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Old Posted Jan 16, 2008, 8:29 PM
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Cool AUSTIN: Green Water Treatment Plant & Seaholm Power Plant Redevelopment Update Thread

Consultants suggest direct subsidies, mid-rise buildings.

By Kate Miller Morton
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Austin needs to change its approach to affordable housing if it hopes to achieve meaningful results downtown, according to city consultants charged with shaping the future of the area.

Low- to moderate-priced downtown housing will require public subsidies, and even then it is not likely to come in the form of high-rise towers that have dominated the downtown development boom, Roma Design Group and HR&A Advisors Inc. concluded in their report, released last week.

The Roma report recommends that the city concentrate its affordable housing efforts and dollars on less expensive mid-rise buildings (less than six stories) and that it help pay for them with fees paid by developers who want extra height and density for their projects.

The city has relied on developers to voluntarily include units to be sold at below market rates in their downtown projects or make a donation to the city to be used for affordable housing in exchange for density and height bonuses that allow them to build more units than zoning and city regulations allow.

Currently, 176 units downtown qualify as affordable, and 164 of those are set aside for low-income senior citizens in a city-owned building.

The main reason the city's approach isn't working, according to Roma, is that the gap is simply too large between the cost of building one-bedroom condominiums in high-rises and what a household making below the area's median family income can afford.

The typical price of a one-bedroom condo approaches $500,000. A one- or two-person household making 80 percent of the area's median family income, or $41,760, can afford a condo priced at no more than $87,930.

"What Roma has created is a cost-effective way to get more affordable housing for less money," City Council Member Brewster McCracken said.

Few mid-rise buildings have been built downtown, but Roma expects that to change because many downtown sites available for redevelopment fall in Capitol view corridors, where building heights are restricted.

"The Capitol view corridors now become a great opportunity for where we could locate in a cost-effective way affordable housing downtown," McCracken said.

Council Member Jennifer Kim said she supports the recommendations and hopes the consultants can quickly produce a list of likely mid-rise development sites so the city can begin working with owners.

"The difference in construction costs are substantial enough that I think we could help more families downtown with mid-rise" buildings, Kim said. "I'd like to see what properties they are talking about."

Developer Brett Denton warns that unrealistically high prices for height-restricted land could make mid-rise development a challenge.

"One would assume that (land under a Capitol view corridor) would trade at a lower price, but at the same time, land sellers aren't always rational," Denton said. "If their land is under a Capitol view corridor and the tracts across the street aren't, and (those tracts) are selling at a much higher price, that's what they think their land should sell for, too. Some land sellers aren't rational, and therefore that's a component of the market that can't be controlled."

That wouldn't be a problem on city-owned land. Kim would also like the city to consider having mid-rise buildings integrated around a taller building at the Green Water Treatment Plant, which the city plans to sell to developers.

"I don't know how practical that is to tie the two types of constructions together, but if it is, I think that's great because we could do more affordable housing on Green," Kim said.

McCracken said the city could use some of the $55 million in voter-approved bond money and federal money already available for lower-cost housing.

Denton, who represented the Real Estate Council of Austin on the city's affordable housing task force earlier this year, said he didn't know how much developers would be willing to pay in exchange for added height and density.

He added that any fee would have to be accompanied by an incentive.

"Roma and their affordable housing consultants were very vocal about the fact that affordable housing is a public funding issue," Denton said. "It's not up to the development community to (pay for) affordable housing. ... But if the citizens of Austin truly want affordable housing, then just like roads and other infrastructure, police, fire and things citizens of Austin want, it will require that they pay for that."

Bo McCarver, chairman of Blackland Community Development Corp., represented the Austin Neighborhoods Council on the task force.

He supports the higher fees that Roma recommended but questions whether that money would be put to best use downtown.

"I really think we need to take a hard look at the cost-effectiveness of putting any kind of affordable housing downtown, and really I'm not sure it's the best use of our money," McCarver said. "It's a great idea, but I don't know how you instill that in a downtown area where the real estate is just so expensive. I just don't think it can be done."

