Naked City

Seaholm Ready for Rebirth

The on-again, off-again dream of turning the Seaholm Power Plant into a cultural facility reappeared on the City Council's radar last week, setting into motion (again) a plan to try and realize that goal. Council Member Betty Dunkerley is taking the lead this time, and is asking city staff to issue a request for proposals to solicit bids for the Art Deco structure's afterlife. City Manager Toby Futrell tells us that such an RFP should be ready to go within 60 days.

Dunkerley said it made sense to get the Seaholm RFP in circulation while the city is also seeking a suitor for Block 21 – currently Downtown's most eligible vacant property, because of its key location across from the new City Hall. Like Seaholm, Block 21 is being touted as a prospective home for a showcase mixed-use development that includes cultural attractions; together, the two city-owned sites are seen as potential anchors for a cultural destination district on Downtown's west side. "A lot of different groups are looking at space in the Downtown area, so it made sense to me to get [the RFPs] out at the same time," Dunkerley said. "I thought it would be a better way to bring this to the table."

Most of the high-profile civic institutions looking for potential Downtown homes – including a new central library, the Austin Museum of Art, KLRU-TV and Austin City Limits, and the new Texas Music Hall of Fame – have been discussed as potential Seaholm users. However, the Austin Children's Museum, once considered a favorite to occupy the structure, likely won't submit an RFP, said museum director Gwen Crider. "From my reading of it, the development cost would be more than what we can afford," she said. The museum is, however, continuing its search for a larger site in the Downtown area, she added.

Dunkerley says a major interest now is to find a suitable home for a new central library – which will almost certainly not be on Block 21, its onetime designated site, and not necessarily at the power plant. "My personal feeling is that I am not sure if [Seaholm] would be a perfect fit for the library, but I know there are a lot of people who believe it is." Perhaps most vocal among them is the mayor's wife, Anne Elizabeth Wynn, though her colleagues on the Austin Public Library Foundation board are also looking at other options. Seaholm is smaller than the 350,000-square-feet-plus library supporters feel a new central library should contain, though Wynn has touted the possibility of using Seaholm as Phase 1 of a multibuilding library campus.

In addition to a cultural facility, Seaholm – site of Downtown's existing rail hub – would likely also include a transportation center, an idea strongly supported by Dunkerley's colleagues Daryl Slusher (a Capital Metro board member) and Brewster McCracken. "Seaholm is just crying out to be the classic central city rail station," McCracken told the Chronicle. "It's necessary to make commuter rail, and rail-based mass transit, succeed in the Downtown area."

Once the city has settled on a suitor for Seaholm, then it's all over but the waiting. The power plant has been in varying stages of environmental remediation over the last few years, with completion scheduled in 2006.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Downtown, Seaholm Power Plant, Betty Dunkerley, Union Pacific, Austin Museum of Art, Austin Children's Museum, Gwen Crider, Block 21, library, Capital Metro, KLRU, Texas Music Hall of Fame, Austin City Limits, Brewster McCracken

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