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EDC waiting on TIRZ formation while moving ahead with cultural trust funding proposals

Wednesday, April 27, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

The city’s economic development corporation is moving ahead with evaluating proposals from creative groups vying for some of the $16.9 million in cultural trust funds for creative spaces, but its role in helping manage development south of Lady Bird Lake is in limbo while the real estate market moves forward.

Staff from the EDC, a nonprofit quasi-government agency formed last year to pursue development around affordability and job creation goals, is currently evaluating the 45 proposals for cultural trust funding. A May 19 meeting with applicants will update them on the process that was created in part to determine the long-term needs for saving and creating creative spaces around the city as real estate prices continue to push more artists and groups out of the area.

But one of the EDC’s other main roles is to manage the financing and deal-making for public works projects, such as a new transit station, in the South Central Waterfront district south of the Congress Avenue Bridge that would be paid for through a proposed tax increment reinvestment zone. The TIRZ, which would channel increases in property tax revenues in the zone toward infrastructure throughout the area, is still being discussed by City Council, with the next progress not expected until July.

The wait means the EDC can’t do any meaningful work for proposed improvements such as street widening or utilities issues related to development, while projects such as the redevelopment of the former Austin American-Statesman property move forward.

David Steinwedell, the longtime real estate professional who is chair of the EDC board, said there is little he and other board members or staff can do related to the high-profile district until Council moves forward with the TIRZ that has been discussed as a vital component of the area’s redevelopment for years.

“Without the TIRZ there’s probably not a role for the EDC because those are two intertwined pieces, and unfortunately there’s not a lot we can accomplish because we need to have that in place. There’s a lot of interest in ensuring that the South Central Waterfront can achieve a wide variety of goals, including what’s going to happen with the lake and parks as well as with affordable housing and cultural venue goals,” he said. “There’s a lot of moving parts and I think, unfortunately, because of the number of moving parts, nothing moves anywhere near the speed we want it to go while the private market is efficient and they find ways to get things done.”

With new CEO Theresa Alvarez in place, the EDC’s major projects include helping to carry out real estate transactions and related services related to two city parcels (known as blocks 16 and 18) on East 11th Street, and performing a real estate analysis of the proposed Interstate 35 reconstruction, with a focus on equity issues.

Alvarez, who joined the group in February after spending her career in financial services with Wells Fargo, said the scope of priorities for the EDC is ambitious and will need to be evaluated based on the deals it carries out related to cultural spaces and affordability.

“In other cities, you could have an organization just focused on what we’re doing with the cultural trust, and that could be a full-time organization. And you would probably see a South Central Waterfront EDC, and it would just be focused on South Central Waterfront,” she said. “Real estate investment will be how we measure success. We take the underutilized city assets and make them valuable and bring the community benefits that we’re looking for, whether that’s artistic venues, whether that’s job creation, whatever that area needs and how that’s determined.”

With the cultural trust proposal evaluation moving forward, Alvarez said the initial grant recipients will be the first step in the pipeline of projects the EDC will try to assist through city funds, future philanthropy and fundraising, or low-interest borrowing that she and others can assist in managing for arts groups.

“The idea is not just handing out dollars. It’s creating the pipeline that’s going to every artistic venue, and every artistic group that has very unique specific needs in their deals. We’re looking at it in terms of how do we leverage and connect and secure not only additional funding, but additional resources.”

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