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Four city parcels ID’d for redevelopment focus in next budget

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

The Economic Development Department is recommending City Council spend the next budget year focusing on putting four pieces of city-owned property into higher use with mixtures of housing, commercial space, parklands and more.

A recent memo detailed the department’s efforts since April to shift to a “portfolio approach” in selecting the city properties that can be used to address persistent issues such as food scarcity, economic opportunity and availability of affordable housing.

That shift followed a March Council work session presentation where staff highlighted 12 city-owned properties and solicited feedback on how to move forward with development efforts, since Council members and members of various boards and commissions have pushed for more than a year to make those spaces into greater community assets.

The four parcels singled out for due diligence on title, utilities and other issues before opening a request for proposal process are:

  • An Austin Energy parcel at Justin Lane and Ryan Drive
  • The former Home Depot property on East St. Johns Avenue
  • A parcel at Bolm Road near Airport Boulevard
  • An Austin Energy property on Grove Boulevard just south of East Riverside Drive

There is no timeline for development of the four properties, but the narrower focus is expected to make it easier for Economic Development staff to perform the background work, study the market and conduct community input sessions to determine the best possible uses at each site.

The city’s proposed budget for next fiscal year includes $238,000 for one new full-time employee plus funds for environmental, legal and other research needed to put together a comprehensive RFP process.

Christine Maguire, manager of the city’s redevelopment division, said that the several months of preparation and evaluation is typical for how the city redevelops properties such as the former Mueller airport, and the in-process effort at the Colony Park property.

And she said it’s the process that was circumvented in the ongoing negotiation for using the city’s McKalla Place property to build a proposed soccer stadium, though the city was in the early stages of creating an RFP for that property in 2017.

“We need to do that diligence before we do a competitive process, to find what issues come with the land and see what the market context is and what is our strength to leverage benefits,” she said. “That dictates initial asking price, expectations on how much community benefit we can get, how much revenue we can get. We need to know that reconnaissance up front in order to know how to make it as successful as possible in a competitive RFP or RFQ process.”

There have been at least initial community discussions on the four properties to determine what residents need and want to see on the underutilized or vacant spaces.

The Ryan Drive site was the subject of a spring working group in the surrounding community that recommended a mix of affordable housing units, transit access points and parkland on the 5.5-acre parcel.

An expected resolution from Council Member Leslie Pool, whose district includes the Ryan Drive property, would direct staff to open an RFP for a company or organization to develop the site.

Pool said talks are ongoing with adjacent property owners to possibly combine the parcels into a larger development project, which has been in some form of consideration and discussion for at least five years.

“I understand the desire for movement and change that you can see, but the reason government works the way it does is you can’t get too far ahead of everybody or else you have what we’re going through at McKalla,” she said. “I like what the neighbors have put together with their work group, and we’re hoping to have as little asphalt and concrete there as possible. The best outcome will be if we can move forward to expand the footprint for the entire site.”

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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