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Council hears push for offices, senior space at Nash Hernandez building

Monday, October 31, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

City Council could help decide the future of the Nash Hernandez building in East Austin in the coming months, as debate continues over whether to convert the long-idle building into office space or a senior center.

At Thursday’s meeting, Lori Cervenak-Renteria, a community activist and wife of Council Member Pio Renteria, spoke about the conflicting priorities for the property and pushed Council to make a decision following a recent memo from the Parks and Recreation Department that advocated strongly for turning the building into PARD offices.

“A group of academics and every major senior-serving nonprofit … if they serve seniors they’ve been together as an advisory group pushing for the use of the Nash Hernandez building on Lady Bird Lake. We only have two meetings left for this Council to designate the city manager to get PARD to work with us on a letter of intent,” she said.

“We will raise the $1.8 million annually and the $5 million to $8 million in a capital campaign to make the building usable to very-low-income seniors, toddlers and students of Martin Middle School. It is ridiculous for a city department to have admin offices on the hike-and-bike trail when the Holly Shores master plan called for 100 percent community use there.”

Cervenak-Renteria’s comments came on an agenda item related to city practices around city-owned real estate that didn’t deal directly with the Nash Hernandez building, which caused some temporary confusion among Council members.

The eventual use of the building, which is located on the grounds of Edward Rendon Sr. Park, has become an item of much concern in some city circles in recent months. At its most recent meeting, the Community Development Commission opted to wait until next month to vote on a recommendation for Council regarding the proposal to turn it into an intergenerational resource and activity center, or IRAC. While members of the commission appeared mostly supportive of the IRAC concept, they wanted to gather more background information regarding previous community plans and Council directives regarding the effort.

The PARD memo strongly argues against the IRAC use, citing the results of a feasibility study, completed Sept. 30, which notes that, while PARD has the $3.3 million available to renovate the building for office use, the money is not eligible to go toward the renovation to an IRAC.

Council has taken seemingly opposing actions regarding the building this year. In May, a resolution was approved that provided up to $550,000 to Cotera+Reed Architects Inc. for architectural and engineering services ahead of converting the building to office space for PARD. One month later, Council directed the city manager to explore the feasibility of the IRAC.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who said Thursday that city staff and Council need to sort out the many questions surrounding the Nash Hernandez building, told the Austin Monitor, “One of those came from staff and one came from Council.”

Kitchen said Renteria will need to take the lead on any upcoming Council resolution before his term ends in December.

What I think needs to happen is the Council needs to determine if there’s enough interest at the Council level to push back, because the PARD study made it pretty clear what staff thinks should happen. Nothing else is going to happen unless the Council pushes back,” she said.

“It’ll be in Council Member Renteria’s court since that’s his district and he initiated that item in June. I’ll support him if he wants to move forward with anything at this point.”

Kitchen said the push from PARD overlooks some of the needs that the move to an IRAC facility would address.

“The memo and feasibility study that came out didn’t answer some of the questions I have about using the building for an intergenerational space,” she said. “There’s a couple of questions I have about the (feasibility) report because it talks about there being recreation center locations near there but rec centers are different and it’s not the same kind of service that’s being offered.

“They talk about the 78702 ZIP code and there not being a deficit of space and services, but what they’re not doing is there’s not the understanding of the uniqueness of this type of facility. Rec centers are not the same as the kinds of things that happen at senior centers. The IRAC can be more of a day care kind of center where you may have more independence going on in some of these senior rec centers.”

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