The Austin Chronicle

Sea Changes at Seaholm

By Amy Smith, June 14, 2002, News

What you see here is a nifty concept of what the southwestern edge of downtown could look like -- if only we were rich. A project like this one runs into the neighborhood of $100 million in public and private investments, and who has that kind of money? So for now, city officials are touting the proposed Seaholm Master Plan as simply an idea that we can build from ... one of these days. Yet there seems to be enough vocal opposition to the plan -- for varying reasons -- to warrant some more fiddling, and certainly more input.

The district, which spans from Town Lake to Fifth Street, and from San Antonio Street to Orchard Street, west of Williams Field (middle left), includes a mix of existing and proposed uses of public, private, and nonprofit facilities. Since most of the $100 million funding -- $65 million -- would come from private sources, the success of the plan would hinge, of course, on the success of the commercial and residential developments shown here. The lowdown on some of the key elements:

1. Seaholm: Until a couple of years ago, the old Seaholm Power Plant always took top billing in the overall plans to revitalize the north shore area of Town Lake. But then other projects moved into the picture, and now the plant itself hardly gets a mention. The original idea was to convert the architecturally unique power plant into some sort of public facility, like a science and technology museum, but its exact function is still up in the air. The harsh reality is that it would have to be a big moneymaker in order to sustain itself.

2.The planned Seaholm expansion to the north would serve as a "public-oriented gathering space" of some sort.

3. Sand Beach Reserve: Ever since Lumbermen's Investment Corp. rolled out its 500,000 sq. ft. mixed-use development proposal (read: $$$), Seaholm itself sort of fell off the map. The developer owns this prime five-acre spread just east of Lamar, but parks advocates vow to keep fighting the proposed build-out in hopes of reclaiming this long-controversial piece of property for city-owned parkland. In the past, the city has entertained the idea of buying the property, and now there's talk of a possible land swap.

4. Pfluger Bridge: This is a live one. A bridge extension is needed to complete the bike and pedestrian path over Town Lake, but city officials and a vocal component of folks representing the disabled, bicyclists, and pedestrian communities disagree on which direction the extension should follow. As shown here, planners designed an eastern arm that would travel north of the bridge, cross under Cesar Chavez (A), and continue north through the heart of the Seaholm district to the railroad line, where an underground tunnel (B) would cross to the other side of the tracks onto Bowie and Third streets. Those who oppose this route say the originally designed northwestern "flyover" (C) would provide a more direct route from South Lamar to North Lamar.

5. The Marketplace: As a side note, the underground rail tunnel is beginning to look more appealing to some opponents, given its proximity to this Fifth and Lamar complex, where Whole Foods plans to relocate its headquarters.

6. Roadway reconfiguration: If the plan ever gets off the ground, big changes will be in order for West Cesar Chavez and Sandra Muraida Way. Cesar Chavez would shift some 160 feet northward, while losing some of the curves in the road beneath Lamar Bridge. City planners are also weighing several options for HOV possibilities. At the same time, Sandra Muraida Way would take on the appearance of two different street segments, which would slow traffic down and aid access to Seaholm and the Lumbermen's site.

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