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Waterfront board waits for progress on city’s development corporation

Wednesday, November 21, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

City staff has been slowed in their work to research and make recommendations on how City Council could move forward with creating an economic development corporation (EDC) that could help facilitate public/private investment deals.

The demands of dealing with the October storm water crisis that required a weeklong boil water warning for residents has made it difficult for Economic Development Department staff to schedule time with the city manager’s office to hand in and review an analysis of EDCs. Spencer Cronk, the city’s top executive, or his staff is expected to review the report before it is submitted to City Council for consideration. Until then, the document is in something of a holding pattern which economic development staff hope ends before the conclusion of 2018. In the most recent city memos on the report, it was supposed to be submitted for review by Oct. 31.

David Colligan, acting assistant director of the Economic Development Department, was scheduled to present the report to the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board on Monday night, but instead provided a one-page summary of Council’s goals for an economic development corporation and the funding and governmental structure options to consider when creating such a body.

Last month, that body requested a progress report on the EDC creation.

The advisory board is one of the main bodies involved in shaping the development of 118 acres of property south of the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to the east and west of South Congress Avenue. That district, which includes 32 separate pieces of property, is seen as one of the most attractive redevelopment opportunities in downtown Austin and the kind of project that an EDC could help facilitate.

An EDC has also been identified as the kind of financial and governmental tool that could help create and administer land trusts to preserve affordable housing and space for Austin’s economically distressed creative class.

Colligan said existing specialized development entities like that formed to create the Mueller development, or the city’s Industrial Development Corporation, don’t appear to be broad or flexible enough to handle the kinds of development and investment deals envisioned by City Council’s 2017 resolution.

“We’ve created special purpose corporations to do things like Mueller, but those were attached to specific kinds of financing and we’re putting together an analysis that looks at the central pieces, like what needs to be done from a regulatory standpoint or financially, to understand how an EDC might be used,” he said. “On the matter of governance, some of them across the country are run by a city council, but if they want more flexibility then there are other options we could present them.”

Colligan said he hopes his department can get the full report approved and placed on the City Council calendar by the end of the year. That would likely lead Council to give further direction on what financial and other options to pursue in structuring the entity that could use city real estate, finances or other resources in executing business deals.

The slow pace of progress on creating an economic development corporation means that the South Congress redevelopment is also in something of a holding pattern, with the for-sale property of the Austin American-Statesman and the timeline for converting the city’s One Texas Center complex into affordable housing among the larger question marks.

“Providing the infrastructure for that area is the kind of relationship not created by the city before, and when you’re working with that large a number of property owners, it would take a pretty uniquely created entity,” Colligan said. “Right now we’re looking at the documents in their plan and updating the data points to fill in the gaps on what’s needed.”

Architectural rendering by Stephanie Bower, from the South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan.

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