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Residents helping to shape final details of Home Depot redevelopment

Wednesday, September 7, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

With the city still working to finalize a master development agreement for the redevelopment of the former Home Depot property in the St. Johns neighborhood, residents will have more opportunities beginning this week to weigh in on the final plans for the tract.

A series of community discussions are on tap for those interested in learning more about the redevelopment, which is being led by Greystar Development Central, LLC. The first community event is a resource fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday at the Virginia L. Brown Recreation Center on Blessing Avenue.

The 19-acre site along Interstate 35 has been the focal point for redevelopment plans and a variety of potential civic uses, including a police station, for more than a decade. Its coming reconstruction is an important turning point for those who have stayed involved as the city took control of the parcels and worked to identify the best use.

Proposed framework for the site, via the city of Austin.

Last July, City Council voted unanimously to support a proposal from Greystar and the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. The proposal – chosen from six bids – calls for 560 residential units, half of which will be affordable for families earning 50-70 percent of the area median income, along with parkland and 15,000 square feet of commercial space.

Council Member Chito Vela, whose District 4 includes the St. Johns area, said the community sessions will give residents a chance to shape some of the final details of the project that has been in the spotlight for years.

“The proposal is pretty close to baked at this point and the people in the St. Johns community that I’ve met with and spoke with are very supportive of the project,” he said. “More than anything they want it to move forward because they are tired of waiting. Hopefully we’re not far away from getting the master development agreement signed to get the thing built.”

Vela said the exact use for the commercial space will likely be a subject of discussion, along with the expansion of parkland and plans to include dedications to St. Johns neighborhood history as an early stronghold of Austin’s African American population.

“The park is going to be a major item of discussion, specifically what it is going to look like, and one of the major details is if it is going to honor the Black history of the St. Johns community. And with the commercial space that has been proposed it is a question of what exactly is going to go there,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of housing there that is deeply affordable, and that’s important because we need that yesterday.”

Beyond the St. Johns tract, Vela said the areas in and near District 4 that need development attention include the Hancock Center at 41st and Red River streets, and the Capital Plaza commercial area on Cameron Road, which is nearing the end of its useful life and is often largely empty during daylight business hours.

The Home Depot redevelopment offers promise for community leaders who see it as an opportunity to energize an area that has been marked at various points by homeless encampments and storage instead of economic activity.

Thelma Williams, a longtime St. Johns resident and community activist, said the neighborhood needs to embrace its past while making the most of its future.

“That project is one of those things that, if it is done correctly, it will pull the whole community together and enhance the economy of the community. That is something that has never really been done here since the land was purchased in the 1800s when it was considered land of no use,” she said. “And the housing is only part of it. I want some kind of special recognition that St. Johns was once a 100 percent Black area, and we also have to honor the fact that it is now 80 percent Hispanic.”

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