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Photo by Austin EDC

City seeks developer to partner on transformation of two historic blocks

Thursday, August 11, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Over the next three months, the city’s quasi-governmental development entity will perform the early work that will result in a development plan next year for two long-discussed blocks in East Austin.

This week’s Community Development Commission meeting featured a presentation from the Austin Economic Development Corporation on its plan to create a request for proposals to lure hopeful developers interested in partnering on mixed-use projects for idle portions of the two blocks on East 11th Street that are home to Franklin Barbecue and the Victory Grill.

The mostly city-owned parcels on those two blocks have been the subject of redevelopment and urban renewal plans going back more than 30 years, with a variety of city departments, including Housing and Planning, stepping in to unsuccessfully manage the process of gathering community feedback and creating a plan that satisfies community and city interests. The EDC, which was formed to operate like a private development entity with the financing and planning resources of a government body, has taken on those blocks’ future in addition to its expected involvement in the South Central Waterfront District and the city’s in-process cultural land trust.

Anne Gatling Haynes, the EDC’s chief transactions officer, told the commission that feedback dating back to 1991, and planning documents such as the Urban Renewal Plan and the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District that don’t naturally cohere, have presented challenges with moving the redevelopment process along.

“The conversation has gone on over a long period of time, and some basic things might not be different, but the people who live there and who’ve been displaced there has changed quite a bit,” she said. “What we’re trying to do leading up to the development of these places is listen and look at the process that has happened before, understand the goals and objectives for the community … and make sure we’re writing our (RFP) so it speaks to the uses we want to see on those blocks.”

Thus far the EDC has hired five consultants for the preparation work ahead of the RFP: Hayat Brown for market/economic analysis, Page architects and urban planners, the Bingham Group for engagement, Civilitude for engineering, and PublicCity for community feedback.

Haynes said an important piece of the prep work is to look at the regulatory guidelines and marketplace dynamics that will determine what mix of housing, commercial space and other uses will be possible in the specified areas. That work will also help to determine what kind of funding will be available to underwrite whatever affordable housing is identified as needed in the redevelopment process.

“We’ve hired some consultants to help us look at the different uses people have asked for on that site, and how are they going to fit on that site. What are the financial models we can look at and what are the financial tools that allow us to accomplish those things effectively,” she said.

“We’re not doing the developer’s work for them, but they’re not going to naturally be able to solve for all of the uses the community wants to see without a little bit of assistance.”

Commissioner Michael Tolliver said the parking available on the westernmost of the two blocks is a needed use for those who visit a nearby bank, church and Victory Grill. He said Haynes and others involved in the process will need to make sure the community is aware of the plans to replace those parking spaces with new construction.

Chair Amit Motwani, who also sits on the Urban Renewal Board, said while City Council already has a recommendation from the Urban Renewal Board about the general objectives for the properties known as Block 16 and Block 18, there are still opportunities to shape the discussion.

“These two blocks which are really important historical blocks are about to be redeveloped and are going from public to private usage. It’s important that (the properties) have stewards and conduits to the city and that we do our best to participate and engage in this process,” he said.

“The (EDC) will be managing that process hand in hand with the Urban Renewal Board, and with the (EDC) being extra-governmental they have the ability to be nimble, set different kinds of contracts and mechanisms to manage problems in a way that opens up some flexibility.”

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