Thursday, October 5, 2017 by Jo Clifton

City to lease Ben White space for DSD, AE

Last week, City Council authorized negotiation and execution of a seven-year lease for a little less than 60,000 square feet at 5202 E. Ben White Blvd. The building will house about 100 employees from Austin Energy and 93 employees from the Development Services Department.

During the Sept. 26 work session, Council Member Alison Alter wanted to know whether any of the 93 Development Services employees moving to the Ben White building were part of the 51 positions that the department had requested in its budget but Council has yet to authorize. The answer to that question was no, according to Development Services Assistant Director Melissa Martinez.

Martinez said Development Services staff is currently crowded into One Texas Center, using conference rooms and other unconventional spaces for some staff. Lauraine Rizer, the city’s real estate officer, added, “we’re doing different work shifts and whatever we can to fit them into the building.”

If the department can move some of those employees to the Ben White location, it will alleviate crowding now and allow for use of conference rooms for the second expedited plan review team, Martinez said. Development Services expects to relocate the site and subdivision inspection team, the environmental team, the community trees section and the map sales employees.

Alter also asked why such a long lease was necessary in view of the fact that Development Services and the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department will be moving to their new space on Airport Boulevard in three to four years.

Rizer explained that her department had been working on this lease for about 18 months and had a difficult time finding a reasonable rate. The city got a good deal on the lease at $18 per square foot, she said, adding that this number compares favorably with $25 to $37 per square foot quoted at other buildings. By agreeing to the seven-year contract, she said, the city was able to get a lower rate.

In addition, Rizer said she expects the city will need that space after all of the Development Services staff members move to their new location because the city will want to do some renovations at One Texas Center, necessitating moving out staff during that time. The RBJ Public Health Center is also in bad condition and requires renovation, Rizer said, so the staff in that building can move over to the Ben White building while RBJ is undergoing repairs.

Rizer said she expects the Airport Boulevard building to be ready in early 2021, but she pointed out that not all of the 1,000 employees could move at one time, so the whole relocation might take a number of months.

According to backup material on the Council agenda item, Austin Energy “desires to relocate approximately 100 employees in its Utility Contact Center” to the new lease space. Currently, utility employees are working in temporary spaces, such as training rooms and conference rooms at Town Lake Center, 811 Barton Springs Road and the System Control Center on Montopolis Drive. The utility said that co-locating its contact center staff will facilitate collaboration and clear space needed at the other buildings.

The lease includes 237 parking spaces for city employees and clients at no additional charge, according to backup material.

Mayor Steve Adler recused himself from the discussion and vote on the lease. Adler’s spokesperson told the Austin Monitor that the mayor has an interest in the ownership group that owns the property.

Photo by LoneStarMike (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

Development Services Department: A city department that reviews development and inspection services.

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