McCarver said he is concerned that Roma's report focused on one- and two-person households and didn't address ways to make downtown living more affordable to families. He notes that the report also said little about providing more housing to the homeless.

Roma principal Jana McCann said that the report was not intended to limit the debate and that decisions on which groups and income levels to target would be addressed in the next phase of the plan, for which the city has allocated $600,000.

"The community may say we need to subsidize families downtown," McCann said. "We haven't made that decision. That's part of what the next phase of work is answering: Who are we trying to subsidize with affordable housing? Is it families, seniors, musicians, artists, government workers, the homeless, service sector workers — who is it?"

kmorton@statesman.com; 445-3641



Find this article at:
http://www.statesman.com/news/conten...ffordable.html

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Old Posted Jan 16, 2008, 8:33 PM
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I watched part of this discussion the other night. The part that really seems to go unanswered is when the developer subsidizes a unit for someone, who picks up the tab. Of course, everyone in the room knew it will be other people who purchase units in same building, but no one will speak that during the planning sessions. The other part that went unanswered was how will these people pay their HOA fees and taxes if they can't even afford to purchase in the first place? Again, this subject was brought up and dodged by everyone in the room.

One discussion that seemed to make sense was that affordable housing should not be sought directly downtown, but rather, in "close-in", more affordable areas where public transit could be utilized.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2008, 10:07 PM
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I'm not against the concept of less expensive midrises in certain areas, but I think the areas where they would best fit in with the height (areas where neighbors would be against a high rise disproportionate to the surrounding character) will also be the areas that won't want housing like that. So the midrises will end up wasting some prime CBD lots, like the CSC building did...

Seems to me while buying is well out of the reach of the median income, renting is still within reach, and many more rentals might be available soon. So you can still have a diversity of incomes living downtown, without encouraging cheaper construction. I don't think we have to artificially facilitate homeownership; renting is not the end of the world. And there are plenty of affordable ownership options outside downtown.

They should stick to the ideas of bringing character back to the squares, and making some progress on public transit.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2008, 10:19 PM
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Seems to me while buying is well out of the reach of the median income, renting is still within reach, and many more rentals might be available soon. So you can still have a diversity of incomes living downtown, without encouraging cheaper construction. I don't think we have to artificially facilitate homeownership; renting is not the end of the world.
Seems logical. They did mention a building in San Diego that I assumed was a rental building. The building looked nice from the outside. Inside, it had small studio's. Enough to cook a meal, sleep and hang your hat. Seems like a nice stepping stone allowing one to live downtown until they can start making more money.

Another thing that is often mentioned that seems totally illogical, is the often mentioned trade-off with builders "affordable housing in exchange for density and height bonuses". Why would the city want to limit density and height if a builder will not commit to setting affordable housing aside? It seems limiting these would reduce the tax base, increase sprawl and force the construction of new city amenities to follow the sprawl.
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Old Posted Jan 16, 2008, 10:26 PM
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Yeah, it seems that the idea of "everyone must be able to afford TO BUY a nice property in any neighborhood" is a relatively new one... and maybe not a good one! I can't help but think of the utopia of urban density, Manhattan, with it's rent control and renters of all income ranges (not so much recently, but for most of its past)...

My quick calculation tells me a household making 50,400 could afford a $1400 apartment at the Monarch. That's a good quality high-rise. And others might be cheaper, plus some of the new condos will be renting at far below the carrying cost while the owners hope for appreciation long term.
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Old Posted Jan 17, 2008, 5:22 AM
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Another thing that is often mentioned that seems totally illogical, is the often mentioned trade-off with builders "affordable housing in exchange for density and height bonuses". Why would the city want to limit density and height if a builder will not commit to setting affordable housing aside? It seems limiting these would reduce the tax base, increase sprawl and force the construction of new city amenities to follow the sprawl.
I have always taken these artificial height restricitons as way to raise funds by the city. I would guess all these set asides and contributions come out of the pockets of the folks who buy at full price in the development. Doubt the developer is really giving anything up!
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Old Posted Jan 17, 2008, 3:48 PM
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Doubt the developer is really giving anything up!
I don't see it happening if they don't have to.

