City of Austin offices set for potential move near ACC Highland

Several key city of Austin departments may relocate to a new property near Austin Community College's Highland campus.

There is no more room for employees at One Texas Center—a 5-acre, city-owned property on Barton Springs Road that houses the departments of development services, human resources, planning and zoning, public works and watershed protection—according to Greg Canally with the city finance department.

Canally proposed moving some departments at One Texas Center and other departments located throughout the city in other leased buildings into the yet-to-be-built space at the intersection of Middle Fiskville Road and Highland Mall Boulevard.

Developer RedLeaf Properties owns the property and already has conceptual designs.

If the agreement goes through, the building would be completed in about two years, Canally said. A total cost estimate has not been released, but Canally said it would be 40 percent less expensive than if the city were to purchase land through traditional means rather than through this private-sector partnership.

"We will work with the developer over the next several months to look at either doing a straight-up purchase at closing or enter into a lease-to-purchase arrangement," meaning payments over 15 to 20 years, he said.

Council votes

On Thursday, Austin City Council voted to spend $650,000 in earnest money—a security deposit that shows the city's commitment to the project—that will allow RedLeaf to move forward with the design process.

If the deal goes through, Austin Code, Austin Energy, Austin Fire Department, Austin Transportation Department, Austin Water, Health and Human Services Department, Law Department, Office of Real Estate Services, Parks and Recreation Department and the Watershed Protection Department would all be located under one roof.

District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen said she wanted to be reassured there would not be any disconnect given the departments were not near other City Hall functions.

"We cannot move backward in terms of our efforts to make sure we have a one-stop-shop kind of approach," she said.

The space

"The key feature will be the large floor plates," Canally said of the new space, which he estimates will be about 6,000 square feet. "This will allow us to keep building to four floors and have very large customer service space on the first floor."

He said overall, the building will be open and flexible, with fewer walled offices than what One Texas Center offers.

Representatives from both ACC—which is currently working on Phase 2 of its Highland campus construction—and RedLeaf said they were honored the city was considering the space in Highland.

“The city's proposed location for a Planning and Development Center at Highland is an exciting opportunity to enhance learning opportunities for ACC students through career development and workforce training,” ACC spokesperson Jessica Vess said in a statement. “The college supports the city’s competitive process to select a location for its Planning and Development Center.”

One Texas Center

The move will free up six floors in One Texas Center and move some of the other employees that are currently in about 250,000 square feet of leased space—which costs the city $6 million annually to rent—back into the city-owned property, Canally said.

One Texas Center is one of 32 properties that make up the South Central Waterfront Initiative, the city's plan to transform 118 acres of public and private property across the lake from downtown Austin into a vibrant and walkable hub.

The initiative outlines potential future development for the property, including streetscapes, connections to the other properties and a trail to South First Street's Texas School for the Deaf.

One Texas Center is regulated by a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, which means another office tower or as many as 150 affordable housing units could be built on its parking lot, according to the initiative.

David King, president of the neighborhood advocacy group Austin Neighborhoods Council and a strong supporter of affordable housing, called on City Council to be transparent about what will be done with One Texas Center if the departments move to the proposed Highland property.

Canally said he will go back to Council in June with a financial acquisition agreement and a final price.


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