Austin Children's Museum: No go on Block 21

The Austin Children's Museum has decided not to be a part of the sexy Block 21 development after all

<i>ACL</i>, but no ACM
ACL, but no ACM

Green light. Red light!

Like the kid who's "it" in the playground game, the Austin Children's Museum abruptly called a halt to its 2-year-old plan to be part of the sexy Block 21 development due north of City Hall. When Stratus Properties won the highly sought bid to develop the block in 2005, the Children's Museum was included in the plans for the 35-story structure, along with a home for public-television station KLRU and Austin City Limits, a W Hotel, 200 residential condos, and retail space. The city was intent on having a nonprofit in the project and even sweetened the deal for the museum by dedicating $4.9 million from the block's sale to assist it in securing a 30,000-square-foot foothold in the space. The museum appeared to be moving forward on the project right through this summer, finishing its selection process for an architect and naming Santa Monica, Calif.'s Koning Eizenberg Architecture as the firm of choice in August. Then, last week, the museum pulled out of the $260 million project altogether, with Executive Director Mike Nellis stating that "the developer's needs for the project and our needs were incompatible." One factor in the decision, as put forth by Stratus Chief Executive Officer William "Beau" Armstrong, was the project's cost, which he estimated in the $9 million to $10 million range. With the money kicked in by the city covering roughly half that amount, $5 million may have been more than the museum wanted to raise. Still, with Austin Children's Museum eager to expand beyond the 15,000 square feet of its space at Second and Colorado, the museum will keep shopping around for a new home. It just may do more looking at neighborhoods other than Downtown, where the cost of real estate and construction delivers such a painful one-two punch. As for the now-vacant ground-floor space on Block 21's northwest corner, it's up for grabs by more retail and restaurants, which means it's on the tax rolls and can generate another $8 million to $10 million a year in revenue for the city. And the city's $4.9 million earmarked for the museum? It's back in play to support other projects and improvements Downtown. Stratus has been preparing the Block 21 site for an official ground-breaking on Friday, Oct. 12. The development is projected to open in 2010.

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Austin Children's Museum, Block 21, Stratus Properties, Beau Armstrong, Mike Nellis

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