The article asks a really good question : Roma principal Jana McCann said that the report was not intended to limit the debate and that decisions on which groups and income levels to target would be addressed in the next phase of the plan, for which the city has allocated $600,000. "The community may say we need to subsidize families downtown," McCann said. "We haven't made that decision. That's part of what the next phase of work is answering: Who are we trying to subsidize with affordable housing? Is it families, seniors, musicians, artists, government workers, the homeless, service sector workers — who is it?"

What about tech workers now that Silicon Labs is moving downtown? They are making less than cops these days, not much more than teachers. What about those poor secretaries slaving away for all those lawyers? Man, this is got to be a tough question to answer. I think the study is going to require more than another .6M to complete this answer, and possibly some subsidized housing downtown so they can feel the downtown vibe and really understand it
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Old Posted Jan 24, 2008, 9:48 PM
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[Austin] Seaholm East - What is the future for Green?

www.auschron.com

HOME: JANUARY 25, 2008: NEWS
Seaholm East
What future for Green?
BY KATHERINE GREGOR




In anticipation of issuing requests for proposals from development teams in February, City Council has drafted a resolution establishing its "guiding vision and policy principles" for two large city-owned tracts of land in the Seaholm east redevelopment district: 1) the 4.5-acre site of the decommissioned Green Water Treatment Plant and 2) neighboring parcels that house Austin Energy structures. The resolution officially reserves the south substation site, which faces Lady Bird Lake, for a new central public library.

The resolution reiterates relevant council policy and goals, including: Downtown revitalization, the Downtown master plan, completing the Second Street retail corridor, and connecting to Seaholm proper. For the library site, the resolution specifies a stand-alone building, an analysis of best-practice design and construction methods, and "the inclusion of a public process in the city's selection of the best design." All proposals should include integrated parking structures – preferably owned by the public, with net parking revenues earmarked to fund transit and trails. A key goal, of course: growing the city's tax base by selling the land for redevelopment in a manner that "achieves other community values."

Some activists question whether a sell-off of citizen-owned land isn't innately antithetical to protecting community values, and advocates have been begging council members to require affordable housing at Green. Most sympathetic has been Council Member Jennifer Kim. "Personally, I would like to see designs that preserve green space," she said recently, "as well as provide homes and a quality day care that are affordable to Austin families."

The resolution does explicitly establish that 40% of property-tax proceeds "go [to] the Austin Housing Trust Fund to be spent to provide affordable housing in the urban core," which in theory could mean as much as $1 million annually. Projected future revenues could also be bonded to create a larger pot of money for affordable housing now. Housing advocate Heather Way recently expressed the hope that, if affordable housing is not required on-site at Green, council would dedicate a portion of its sale proceeds upfront for the purchase of other Downtown tracts.

Instead, council proposes that Green sale proceeds would cover direct project costs. The multimillion-dollar infrastructure costs anticipated include decommissioning and removing the Green plant, reconfiguring the sites, building new streets and a bridge over Shoal Creek, and financing new parking structures. If there's anything left over, it would be spent on "additional public amenities, to be identified" on-site.
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Old Posted Feb 2, 2008, 4:01 PM
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Affordable housing plan for downtown gets council OK

Developers can get more height, density for including low-cost units or paying a fee.

By Sarah Coppola
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, February 02, 2008

In its first attempt to create the mixed-income downtown envisioned by planners and activists, the Austin City Council agreed Thursday to offer developers incentives to build affordable housing in the urban core.

