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Chad Swiatecki is a 20-year journalist who relocated to Austin from his home state of Michigan in 2008. He most enjoys covering the intersection of arts, business and local/state politics. He has written for Rolling Stone, Spin, New York Daily News, Texas Monthly, Austin American-Statesman and many other regional and national outlets.
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City quietly moving forward on redevelopment portfolio properties
Behind-the-scenes work on the redevelopment of four city-owned parcels is continuing, with requests for proposal resolutions for three of the properties expected to come before City Council by the end of March.
The four properties 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; and the former HealthSouth property downtown.
The HealthSouth property, which has become one of the leading possible sites for the city to create affordable housing downtown, was added to the priority list in October and replaced an Austin Energy property on Grove Road south of East Riverside Drive.
The properties most likely to see Council action first are the Justin Lane and Home Depot parcels, which are intended to be handled by the same vendor to lead community input and solicit proposals from the private real estate community.
Of the two, the Justin Lane project has the clearest direction because of meetings with nearby residents that have made affordable housing, artist spaces, parkland and some mixed-use development priorities for the 5.5-acre site.
Rebecca Giello, interim director of the city’s Economic Development Department, said department staff members are spending the beginning of 2019 having similar discussions with residents and community leaders in District 4 near the former Home Depot, which has been near the top of wish lists and conversations in recent years for arts and other organizations at risk of losing their spaces.
“We’ve had a first touch with the neighborhood association folks just to kind of go through the process for that particular (request for proposal),” she said.
Next in the queue is the HealthSouth parcel, which sits in District 1 and was a priority for former City Council Member Ora Houston as well as District 9 Council Member Kathie Tovo. That property is currently going through a request for information – a preliminary step that will lead to a separate RFP early this year.
At the back of the line as of now is the Bolm Road property in District 3, which is owned by Austin Resource Recovery and has not had any significant community engagement to find out neighbors’ expectations for what should happen there. Giello said the city plans to work with ARR to create the process and timetable for the parcel, with an evaluation from that agency expected this month.
With the city in control of more than a dozen parcels – including the McKalla Place property that will be home to a 20,000-seat soccer stadium opening in 2021 – last year EDD opted to take a “portfolio” approach and prioritize a handful of them each year for redevelopment. Giello said that approach helps keep the department focused and able to make progress on redevelopment efforts instead of using budget and staff time on a diffuse list.
“The way we have approached it now is we have a very specific program of work that allows Council and the community to understand from a budgetary perspective what is in our budget and the direction and the level of investment for each of those projects that is requested in our budget,” she said. “I think it’s certainly far more defined now.”
The tight focus on a small number of properties also makes it easier for prospective developers to know what their options are for engaging with the city, and capitalize on the growing demand for housing and commercial space in Austin.
“Specifically with Ryan Drive, St. Johns/Home Depot and HealthSouth parcels, I would think the degree of anticipation would be high,” she said. “It would be certainly expected and in the redevelopment portfolio where we’re expecting interest, we know there’s an engaged development community around those tracts.”
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Economic Development Department: This city department heads up business recruitment, urban regeneration, small business development, arts, and music for the city.