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HealthSouth redevelopment moves forward

Thursday, January 28, 2021 by Jo Clifton

As she made the motion to move the HealthSouth project forward Wednesday, Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Madison added some requests to Council Member Kathie Tovo’s long list of asks for the team working on the exclusive negotiating agreement with Aspen Heights Partners. That agreement will provide a framework for negotiating the developer’s lease of the property at 1215 Red River and 606 E. 12th St., next to the site of the old Brackenridge Hospital. Various members of City Council have been working to reach this milestone for several years.

Harper-Madison told her colleagues, “Facts are facts and one of the most undeniable facts is … that we have a massive housing shortage in the city of Austin. And I think that is even more true when we’re talking about affordable housing opportunities, both in Central Austin but even more so when we’re talking about downtown. Add up all the new towers and residential development we’ve seen in the last decade – only two projects delivered a mix of market-rate and income-restricted units in our central business district.”

After agreeing to add more requests, Council members unanimously approved a lengthy list of things they want to see when the project is completed, in addition to the items Tovo outlined in her City Council Message Board post.

For example, Council Member Pio Renteria requested that the Downtown Austin Community Court be located in the commercial part of the development. He said it would generate income for the development and the city would not be required to spend $21 million for the new court building if it were located in the Aspen Heights development. Renteria previously convinced his colleagues not to relocate the court in his district in East Austin.

Harper-Madison had her own requests; the first was to include a live music venue on the site, while the second mirrored a request from Tovo that the site include room for a child care facility. Harper-Madison also talked about the possibility of decreasing the amount of parking at the new project, noting that Project Connect’s new Gold Line would provide more mobility for residents of the area.

Mayor Steve Adler, while voting for his colleagues’ motions, warned Council members that there could be a limit to how much the developer would agree to provide in addition to the affordable housing, which is the city’s main goal.

Addressing Chief Economic Recovery Officer Veronica Briseño, Adler said, “I know there was a memo that you sent out to us where there were certain guardrails you wanted us to operate within that would enable this process to proceed to without having to reissue an RFP (request for proposal) or change the process. There are a lot of things that I think the Council would like to see in this deal,” but, “the Council doesn’t necessarily have a good idea about what’s realistic and what might not be with the property – what was achievable and was not achievable. … At some point we ask for so many things that there’s not enough in the deal for the developer to be able to pay for the things that we want to have happen. I want us to stay within the guardrails that you have established.”

Briseño told Adler it would be helpful for staffers if Council’s amendments were prioritized as they move forward with the negotiations. She added that she understood it was not Council’s intent to rebid at this point but to take the amendments and move forward.

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