Downtown developers of commercial or residential projects could build bigger, taller projects than city rules normally allow, but they'd have to sell or rent some units at lower-than-market rates or pay into an affordable housing fund. The move is a first for the city, which until now, has urged developers to build more affordable housing downtown without an official policy.

The plan resulted from more than a year's worth of work and debate by volunteer-led commissions, beginning with an affordable housing task force started by Council Member Jennifer Kim. The final ideas were backed by a mix of real estate professionals and affordable housing activists — an unusual pairing for City Hall.

But the incentives could end up being changed in a year or so, when the urban planning firm Roma Design Group, which the city is paying $600,000 to write a downtown master plan, unveils its final ideas for spurring more affordable housing.

In a report finished last month, Roma said the city should focus on getting affordable housing in midrise buildings (which are less expensive to build) and help pay for it with fees developers contribute to get extra height or density on their projects.

Downtown Austin Alliance Executive Director Charlie Betts argued that the city should wait to see Roma's analysis before rushing to put incentives in place.

But former Real Estate Council of Austin President Tim Taylor, the co-chairman of the housing task force, said it makes sense to enact some incentives because downtown developers are already seeking more square feet on projects.

"Why not get something on the books now? The worst thing that happens is we get some affordable housing," he said.

Under the ideas the council unanimously approved, developers who ask to build bigger, taller downtown buildings than city rules allow would have to make 10 percent of the extra square footage the city grants them affordable.

Owner-occupied units must be affordable for folks earning less than 120 percent of Austin's median family income, about $86,400 for a family of four. Rented units must be affordable for those earning less than 80 percent of the median income, or $56,900 for a four-person family.

Alternatively, developers could pay a fee of $10 per extra square foot they receive. The city must use that money to buy or build affordable housing downtown or within two miles of downtown.

For example, if the city grants a developer an extra 80,000 square feet, the developer could either sell or rent 8,000 square feet at lower-than-market rates or pay $800,000 into the affordable housing fund.

The city has agreed to speed up projects that include affordable units through Austin's notoriously slow development review process. It will also waive most city development fees for those projects, including a fee used to build parks near new developments.

City officials have agreed to waive up to $750,000 in fees this budget year. They have not estimated how much money the affordable housing fund might generate.

For commercial projects only, half of the money from the $10-per-square-foot development fee would go into the affordable housing fund and half into a community benefits fund to pay for things such as public art, child care, green building, cultural facilities and help for the homeless.

In recent years, several downtown developers looking to build controversial, taller-than-normal towers have offered to donate money to community causes such as affordable housing or park improvements. The offers smoothed the way with city leaders and neighborhood groups, but the deals were done in an ad hoc way, outside of the city's purview. The new incentives will make the process more predictable, said developer and downtown commission member Perry Lorenz.

Austin architect Stan Haas voted against the incentives as a member of the city's downtown commission. He worries that the housing fee conflicts with city leaders' goal of encouraging tall buildings in the urban core as an antidote to sprawl.

"We need to be very careful about levying a charge against the very place where we're trying to build denser facilities and improve our tax base," he said.


scoppola@statesman.com; 912-2939


Find this article at:
http://www.statesman.com/news/conten...ffordable.html

Last edited by JAM; Feb 2, 2008 at 4:17 PM.
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Old Posted Feb 23, 2008, 6:53 PM
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Lower-priced housing factored into downtown land sale

City's request for redevelopment proposals provides for including more affordable apartments, condos among any built.


By Kate Miller Morton
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, February 23, 2008

City leaders have urged developers to build more affordable housing downtown with little success. Now, Austin plans to put its money where its mouth is with the upcoming sale and redevelopment of the Green Water Treatment Plant and nearby Austin Energy property.

Blunting the developers' argument that land and building costs downtown are just too high, city officials plan to give them no choice but to include low- to moderate-priced housing in the redevelopment of the nearly four city blocks and as a result almost certainly will make less on the land sale.

"We're not in the business of making money," Council Member Brewster McCracken said. "We're in business to achieve public values and goals."

