Four for Seaholm

From top: 1) Seaholm Power, LLC; 2) Faulkner USA; 3) Stratus / Trammell Crow; 4) Simmons, Vedder and Co.
From top: 1) Seaholm Power, LLC; 2) Faulkner USA; 3) Stratus / Trammell Crow; 4) Simmons, Vedder and Co.


What the City Asked For:

Unlike with Block 21, the city sought not specific proposals but issued a "request for qualifications and development concept" for reuse of the old power plant and its environs. As such, the Seaholm criteria are far more suggestive than prescriptive; nothing has yet been decided about whether to sell or lease the property and at what price, and there are no requirements for specific uses like the mandatory retail ground floor at Block 21. However, there are some givens:

• The same three cultural institutions (KLRU, Texas Music Hall of Fame, Children's Museum) were attached post facto to the Seaholm RFQ, and the first two feature prominently in all four responses.

• The 115,000-square-foot power plant itself (sometimes known as the Turbine Hall after its defining central space) must be left intact, as called for by city plans and resolutions at least since 1996.

• A "transit hub" must be accommodated within the site, depending on what sort of facilities (HOV/managed lanes, commuter rail, streetcars, buses, bike/ped routes) end up being extended there.

The Seaholm District Master Plan crafted by ROMA Design Group was adopted by the city in 2000 and presumably will have some control over the development of an actual project. In the RFQ, Mayor Will Wynn wrote of the city's "vision for a mixed-use project that will unite much of what is Austin in a single location and allow Seaholm to continue its history of great service to our city's vibrancy."


What the City GOT:

1) Seaholm Power, LLC

Partners include: Southwest Strategies Group, Design Collective, HCBeck, Centro Development

Principal features: "A dynamic 24/7 environment where residents and visitors alike can live, work, and play." The concept includes a cultural entity (in the presentation, the Music Hall of Fame) in Seaholm itself, along with commercial, retail, and exhibition space, and two new buildings – a two-story commercial building and new home for KLRU and Austin City Limits, and a 10-story residential tower with ground floor retail. All of these are linked by a "Grand Plaza" that can host outdoor events, along with other open-space amenities and linkages to Town Lake and the rest of Downtown.

Notes: The Seaholm Power concept presumes the relocation of the large Austin Energy substation directly east of Seaholm, although no plans for such a relocation are yet on the table. While architecture firm Design Collective is from Baltimore (where their portfolio includes a redeveloped power plant), the Seaholm Power team includes a number of key figures in Austin's long-running Downtown renewal effort.


2) Faulkner USA

Partners include: Faulkner USA, Black + Vernooy Architects, Gensler

Principal features: Similar overall to the Seaholm Power concept, but with less attention to the Grand Plaza. Faulkner calls for the power plant to become a theatre/performance space as well as home to the Music Hall of Fame and some retail, and a 12-story tower would be earmarked for a hotel (with a music theme) as well as retail, restaurant, office, and some residential. The plan also calls for a new building to house KLRU and ACL.

Notes: Sinclair Black, the "sage of Downtown" and "father of Seaholm," is also attached to the Seaholm Power proposal but takes a lead design role here, with Gensler (a San Francisco architecture megafirm) doing the master planning duties. Faulkner built and developed the Austin Hilton.


3) Stratus/Trammell Crow

Partners include: Stratus Properties, Trammell Crow, Andersson-Wise Architects, Gail Vittori, Willie Nelson/Pedernales Records and Studios

Principal features: Stratus would put KLRU, ACL, and the Music Hall of Fame all in the reused power plant, while converting the bulk of the Seaholm site to a 7,000-seat outdoor music venue. New office and retail (150,000 square feet) will add that mixed-use je ne sais quoi. Stratus envisions the synergy between the venue, ACL, the Hall of Fame, and Pedernales turning Seaholm into a music hub that brings both money and visitors to town and to Downtown.

Notes: With the addition of the Red-Headed Stranger, the same team assembled by Stratus to bid on Block 21. The proposed venue would be larger than Bass Concert Hall and the Backyard, but smaller than the Erwin Center, thus filling a perceived gap in the local musical landscape.


4) Simmons, Vedder and Co.

Partners include: Simmons-Vedder, Simon Property Group, ROMA Design Group, the Gottesman Co., Media Realty Partners, Cotera & Reed Architects, Kirk Watson (legal counsel).

Principal features: A "media complex" compared to Rockefeller Center, with KLRU, ACL, and the Music Hall of Fame, along with retail and restaurants, in Seaholm itself. New construction would include a new home for the Emmis radio stations and other media companies, along with ground-floor retail.

Notes: Simon Property Group is the nation's (and Austin's) largest mall owner; Media Realty Partners is a new venture of former local broadcast tycoon Steve Hicks. ROMA drafted the existing Seaholm District Master Plan but is not partnered with any other teams. Like Stratus and unlike the other two, this plan includes little or no residential.

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