While Austin's police force mainly operates from its headquarters at 715 E. Eighth St., city staff have described the complex as "functionally obsolete," and a search for a new home for the department has been underway for years.
"The city wishes to improve [APD] operational objectives through improved facilities and divisional consolidation. ... The buildings currently occupied by APD were not intended to be used in the manner of which they are currently used, and as such, result in operational and efficiency deficits," Deputy Chief Financial Officer Kim Olivares said in a June 21 memo.
Former City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan formally asked the city to begin the process of moving APD out of downtown in 2020. In addition to finding a new facility to house the police department, Flannigan also asked to jump-start a public engagement process to determine how the city might transform the aging headquarters building into a "gateway to East Austin" with a focus on the city's Black community and economy. That concept could also be included in a new framework to guide future development in the Palm District, which runs along the eastern edge of downtown.
While the future of APD's headquarters is still up in the air, the city is working to convert another of its properties into a new "public safety campus" with space for APD to modernize its operations center.
The 32-acre city-owned Rutherford Lane Campus, located at 1520 Rutherford Lane, houses several city departments' offices, including APD's recruitment center. City plans now in the works could see that site redeveloped as a campus for APD, the Austin Fire Department, Austin Travis-County Emergency Medical Services and the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.
According to the city, the Rutherford campus can house around 800 city employees and is home to some staff with APD, Austin Energy, Austin Public Health and Austin Resource Recovery. The proposed redevelopment would consolidate APD, AFD and EMS public safety operations that are now spread across more than half a dozen city buildings across Austin. The futures of those buildings, as well as APD's downtown headquarters, remain under evaluation.
"As a part of this [Rutherford Lane Campus] redevelopment plan, the city is also evaluating the highest and best future use of existing facilities that will be fully or partially vacated during this process," a city spokesperson said.
The Rutherford campus is also located next door to another Austin facility primed to expand in the coming years. The city is seeking feedback on the Phase 2 expansion of the Asian American Resource Center at 8401 Cameron Road, and while that project is independent of the public safety campus process, the city could seek to "coordinate and create efficiencies" as the development moves forward.
The new public safety center is years away from coming together, and the city is planning to open a request for proposals for the redevelopment in 2023. In the meantime, APD remains downtown—and could still maintain a footprint in the area even after its offices are relocated.
"Upon completion of the [Rutherford Lane Campus] project, there will still be a need for APD to have a Downtown Command presence in the Central Business District. Planning for the downtown facility needs of APD, including potential uses for the current APD headquarters sites, is a work in progress," the spokesperson said.