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Infrastructure, financing studies signal progress for South Shore district

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s Planning and Zoning Department is looking to move forward on two pieces of long-overdue economic analysis needed to begin larger planning and development efforts around the portion of South Congress Avenue immediately south of Lady Bird Lake.

At Monday’s meeting of the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board, members learned that PAZ had identified the funding to pay for an infrastructure study and the gap financing to provide affordable housing as the 118-acre district is developed in the coming years. The news from PAZ director Greg Guernsey came weeks after the board delivered a sharply worded letter to City Council expressing frustration that a list of plans and approvals needed to begin work on the area’s redevelopment had stalled for more than a year.

Guernsey said the roughly $50,000 needed for the infrastructure study will come from “unfilled vacancy” funding from his department, while the gap financing analysis will possibly be paid for with a revolving contracts agreement with consultants.

Those studies, which will likely take beyond the end of the year to complete, are two of the bigger pieces of research needed for the city to determine if a tax increment financing district – or TIF – or bond funding will be used to pay for district improvements.

“You still need to do this financial study on how much all this stuff costs, because it’s gotten more expensive to do all this construction and you’ve got to figure that (cost) out and have other foundational things,” Guernsey said. “Once you learn what the gap is in the finances in the private sector with fees or whatever – once we know that, then we can have the conversation about creating the TIF, about how much it could generate and how much land area will be involved.”

Guernsey told the Austin Monitor that much of the delay came from City Council stopping the CodeNEXT process last summer, with several planning pieces for the district folding into the larger rewrite of the land development code. The expected restart of that process will free up money and staff time for some of the work that’s been on hold, though he said other departments involved in building and public works may have to allocate parts of their budgets for projects in the district.

A 2018 study of the waterfront area by Capitol Market Research, Inc. found that up to 8.5 million square feet of housing or office space could be constructed in the area between South First Street and Bouldin Creek as the district grows.

The study found that the taxable value of the district in 2017 was $827 million and is expected to reach $6.7 billion by 2040. That growth would create more than $322 million in tax revenue, much of which would be used to repay the infrastructure and other redevelopment costs if the city elects to create a TIF for the area.

“If we are able to accomplish these two studies we have a lot more information to set before Council in terms of, is there a TIF,” said Alan Holt, a planner with Planning and Zoning. “Is bond funding part of the package? What’s the allocation of these funds for infrastructure and affordable housing? One of the other questions opened up by the Council is, are the affordable housing needs met in the district or in a larger area outside the district? There’s less bang for the buck if you’re concentrating the (affordable) housing in the district.”

Board Chair Brooke Bailey said the restart of the code rewrite – and the various planning documents attached to it – will be the next big step needed to eventually realize the district’s potential.

“Everything else follows (the studies), if you get those two done and get some dedicated staffing for this (project) like you see with Seaholm and Mueller,” she said. “This project is like those, but doesn’t have a project manager, and we’re at the point now where someone can come in who can negotiate, oversee and bring the different departments together and has the needed authority.”

Architectural rendering by Stephanie Bower courtesy of the city of Austin.

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