Austin evaluating 6 plans to redevelop 19-acre St. John site into mixed-use district

The property has been a redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization target for years. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
The property has been a redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization target for years. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

The property has been a redevelopment and neighborhood revitalization target for years. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)

The city of Austin's long-gestating plan to revitalize a vacant 19-acre site in the St. John neighborhood is moving forward this spring with six redevelopment proposals now under consideration by city staff.

The St. John site comprises 7211 and 7309 I-35 N., Austin, adjacent properties formerly occupied by a Home Depot store and a Chrysler dealership, respectively. Using bond funding, Austin purchased the Home Depot site in 2008 and the Chrysler site in 2013 with the aim of setting up a new court and police substation there before neighborhood pushback ended those plans, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. The site now serves as a drive-thru COVID-19 test site.

Years of public engagement followed the properties' purchase and led City Council to approve a resolution last summer solidifying the city's objective of supporting "a complete community in an historic neighborhood" on the site. Council's directive outlined a redevelopment process that would produce a mixed-use district featuring affordable housing alongside locally oriented retail and open space through a competitive public bidding process and rezoning.

A request for proposals for such a project opened last September and closed March 2. According to a May 11 memo from Sylnovia Holt-Rabb, acting director of the Austin Economic Development Department, six proposals remain under review by city staff. Staff also recommended holding off on a rezoning process and amendments to the future land use map until a finalist is selected from the six submissions.

Backyard Biceps, The Geyser Group, Greystar Development Central LLC, KMA Cos., McCormack Baron Salazar Inc. and Pennrose LLC made the city's shortlist for the redevelopment project. The city's project overview stated that evaluation of the proposals began in March and is expected to last "several months."

While the St. John site's final form has yet to be detailed, several requirements for a redevelopment project have already been established through City Council's July 2020 resolution. Alongside a housing component to include at least 50% affordable units, council's outline calls for accessible green space, community retail space and a potential location for nonprofit operations. The project must also "highlight and respect" the St. John neighborhood's history, and potential developers were directed to plan a project that could support the surrounding neighborhood to offset displacement there.

The city's role in funding the project also remains in question as the development shortlist narrows. During the site's public engagement and vision-setting process, the city entered into an agreement with The University of Texas at Austin Center for Sustainable Development to produce a report on realizing a final project. In that report, UT outlined a potential financing gap of $41 million to $71.5 million due both to resources needed to redevelop the vacant commercial lot and to offset the city's outstanding bond obligation left over from its original purchase of the site. In its request for proposals issued last September, the city estimated its remaining bond debt at $10.93 million.

The properties' combined appraised value as of 2020 was $21.89 million, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records.


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