Seaholm Powers Ahead
Plan to transform historic power plant into mixed-use mecca should move one step closer to fruition at City Council Thursday
By Katherine Gregor, Fri., Dec. 14, 2007
Seaholm – the historic power plant to be transformed by a private development team into a mixed-use mecca – should move one step closer to fruition at City Council this Thursday. A public hearing is posted, before council approves rezoning the site to Downtown mixed-use, central urban redevelopment overlay. DMU-CURE allows building heights of 120 feet with a 5-1 floor-to-area ratio and opens the door to additional height and density variances.
Due to Capitol View Corridor restrictions, just one major tower can rise on the site. And its revenues must offset the money pit of Seaholm itself. Retrofitting the 136,000-square-foot plant – for some still-blurry civic/public/profitable uses – will be "incredibly expensive" and a "money loser" for the developer, said Council Member Brewster McCracken this week. In executive session Thursday, council will consult privately on the legally binding Master Development Agreement being struck with Southwest Strategy Group. Outside legal counsel helping the city to craft the MDA: ex-Mayor Kirk Watson, now an attorney with Hughes & Luce. Watson played a similar role for Block 21.
Like Mueller, the Seaholm redevelopment represents a significant public investment – 7.8 acres of city-owned land and tax waivers for 30 years. The area will become a tax increment financing district, with all property taxes (but not bed tax) invested back into the project. A successful redo could catalyze a whole new tax-paying Seaholm District west of Downtown, on Lady Bird Lake – the subject of a 2000 master-plan vision developed by the ROMA Design Group.
Predictably, some criticize the current deal for being too developer-friendly. But insiders interviewed say the city has squeezed the deal so hard, it risks destroying it. "This deal is so much skinnier than the Mueller deal," said McCracken, referring to a slim profit margin for the developer. The public can scrutinize the details after the Seaholm Master Development Agreement gets a preliminary sign-off from council, anticipated in mid-January. McCracken said council has discussed providing a 60-day review period for Austinites to comment on whether the agreement adequately serves the public interest.
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