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Big Downtown Change: 5 Proposals for Green Water Treatment

This week, five proposals were released for the redevelopment of the sweeping Green Water Treatment Plant site between Seaholm and the Second Street District.

Nestled between Whole Foods, Ladybird Lake, Seaholm, Austin Music Hall, and the 2nd Street District is the City’s oldest sewage treatment plant – the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant – which began purifying water from Ladybird lake in 1925. The plant covers 6 acres across 4 city blocks. In addition to using a key tract of land to process water using 1920’s technology, the plant also serves to disrupt the natural grid of the city — it stops second street at its west end and blocks Nueces and Rio Grande from reaching Cesar Chavez.

The Green site offers an incredible development opportunity. With four downtown blocks, it is a huge chunk of land. The location is perfect — it is on the lake and adjacent to both the hot second street district and the future Seaholm multi-use development. The site is free of Capital View Corridor restrictions, although portions of the site close to the lake are limited to 45 feet in height.

The plant, which is located between Cesar Chavez and Third streets between Seaholm and San Antonio is about to be decommissioned to make way for a new development. This week, the city released basic details on five proposals for redevelopment of the site. Once complete, the new development will likely add retail, housing, and office space while filling in the missing streets on the city grid.

Here are sample renderings from each of the proposals. It’s an amazing set, they provide a vision of an important new urban district near the center of downtown Austin:










No matter who wins, here are some of the changes that are likely in store for the site when construction begins in 2010 or 2011:

– About 1,000 new apartments and condominiums including many affordably-priced units. While there are many condo and apartment projects currently under construction – and a few that have been cancelled — demand remains very strong for central, affordable units. All proposals would include more than 100 units priced to be affordable for a family earning approximately $57,000.

– Multiple high-rise towers with downtown retail and restaurant space which will expand the thriving 2nd Street District.

– Lots of office space — an important part of the downtown mix that has been largely ignored by the current building boom.

– The various proposals include many interesting elements such as a large downtown H-E-B., a movie theater, a major bookstore, a senior assisted-living center, a waterfront park, large hotels

Here is a summary of the individual proposals from the Statesman:

The proposals made by Catellus Development, Forest City, Simmons Vedder Partners, Stratus Properties, Trammell Crow and their respective partners have some things in common. But each also has elements unique to its plan. “Each one of the five has something that is different from the others, that’s distinct to that proposal,” Council Member Brewster McCracken said. “It’s really amazing.”

Trammell Crow and partners Constructive Ventures and USAA Real Estate Co. propose the biggest and tallest buildings with the most parking. Their plan also includes the most diverse uses, with space for a 350,000-square-foot hotel and a 250-unit senior assisted living facility in addition to condos, apartments, offices and retail businesses. Five public gathering spaces could accommodate as many as 2,700 people.

Stratus Properties’ proposal includes a two-story H-E-B grocery store, with H.E. Butt Grocery Co. serving as a limited partner in the project.

“We think H-E-B being a full-service grocery store is something everybody can afford, it helps every one of those retailers in the area and it makes residential more viable,” said the team’s attorney, Steve Drenner.

A movie theater and bookstore would also help drive more traffic to the Second Street retail district.

Stratus and partner AMLI Residential are proposing the largest number of rental units, which they say would let them offer housing in a greater range of prices, and they plan to offer medical office space not found downtown. Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, a partnership of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors and Magic Johnson Enterprises, is also a part of this team.

Simmons Vedder proposes a waterfront art park and four bridges over Shoal Creek, including two for pedestrians only.

This team, which includes Cotera + Reed Architects and Bury + Partners Engineering Solutions, also proposes to essentially turn the buildings into power plants by installing solar panels in the skins of its towers. It plans to use water collected from the condensation of air conditioners to flush the toilets.

Catellus Development has proposed a primarily residential project with 500,000 square feet of office space and nearly 200,000 square feet of retail. But the company is also offering to collaborate with city leaders and the community to develop a final master plan for the property that could differ significantly from its initial proposal.

“We’re going to present something we think is really neat, dynamic, progressive and all of that, but with that said, if we are selected we’re going to say, ‘Let’s go out and spend time and hear from the city what they really want and hear from stakeholders what they really want,’ ” Catellus President Greg Weaver said.

Forest City, which is partnering with Novare Group and Andrews Urban, emphasizes public spaces with a grand plaza at Second and Nueces streets complete with a fountain and transplanted moon tower. A grand staircase inspired by the Spanish Steps in Rome would connect the plaza to the trail along Shoal Creek, which would run from the Austin Energy site north of Third Street to Lady Bird Lake.

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