The long-term Bell Boulevard project has stepped forward with a development agreement.

Cedar Park City Council voted unanimously Feb. 27 to enter into a master development agreement with RedLeaf Bell LLC, a Austin-based commercial real-estate firm. The 20-year agreement is the latest step in the project that began in 2014.

The $350-million project will transform a section of southern Bell Boulevard into a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. The city will provide $15.25 million for infrastructure, parking for public facilities and other expenses.

Council voted unanimously in Jan. 2019 to name RedLeaf Properties as the Bell District master developer. During the Feb. 27 meeting, RedLeaf partner Rob Shands said he believes this project will have a generational impact.

“It's truly incredible how this community has gotten behind this project,” Shands said. “Even the folks that don't necessarily love what we're doing are really excited to hear about what we're aiming for and and the possibilities for the types of destination retail that will provide.”

“Comfortable, urban environment”

The mixed-use district will include residential, commercial and civic areas within 50 acres of city-owned land. A new library and about 16 acres of dedicated park land are planned.

Assistant City Manager Katherine Woerner Caffrey said Bell Boulevard had increasing closed storefronts in a declining area and that the community had called the road “run-down” and “hodgepodge.”

“The vision was to invest in this area and turn it around and bring it back to an area that’s really a destination for businesses and for our public,” Caffrey said during the meeting.

The project will realign Bell Boulevard, which is one the most traveled roads in Cedar Park and runs across the entire city limits, Caffrey said. The project also replaces some existing structures along the road.

Phase 1 includes a social hub, or a central gathering place, with the library and two blocks of restaurants and shops. The phase also has a park, greenbelt and district parking. Phase 1 will begin after the completion of road construction, which is set to begin in the summer.

Phase 2 includes professional office space, residential brownstones and high-density residential units with some ground floor retail.

Shands said Bell District will provide amenities and a “comfortable, urban neighborhood” that do not exist in Cedar Park today.

He said the tenant interest is high, and the project is unique because one-third of the project is greenspace, and amenities are planned during the first part of development.

Tenant announcements will come closer to the start of Phase 1 construction, Shands said.

A public-private partnership

The project costs an estimated $350 million, and public funds cover 13% of the total cost. Remaining funds will come from private partnerships.

The majority of the project, including taxable mixed-use development and other infrastructure, will be paid for privately. Property for the project has already been acquired by the city, which used 4B Community Development Sales Tax Corporation funding.

RedLeaf is responsible for the design, construction and engineering of the project, Caffrey said. The city is responsible for building the library, park and greenbelt, and the city will sell land to the developer at fair market value. Then, project revenue will reimburse infrastructure costs and profits are shared between parties. The city will receive all tax revenue.

Local voices

Community voices and involvement were a large component of project planning. At the Feb. 27 meeting, council members noted how important these voices were in the project.

Shands said over 600 people attended the June “A Day in the Bell District” community involvement plan meeting. This project, he said, has received the most community involvement of any project he has worked on.

Council Member Mel Kirkland said he remembers a past city study where city residents said there was no town center.

“I think this is going to give us an area we can call home, like a heart to the city,” Kirkland said at the meeting.