City Council Member Kathie Tovo has been working on resolutions intended to ensure that city staff follow certain policies when renting or selling city property. The policies relate to the requirements for construction projects, living wage, minority and women-owned business requirements, affordable housing and child care facilities.
After staff posed numerous questions and expressed concern about how to deal with those directives while conducting real estate transactions under the purview of City Manager Spencer Cronk, the resolution was postponed from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3 to today. Mayor Steve Adler has authored a motion asking the city manager to develop policies and recommendations to accomplish a number of goals while working with the staff of the Austin Economic Development Corporation.
Unlike Tovo’s resolution, Adler’s motion does not start with affordable housing, although the idea is listed among items the manager is encouraged to consider. At the top of Adler’s motion sheet is a statement saying the city favors leasing as opposed to selling its property and favors ownership over leases for city purposes. Without specifically stating when Council and the public should hear about sales, purchases and redevelopments, Adler’s motion directs Cronk to provide an annual report and a process for identifying opportunities for reuse and redevelopment of city-owned properties.
Cronk and his staff are also asked to create a citywide parking management strategy and provide recommendations for how to handle real estate deposits, earnest money and escrow payments.
Finally, the resolution asks the manager to review prior redevelopment, acquisition, sale and lease of city-owned properties “to attend on opportunities for process improvement that would have maximized community benefits and efficient delivery.”
At Tuesday’s work session, Deputy Chief Financial Officer Kimberly Olivares and Building Services Officer Darrell Alexander briefed Council on four city-owned buildings with differing characteristics and possibilities for future use: One Texas Center, the old City Hall on Eighth Street, 3002 Guadalupe St., and 411 Chicon, the current home of Building Services.
Before the pandemic, One Texas Center housed 1,000 city employees over six departments. Alexander said the options under consideration include teardown and rebuilding or renovation. He said staff members recommend continuing discussion for a more collaborative mixed-use approach for affordable housing, with municipal services as well as child care and other priorities.
The old City Hall, a historic structure, will need renovations regardless of its future uses. “Our recommendation is to pursue opportunities to make the building available for cultural space,” Alexander said, noting that the city will have to find another space for the Financial Services Department.
The property on Guadalupe currently houses the Fire Department’s arson division and was a historic structure. Alexander said staff would recommend for cultural purposes, but the city would have to find another space for the Fire Department staff. Employees working out of the property on Chicon would likewise have to be relocated if the city decided it wanted to do something else with the space. He noted, “This is prime real estate and I think we would be remiss if we didn’t go into some detail to see how much we can get out of this.”
Olivares told Council, “It’s really challenging to look at each of these properties in isolation. We need to be considering them in a more comprehensive manner. This would also allow us to be more comprehensive in how we assess and analyze the funding options.” She pointed out that the funding landscape has changed, becoming more restrictive in the last few years with changes in state law. Some uses are allowed for bond-funded properties while others are not.
Finally, Olivares told Council members that they have not allocated funding to allow for the kind of intensive scrutiny that may be needed in order to repurpose some city buildings. However, she said staff members are in a much better position now than they were a year ago to study the many questions about city-owned property.
Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2015, the body contained seven members, including the city’s Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and as of 2015, 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Building Services Department: This city department is responsible for providing facilities planning, custodial services, repairs, security, and mail services, among other things.
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