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Budget pressures impact Council’s verdict on San Jacinto warehouse

Thursday, February 24, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Preservation prospects for the Nalley-Shear-Bremond warehouse at 301 San Jacinto St. appear grim. With no motion made by City Council members last Thursday, the case is effectively dead, clearing the path for developers to apply for a demolition permit.

After first addressing the case earlier this month, City Council declined to vote on the decision to initiate historic zoning. Historic zoning would challenge the property owner’s intent to demolish the existing warehouse to make way for something new, arguing that the structure retains a degree of historic and architectural importance that qualifies it for historic landmark status. 

“Looking forward to the fiscal pressure we will encounter in the near future, we can expect a much larger property tax check if our warehouse district continues to develop,” District 4’s newest Council member, Chito Vela, said.

The building, which is currently home to Vince Young Steakhouse and Thomas Printworks, was built in 1912 to accommodate the industrial boom ushered in by Austin’s railroad system. It operated for decades as a grocery under the Bremond family, which played a formative role in developing the city’s earliest commercial and banking institutions.

Despite what staff members felt to be a strong case, Council members were not convinced that the building’s preservation would benefit the city.

“I sincerely appreciate the work that our Historic Preservation Office does, and the research they have put into this,” Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison said, “but I find myself struggling to agree with their findings. It’s been pointed out that the Bremond family has a whole district named in their honor just a few blocks up the road. Frankly I think we could accomplish the same goal of telling the city’s story with something like a plaque.”

With the reality of the city’s tight budget fresh on their minds, Council members quickly steered the conversation in the numerical direction. Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Brummett acknowledged that in the 2021 fiscal year, 301 San Jacinto St. offered a total of $355,000 in property taxes in 2021, roughly $88,000 of which was collected by the city.

Though the Housing and Planning Department couldn’t accurately predict what the post-development site might accrue in tax revenue, staff acknowledged it would certainly be a marked increase. “I will settle for an estimation of ‘a lot larger,’” Vela remarked.

On a more sympathetic note, Council Member Kathie Tovo, who represents the surrounding central business district, said she had discussed several alternatives to demolition with the property owners to little avail. Still, Tovo said the case had inspired her to rethink Austin’s existing preservation infrastructure.

“I’ve been looking at buildings like the Hearst Tower, and other similar projects in Chicago, where new tax revenue has been realized while still preserving the structures that tell the story of the city. … We’ve talked for decades about the need for a broader set of tools in this regard, so I intend to bring forward a resolution in the next few months that would create a task force to tackle these issues.”

Council members Leslie Pool and Mackenzie Kelly voiced their support for this effort, as did Mayor Steve Adler.

“Recognizing that staff can’t give us a concrete number, I know that tax revenue will be millions,” Harper-Madison said of the future site development. “That’s extra gravy for our parks, our police, our firefighters, our libraries, our affordable housing fund … not to mention the transit system our taxpayers approved in 2020 … if we preserve this building as-is in our central business district, I really don’t think we’re maximizing the value of our taxpayers’ investment.”

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been updated to more accurately reflect Council’s decision and the status of the case. 

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