Naked City

Catellus Offers Mueller Lite

San Francisco's Catellus Development Co. got its first taste of neighborhood life -- and politics -- in Austin at a pair of getting-to-know-you meetings it held last week with folks around and involved in the Mueller Airport redevelopment project, for which Catellus is competing to be the master developer. Of greatest interest to the neighbors, many of whom have been working on the New Mueller for years, was Catellus' proposal to alter and downsize the master plan for the 711-acre project, crafted by Roma Design Group and adopted by the city in 2000.

Citing their sense of what the Austin market can bear, Catellus suggested that the Roma-planned Mueller's density be reduced by about 25% -- from 5 million to 3.4 million square feet of commercial space, and from 4,000 to 3,000 residential units. "Roma's not wrong and we're not right," said Catellus' Steve Bryan, "but we didn't find the market data out there to support that density."

Also, Catellus believes that a greater diversity of building types might allow units to sell (or "absorb," as they say in the trade) faster than what Roma had on paper. Reducing the project's commercial density means building one- and two-story office buildings that would be practical for (as an example) the businesses that want to co-locate with the Austin Studios film-production complex already at Mueller. Catellus is also proposing "regional retail" -- the type one normally finds anchoring a strip mall -- at I-35 and 51st, to augment the boutique "town center" retail in the Roma plan.

Both Catellus and the local Mueller Redevelopment Team will make public presentations at a March 5 meeting of the city-appointed Mueller Commission. The City Council should get to choose one or the other in April or May.

In related news, Jim Walker, chair of the council-appointed Mueller Redevelopment Advisory Commission (and head of the Austin Neighborhoods Council), and Mueller Commission member Donna Carter will take part in city staff's review of proposals from the two teams aspiring to be master developer of the old airport. Neither Walker nor Carter will get to vote, but they can ask questions. Walker has long lobbied for a community seat at the Mueller-deal table -- just as other interest groups (like the Save Our Springs Alliance) have wanted to sit in on city dealmaking, heretofore without success.

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