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Shoal Creek trail project gets special attention

Monday, August 19, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

To support both the city’s transportation goals and the ongoing work of the Shoal Creek Conservancy, City Council passed a resolution Aug. 9 directing the city manager to consider ways to prioritize the Cypress and Shoal Creek Project, a heavily used downtown segment of Shoal Creek Trail between West Avenue and Second Street.

The resolution’s basic concept was initially to analyze whether or not funds from the Seaholm Tax Increment Financing District could go toward funding the project. The project components include creation of a set of public plazas, a new hike-and-bike pathway over Shoal Creek and restoration of the currently unused trestle bridge.

“This particular set of projects, which isn’t solely a trail, has the power to do more than be one component of the (Urban Trails Master Plan) for the whole city. It has the power to be part of a package that creates even additional tax base than would be there otherwise,” said Ted Siff, president of the conservancy’s board of directors.

Using the tax increment financing funds would require extending the district’s geographical boundary eastward to Nueces Street, a move that Siff said is appropriate because of the project’s essential role in promoting the area’s growth and contribution to the city’s tax base.

However, Mayor Steve Adler expressed concern that extending the district for the sake of the project would effectively allow the project to forgo the city’s typical prioritization process, especially with so many other projects lined up and waiting for funding.

That money, Adler explained, would end up going into the city’s General Fund if not used for projects within the tax increment financing district. By adding more projects within the district, areas without access to those funds could be ultimately “shortchanged,” he said.

Council Member Kathie Tovo said the project was “critical to our mobility network” and worthy of both the funds and prioritization because of its place on a continuous urban trail system between the Butler Hike and Bike Trail along Lady Bird Lake and the Walnut Creek Trail in North Austin. “I think there are multiple things we need to do,” she said, “but I think there’s no question that we should do this one.”

Voting against the resolution, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan expressed discomfort with the idea of using tax increment financing to prioritize some projects above others without considering other factors.

Council approved the resolution 8-1-2 after a motion by Tovo with Flannigan voting no and Council Member Alison Alter and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza off the dais.

The final direction incorporated Adler’s primary concerns, directing the city manager to review the project in relation to the city’s other priorities before making a recommendation. In doing so, the city manager is also instructed to work with the conservancy and the Downtown Austin Alliance and consider other projects in the area such as the restoration of the Seaholm Intake Facility.

The city manager is directed to report on any progress on the Cypress and Shoal Creek Project as well as the analysis of potential financing mechanisms by Oct. 1.

Photo by Ryan Thornton.

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