The city also plans to directly subsidize additional units for even lower-income families and dedicate 40 percent of the property taxes generated by the redevelopment project to its affordable housing fund.

"I just think it's an opportunity to have much of both worlds: a lot of tax base delivered, hopefully a significant measurable one-time capital gains in the land sale and then a series of other community goals," Mayor Will Wynn said.

It is unclear how many low- to moderate-priced apartments and condominiums will be built or how much it will cost the city and the developers chosen for the project.

The city is not dictating the size or type of development in the requests for proposals scheduled to go out next month.

But developers will be required to reserve 10 percent of all rental units for households making no more than 80 percent of the area's median family income, or $41,760 for a one- to two-person household.

Market rates for one-bedroom apartments downtown currently run about $1,520 a month, at least $350 more than the targeted households can afford to pay according to a recent report by ROMA Design Group and HR&A Advisors, city consultants charged with writing a new downtown plan.

But developers are under no obligation to build any apartments in the project, making it difficult to determine how much that requirement will knock off the sales price.

"I think it's really unknown right now, because it's hard to get a feel for the magnitude," said Tim Hendricks of Cousins Properties, which plans to pursue the project. "Are you going to do 50 units of rental or 300 units? I think it's way too early to evaluate the impact."

The city's option to form a public-private partnership with the developer is expected to ensure that some low- to moderate-priced housing is built, but it has not indicated how much money it is prepared to spend.

City officials estimate the amount of property tax dedicated to the affordable housing fund could yield as much as $1 million a year if developers build the maximum allowed on the site, but developers frequently build less downtown.

The city-owned property generates no tax revenue now.

Less costly housing is just one of the community goals that will be written into the development agreement to be paid for by both the developer and the city.

Green building, public parking, wide sidewalks, urban design, bike and pedestrian paths and street improvements are also expected to be included.

But more affordable housing is likely to be the trickiest to implement and the issue about which the community is the most passionate.

"The public has spoken on this and they said in the downtown plan in the survey that the city conducted that affordable housing and diversity downtown is one of the five top public priorities," attorney and housing advocate Heather Way said.

Way and group of fellow housing advocates sent a letter to council last month urging them to incorporate at least 20 percent of the project's housing units within reach of households making no more than $35,000 targeted to the downtown work force.

The current building boom has added thousands of apartments and condos, but just 176 units downtown are within reach of people of more moderate means, and 164 of those are set aside for low-income senior citizens in an aging city-owned building.

In recent years the price of new one-bedroom condos has ranged from about $190,000 to $560,000.

A one- or two-person household making 80 percent of the area's median family income can afford a condo priced at no more than $87,930.

The city plans to choose a developer in June.

