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Council: From the Brow of Zeus

City considering economic development agreement with AthenaHealth

By Michael King, Fri., Jan. 24, 2014

The headline item on today's City Council meeting (Jan. 23) is a briefing on a proposed economic development agreement with AthenaHealth, Inc. – a Massachusetts-and-cloud-based health care software firm – to become the major corporate tenant at Downtown's former Seaholm Power Plant, well on its way to becoming a mixed-use project.

Pending the briefing, the agenda is opaque on details, but published reports describe an eventual capital investment of $13 million by the company, creating 607 jobs paying a minimum of $11 an hour and an overall average annual wage of $132,085. The state's Texas Enterprise Fund (a whole 'nother subject) has pledged $5 million in incentives, always contingent on local support. Austin is reportedly proposing a 10-year, performance-based incentive package (based on the jobs created) totaling $679,500, with a net direct return to the city of $1.7 million, primarily in additional property taxes. The deal is not posted for action, but the agenda notes that "public comment is permitted" on the staff presentation.

The company has been quick to note that it's also considering alternate sites for expansion, including in Massachu­setts, California, and Georgia – where state and local jurisdictions are also discussing economic incentives. According to a report in the Austin Business Journal, the company is expanding – not moving jobs from its base in Watertown, Mass. – and the move "would put the company in close proximity to Seton Healthcare Family, a subsidiary of Ascen­sion Health, [the company's] largest customer." If successful, the company would reportedly become the largest software employer in town.

Other agenda items to watch: an ordinance establishing the value of homestead property tax exemptions for elderly or disabled homeowners (now $51,000, and Tues­day's work session discussion strongly suggested those numbers need more crunching before they reach the dais); third reading of accessibility/visitability standards for new residential construction (also may be delayed, in absence of Mayor Lee Leffingwell at a national conference); and affordable housing regs to be applied to the University Neighbor­hood Over­lay. (Plenty of potential for kicking all those cans down the road.)

the Road to 10-1

Meanwhile, in the November distance, the campaign drum beats on:

Patsy Woods Martin has made it official, via Facebook: "Austin faces new challenges, a new political system & rapid growth. I'm running for Mayor to make sure all voices are heard as we plan Austin's future" (www.facebook.com/patsyforaustin). ... Former transportation commissioner and 2005 Place 1 candidate Andrew Bucknall says he's been persuaded to explore a run in District 1. ... Small businessman, longtime state employee, and Dem activist Frank Coniglio says he's "about 75 percent certain" that he'll run in District 2. ... Pete Salazar Jr. told his Facebook friends (www.facebook.com/pete.salazar), "I would like everyone to know, that I submitted my resignation at work today [at Caritas of Austin], so that I may fully focus on my run for Austin City Council District 7."

If you should be on the master list of candidate wannabes (austinchronicle.com/elections), or you know someone who should be, please email mking@austinchronicle.com.

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