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Plan for ‘Statesman’ site precedes PUD amendment, push for funding options

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The development team in charge of the waterfront property that houses the Austin American-Statesman newspaper plans to file an amendment to a planned unit development proposal for the site in the coming weeks, kicking off an expected year of negotiations for the central piece of South Congress Avenue.

At last week’s South Central Waterfront Advisory Board meeting, representatives from Endeavor Real Estate and the Cox family presented a concept plan for the nearly 19-acre parcel, which makes up 16 percent of the district that will be redeveloped over the next 20 years, to add mixed-use development and parks and green space along the lakefront.

That plan showed Barton Springs Road extended east to run along the south border of the property and eventually turning south to connect to Riverside Drive, with a mix of office and residential buildings, some of which would rise more than 500 feet. Those high-density buildings with roughly 3 million square feet of use and three levels of underground parking would generate revenue to pay for the creation and upkeep of the parks on the site, which are expected to account for 40 percent of the public space within the district.

Richard Suttle, an attorney representing the development group, said that density is necessary to provide the streets and parks laid out in various visioning plans for the district, which the advisory board is in charge of pushing forward.

“I’m sure some of you are scratching your head going, what are they thinking?” he said. “The plan calls for the city participating in the public realm of the road and park, but that’s like owning a boat … the cheapest day is the day you build it, because now you’ve got ongoing maintenance and operations. We take on lots of that obligation, but to be able to afford to do that we need to be able to build the realm that we’re showing you.”

The plan, which was presented for information purposes and not for action by the board, also shows a possible pedestrian and public transit bridge across Lady Bird Lake, with a Capital Metropolitan transit station within the district to provide greater access for visitors.

Suttle repeated several times at the meeting that the plan was meant as a starting point for negotiations with city staff and various boards and commissions that will vote on whether to recommend City Council approve the PUD amendment.

Board members asked Suttle and other consultants on hand about the affordable housing component, which is expected to total 4 percent of the approximately 1,600 units. They also questioned how closely the development plan follows setback plans from the waterfront spelled out in an existing overlay for the area created by the now-dissolved Waterfront Planning Advisory Board. Suttle said the first level of setbacks are subscribed to currently, with some of the parks areas likely needing some adjustment that would be discussed with staff during the negotiation process.

Those negotiations and the subsequent presentations to several city boards and commissions are expected to take about a year.

Board Chair Samuel Franco said that time frame puts pressure on the board to push city staff and other involved bodies to move forward with the necessary plans and creation of funding mechanisms – including the likely creation of a local government corporation – to begin infrastructure work throughout the district.

“It’s our charge now as a board that there’s a way for this to work, because if this piece doesn’t work, nothing else moves forward,” he said. “We can’t wait any longer to have the answers we’re looking for, and as a body we need to urge Council to implement the things we’re going to recommend, whether it’s the funding source and how we do that, whether it’s the governance structure, or the regulating plan. Without all those components outlined in the plan, that have been there all along, this thing doesn’t work.”

Rendering via Endeavor Real Estate Group.

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