Capital Metro’s board of directors will vote March 21 on the Plaza Saltillo development agreement with Endeavor Real Estate Group.
Plaza Saltillo is one of Capital Metro’s MetroRail stations in East Austin, and the agency is planning to develop nearby property between Fourth and Fifth streets from I-35 to Onion Street as part of a transit-oriented development.
On March 17, Capital Metro and Endeavor in coordination with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture revealed renderings of the site, which will have 800 apartments, 120,000-square-feet of office space and 110,000-square-foot of retail space. A 1.8-acre park and paseos for bicycle and pedestrian connections are also planned.
“It’s far broader than just a transit stop,” Capital Metro board member Terry Mitchell said.
Plaza Saltillo site
The 11-acre site is an abandoned rail yard, and Capital Metro purchased the property in 1995. In June 2014, the board hired Endeavor to develop the site. Since then the two parties have been negotiating the master development agreement, which the board is set to approve March 21.
Maija Kreishman, a partner at Michael Hsu, said the materials of the buildings will be rich and vibrant as a nod to the neighborhood as well as the previous industrial uses and factories of the site.
“We’re trying to embody certain histories of the site with the gables and the metal siding,” she said.
Endeavor also plans to extend the Lance Armstrong Bikeway from I-35 to the project, Endeavor Principal Jason Thumlert said. San Marco Street will be extended for vehicular traffic, and Medina and Attayac streets will become the paseos for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“[The paseos is] something we’re really excited about,” he said. “They provide north/south connectivity and act as pocket parks.”
At least 15 percent of the 800 residential units will be for households earning 50 percent of the area median family income. One hundred units will be located adjacent to the MetroRail station and be reserved for seniors age 55 and older.
During the March 17 unveiling of the project, a rally was held by nonprofit Workers Defense Project, which advocates for the rights of low-income workers including construction workers.
WDP Executive Director Jose Garza said Texas is the deadliest state in the country for construction workers and that safe, middle-class jobs are out of reach for those workers. He said the goal is to have Capital Metro adopt Better Builder standards on the Plaza Saltillo project.
“We are asking for basic protections,” he said. “Better Builder standards include a living wage, basic safety training, workers compensation coverage, a local hiring goal so we make sure these jobs go to people in our community and, most importantly, independent monitoring so we can ensure the developers hold up their end of the bargain and keep to the terms they have agreed to.”
The group also has support from Austin City Council members Delia Garza and Ann Kitchen, both of whom sit on the Capital Metro board, as well as District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, whose district includes the Plaza Saltillo site.
Renteria said he understands the importance of including the provisions in the MDA because his father was a laborer.
“It’s not just about the final project,” he said. “We need to make sure the way we get there is something to be proud of. … It’s our responsibility to ensure that building this housing development does not come at the expense of working families who can no longer afford to house themselves in this city.”
Mitchell said the provisions requested by WDP are included in the proposed MDA. The exception is the living wage. When Capital Metro issued the request for proposals in 2013, the living wage was $11 an hour. It increased to $13 an hour Oct. 1, and Endeavor agreed to increase the amount to $11.39 an hour.
Attorney Rick Reed said the cost to increase worker pay from $11.39 to $13 an hour would be more than $1.05 million for construction of the development.
Thumlert said having the living wage change during the planning process makes it difficult to plan for but that Endeavor would take $13 an hour into consideration before the March 21 meeting.
Delia Garza said she would like Capital Metro to look into covering the cost to provide the living wage.
“While I don’t think it’s the transit public agency’s job to do that when in a deal with a private entity that’s going to make a lot of money off of this … I think it’s really important to provide a living wage for folks that build our infrastructure,” she said.
Updated March 22 to correct Terry Mitchell’s position on the board