session authorized her to sign the contract with the two firms. She indicated she would exercise that commission no later than today.

The two firms will redevelop the property and pay the county nearly $430 million throughout the lifetime of the lease. The first payment of $13.4 million will be handed over once Eckhardt’s signature is on the dotted line.

Details of the mixed-use proposal remain scarce. A county official familiar with the matter said that the plans are still in the design phase and are subject to change. Lincoln-Phoenix also still has yet to navigate the development gauntlet at City Hall.

In the county’s press release heralding the deal, Lincoln Vice President of Development Chris Jessee said simply, “Phoenix Property Company and Lincoln Property Company are honored to have been selected to develop this block in the heart of downtown.”

Commissioner Brigid Shea offered effusive praise for the terms that the development team agreed to abide by. The project will be built in accordance with the city’s Better Builder Program, ensuring stringent protections for construction workers. If a residential component is included in the final plans, the developers must guarantee that 10 percent of the units are available to low- and moderate-income residents rather than simply pay a fee-in-lieu. Additionally, Lincoln-Phoenix will hand over a still-undisclosed amount to the Austin Parks Foundation to bolster Republic Square Park.

“Here in the heart of the city, we want and need to make sure that Travis County is being a good citizen of Austin,” Shea said. “These worker protections, affordable housing and investments in our urban park space are important commitments by the county, Lincoln and Phoenix to the values of the people we represent.”

Austin Parks Foundation CEO Colin Wallis said his group is “thrilled and grateful” for the donation. He added, “Austin’s parklands need more stewards, and through generous donations like this, we’re making this unique public-private partnership work to help this downtown neighborhood become healthier and more vibrant through the redevelopment of Republic Square.”

As for Lincoln-Phoenix’s time frame, the window remains relatively large. After the initial signing payment, the team won’t owe the county its first lease payment until 2023.

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