A visioning process that will shape the future of a 10-acre swath of land in downtown New Braunfels will come to a close with a Jan. 16 public meeting, but the city will seek residential input throughout the entire project, according to New Braunfels City Manager Robert Camareno.
The South Castell Avenue makeover is expected to add, on average, $1.6 million in annual tax revenue; create 301 jobs; and offer housing opportunities for 318 residents.
“I appreciate everyone that has come to our public meetings and provided us the feedback because it has been extremely valuable to get us to the point we are now,” Camareno said.
To date, five of six public meetings have provided an opportunity for New Braunfels residents to provide direction on what they would like to see at the portion of land surrounding South Castell Avenue that serves as a gateway to historic downtown New Braunfels.
At the most recent public meeting in mid-November, Andrew Douglas of Douglas Architects—the firm hired by the city to put together a master plan for the project—presented three concepts for what the mixed-use development could look like. There were 187 residents in attendance, and 152 feedback surveys were collected.
At the Dec. 11 New Braunfels City Council meeting, Douglas presented the survey findings, which showed options A and B to have the most support. Option C, the lowest-density plan, had significantly less support. In regard to economic impact, stakeholders found Option A more appealing, winning 50 percent of the vote.
Aesthetically, some of the preferred themes were varied window patterns and treatments and the use of masonry materials. The least popular images included repetitive “cookie-cutter” massing.
A large tax-revenue producing downtown project was listed as one of the city’s major goals in a 2012 economic development strategy. Bringing new wealth to the community and sustaining a thriving downtown are two key objectives of the Castell Avenue project, officials said.
The site is currently home to city-owned parking lots, the public works department, the New Braunfels Civic/Convention Center and the former City Hall, which was relocated to 550 Landa St. in September 2016. Union Pacific Corp. also owns 3 acres of the land, and the city is negotiating options for obtaining the property, Camareno said.
According to Michael Meek, president of the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, the city is missing an opportunity to collect tourism money from a hotel that is either attached or in close proximity to the convention center. A proposed hotel is included in all three visions for the proposed project with a building height cap of four floors in spite of zoning that would allow up to 10-story buildings.
“We have the destination-type tourists that come throughout the year, especially in the summertime, but a very lucrative part of the touring industry is people who go to meetings and conventions,” Meek said.
Total project cost will depend on which project is chosen. Information presented at the Nov. 15 meeting estimated each proposal: Option A would cost $102 million; Option B would cost $77 million; and Option C would cost $41 million.
According to Camareno, it is too early to determine how public and private investments might cover those costs, and the land, which is valued at $5.8 million, may be the city’s only contribution.
Throughout the public meeting process, some New Braunfels residents have raised concerns about the proposals, citing traffic congestion, density, project costs and concern the development may take away from the city’s small-town feel.
“Any time you have a public process, you want to see opposing views, and we try to take all of that into account for what ultimately needs to be the right solution for the whole city,” New Braunfels Assistant City Manager Bryan Woods said.
The final visioning meeting will take place Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at the New Braunfels Civic/Convention Center, 375 S. Castell Ave. Camareno said the format of the meeting will be more interactive than the last, allowing for an open dialogue from citizens rather than breakout sessions.