kmorton@statesman.com; 445-3641


Find this article at:
http://www.statesman.com/news/conten...0223green.html



Retail, office and living spaces are rising east of the water plant.
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Old Posted Feb 23, 2008, 7:21 PM
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Is this likely to be retail-intensive ?
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Old Posted Feb 26, 2008, 9:40 PM
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Is this likely to be retail-intensive ?
I'm anticipating it. It would be in line with Austin's Great Streets program.
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Old Posted Feb 27, 2008, 8:56 PM
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The big news here is that the Austin Energy control center on West Avenue is now officially on the block for high-rise development. As a future 360 resident with a western view, I look forward to watching it rise. The print version of the Statesman article above featured a nice graphic showing the properties involved, along with West Avenue extending south to Cesar Chavez and 2nd Street not only extending through the current water treatment site, but bridging Shoal Creek to intersect with West. This now-quiet corner should soon be bustling. And yes, that same graphic shows the ugly transformer farm being obliterated by development. Hallelujah!
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Old Posted Feb 27, 2008, 10:01 PM
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The big news here is that the Austin Energy control center on West Avenue is now officially on the block for high-rise development. As a future 360 resident with a western view, I look forward to watching it rise. The print version of the Statesman article above featured a nice graphic showing the properties involved, along with West Avenue extending south to Cesar Chavez and 2nd Street not only extending through the current water treatment site, but bridging Shoal Creek to intersect with West. This now-quiet corner should soon be bustling. And yes, that same graphic shows the ugly transformer farm being obliterated by development. Hallelujah!
As a future 360 resident I hope this development does not block too much of my view. (facing south and west)
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Old Posted Feb 27, 2008, 10:04 PM
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The big news here is that the Austin Energy control center on West Avenue is now officially on the block for high-rise development.
Are you refering to the property that would be the northeast corner of West and 3rd? Is it official that it will be for high-rise development, or could it goto other uses? Did you hear this from a source other than the above article - the above article doesn't make it super clear? (One use I saw a while back was to provide enough turning radius for rail to get thru the area)
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Old Posted Feb 27, 2008, 10:06 PM
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As a future 360 resident I hope this development does not block too much of my view. (facing south and west)
My guess is it won't block too much, it's pretty far away. and it could be doing you a favor during the summer sunset. I lived in Rio Grande for a while on the west side and the sun can get intense during the summer. Of course, their windows are not the best insulated either.
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Old Posted Feb 27, 2008, 11:07 PM
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Are you refering to the property that would be the northeast corner of West and 3rd? Is it official that it will be for high-rise development, or could it goto other uses? Did you hear this from a source other than the above article - the above article doesn't make it super clear? (One use I saw a while back was to provide enough turning radius for rail to get thru the area)
Yes, according to the article graphic, which unfortunately is not online but was on the front page of Saturday's paper, the Austin Energy parcel bounded by West, 3rd, and Shoal Creek is slated for redevelopment along with Green and all of the Seaholm stuff. I believe the city has issued a RFP or is getting ready to.

That's all I know, and of course the Statesman gets things wrong all the time... Maybe someone reading here has inside info and can confirm?
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2008, 3:18 PM
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largest redevelopment opportunity ever for downtown Austin

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - 7:12 AM CST
Austin seeks firm for Green redevelopment
Austin Business Journal


In the largest redevelopment opportunity ever for downtown Austin, the city has issued a request for proposals for the purchase and redevelopment of the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant and the adjoining Austin Energy Control Center. The two properties total about 6.1 acres or 5 city blocks.

The Green and Austin Energy sites are being heralded by city and business leaders as the missing anchor between the Second Street Retail District and the future activity of the Seaholm District redevelopment. The properties could bring the most significant retail to downtown to date, city leaders say. The city also plans to direct 40 percent of the property tax proceeds from the redevelopment to an Austin Housing Trust Fund towards creating affordable housing in the urban core.

The minimum purchase price will be based on the final appraised value of the properties. The preliminary appraised value is $41 million, but a final appraised value should be determined before March 31.

Interested parties can obtain the RFP through the city of Austin's purchasing department website, www.ci.austin.tx.us/vss/Advantage. A link is also available on the city's Seaholm District website, www.ci.austin.tx.us/seaholm/green.htm.

According to the city, the decommissioning and deconstruction of the Green Water Treatment Plant is expected to be finished by February 2010, with construction beginning shortly after.

The city has begun the process of rezoning the properties to Central Business District-Central Urban Redevelopment, potentially eliminating floor-to-area ratio restrictions. The sites, however, are subject to Waterfront Overlay and Capitol View Corridor setback and height restrictions.

The city will conduct a pre-proposal meeting to answer questions and concerns about the RFP on March 17. Proposals are due by April 30.

Public presentations of proposals will begin May 14 and the City Council will choose the successful bidder in June.
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2008, 7:05 PM
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Keep a keen eye on this one...Dallas-based Hillwood (Ross Perot, Jr.'s company), the developer of Victory Park, was very interested in redeveloping the Green site - at least they were back in 2006.
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Old Posted Mar 5, 2008, 7:45 PM
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Cant wait to hear who will get the bid for this...
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