Travis County looks at Central Austin property for mixed-use development

Apr 21, 2014
Austin American Statesman

Travis County is eyeing 3 acres along Airport Boulevard in Central Austin as a site for a new mixed-use project that would fill out a massive parking lot next to some squat office buildings


The county bought the sites, which were furniture stores and a gas station between 2003 and 2010, and converted them into a campus of various county offices that serve about 2,000 visitors and 400 employees a day. A 2010 master plan of the so-called North Campus called for further development on the site


County staffers presented a plan to commissioners last week to build out the site by leasing the land to a private developer. Staffers didn’t get into specifics, saying that would be up to whatever developer the commissioners decide to work with months down the line


County commissioners would need to approve the plan, which County Judge Sam Biscoe said he plans to set for a discussion and possible vote April 29. From then, the commissioners would seek bids from various firms on how to develop the site. Gilbert said a new building could be built within three years


The mixed-use project would be built on the southern end of the land, near 53½ Street. It would include about 30,000 square feet of office space for the county, the rest being used at the discretion of a developer as other offices or housing, Gilbert said


The rest of the 13-acre property currently includes two buildings that house the tax office, the county clerk’s elections division, the sheriff’s office and several other county departments. Those buildings and the departments would remain there for now, with the tax office expanding into a new building


Under the plan, the county would continue to own the land, making it exempt from property taxes. The developer would own the building, which would be taxable. That adds new property to the county’s tax roll, but the developer is also getting a hefty tax break by not having to pay taxes on the land. The county would pay below-market rent on the space it uses, according to the plan


The plan also comes amid a 5-year-old effort by the city of Austin to revitalize a stretch of Airport Boulevard that includes the county offices, aiming for more pedestrian- and transit-oriented development. That means new buildings would be bound under city codes to have a certain look and feel; for example, by being built closer to the sidewalk, a building would be more walker-friendly


A planned urban rail line that the city will probably take to voters in November for millions of dollars in bonds will include a stop near the county-owned land, Gilbert said


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