Article provided by: The Austin Business Journal
A “bat theater,” new downtown city blocks and a pier for kayaks are all part of a still-percolating plan to guide development on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin.
During Tuesday's Austin City Council work session, city planner Alan Holt touched on the multiyear planning effort that has focused on a 118-acre area bound by South First Street to the west, Bouldin Creek to the south and east and Lady Bird Lake to the north and is roughly anchored by Riverside Drive. Called the South Central Waterfront Initiative, city officials are scheduled to forward a final master plan to Council for approval in June.
The master plan, if approved, would see the city create a “small area plan” that would define the city’s development goals for the area and allow the city to offer developers incentives to encourage them to align their projects along those development goals. Click on the image with the article to see renderings of some of the proposed ideas.
The goals of the project are to encourage mixed-use development, improve connectivity and incentivize affordable housing development in an area that is now home to hodgepodge of office buildings, parking lots and few throughways and housing.
Currently, the area is home to the Hyatt Hotel, Embassy Suites, the Austin American-Statesman and a portion of the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk. In all, there are 32 private properties and one city property in the area, so any redevelopment vision in the area will need developers to get on board.
If the city does nothing, Holt estimated that the area will see between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion in development activity over the next 15 years. One of the highest-profile parcels in the area is the 19-acre Statesman property, which is currently in the very early stages of redevelopment as its parent company, Cox Enterprises, has sold the land to members of the Cox family, who intend to redevelop the site.
The master plan is divided into three branches — one focused on the physical framework of the area, such as the streets, parks sidewalks and paths; another focused on how the vision could be financed, and another focused on providing leadership from city officials to actually follow through on development goals.
While the effort is focused on creating, essentially, a complete mixed-use neighborhood in the area, Holt's presentation also explored how the city could improve nearby parkland. Those ideas included an expanded park on the south side of the Congress Avenue bridge, dubbed the bat theater, that would allow people to watch the Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the bridge every night.
Another idea floated in the presentation was to build an elevated multi-use trail over Bouldin Creek as it snakes through Texas School for the Deaf property. Yet another idea has the city building a pier from which people could launch kayaks and other personal watercraft into Lady Bird Lake.
The full presentation can be seen on the city’s website here.