A land swap that would bring dozens of acres of new parkland to Austin's east side is set to move ahead this fall, more than two years after city voters first authorized the exchange.
The trade that could be advanced by City Council on Nov. 30 centers on the Austin Parks and Recreation Department's 9-acre Central Maintenance Complex at 2525 S. Lakeshore Blvd. That facility would be exchanged for about 50 acres that would be converted into new city parkland between the Colorado River and Walnut Creek near US 183.
The civic land deal is lined up with Austin-based tech company Oracle, headquartered off Lakeshore Boulevard next door to the city maintenance compound. Oracle also owns several other properties between Lakeshore and Riverside Drive.
The potential future 50-acre riverfront park, the former Driveway Austin racetrack, neighbors existing city green spaces, including John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park and the Colorado/Walnut Greenbelt.
The swap was made possible by Austinites' passage of Proposition B in November 2021; state law requires voter approval for any loss of civic parkland, and the maintenance yard is zoned for that use.
The ballot item was crafted by city officials and headlined by the potential trade of the Lakeshore parks property for the dozens of acres of new green space, plus:
- The construction of a replacement maintenance complex for Austin's parks department
- The restoration of a maintenance area at Fiesta Gardens on Lady Bird Lake
Given the narrow scope of Proposition B's requirements, Oracle ended up as the only interested party pursuing the swap weeks after the November 2021 election. The company went on to buy the Driveway property ahead of a final land trade.
As laid out in Proposition B, Oracle would be required to offer that parkland as well as support for the new maintenance compound and the Fiesta Gardens project. Together, those pieces must at least match the Central Maintenance Complex's value.
The parks department has pointed to a need to upgrade its existing lakeside maintenance facilities, including Fiesta Gardens and the Lakeshore site that's labeled as "functionally challenging" and deteriorating after several decades of use. The transaction would result in a new facility being built at Bolm District Park.
"Our maintenance team members deserve a functional space that supports their efforts. A new facility will provide the team an operational space that they deserve," a department spokesperson said in an email. "Co-locating two maintenance facilities in a single location will improve efficiencies and enhance the parks and recreation department’s culture of service. Furthermore, the relocation of the Fiesta Gardens Maintenance functions will allow for environmental restoration of parkland and increase community access to park space adjacent to Ladybird Lake."The replacement facility provided by Oracle could feature more than 68,000 square feet of storage and work spaces, a nearly 20,000-square-foot administration building and a fueling center spread across about 8 acres of Bolm Park, according to a draft outline of the proposal.
The square footage and acreage of the replacement plan would meet or equal elements at the existing Central Maintenance Complex and Fiesta Gardens.
How we got here
City officials and Bill Dollahite, who owned and managed Driveway Austin before its sale to Oracle, had previously said acquiring the dozens of acres of land near Treviño Park and the Colorado River had long been a city goal before Proposition B was on the table.
More than a year after the proposition passed, council members convened to review the details of the then-stalled transaction. At that time, some raised concerns over whether Austin would be getting a fair deal due to varying views on the properties' values.
Council Member Alison Alter also questioned whether the trade could stand up to legal scrutiny as Proposition B called for Austin to receive "waterfront land" and the former Driveway site doesn't extend all the way to the Colorado River.
The ordinance now up for council approval lays out a trade, submitted by Oracle on Oct. 18, that the city says meets Proposition B's requirements. It also states that the "waterfront" provision can apply given that the former Driveway property borders a neighboring pond and some of Walnut Creek.
Ahead of council's November vote, Alter said she still believes the city may be taking a deceptive approach to meeting the proposition's requirements without direct river access.
“I understand that we can declare this [property] whatever we want but I just, I continue to feel like this is misleading to the public who we promised that we were getting 40-some-plus acres of waterfront land that was adjacent to parkland, and this is ‘waterfront’ because it’s on a pond," she said Nov. 28.
By the numbers
Consideration of property values have played into the extended negotiations since 2021, in part based on differing independent appraisals by the city and Oracle that aren't publicly available.
The most recent public valuation of the Central Maintenance Complex by the Travis Central Appraisal District came in at $35.19 million. Oracle's offer to the city will meet the Proposition B threshold with a value of at least $37.5 million, according to the parks department.
The Oracle-owned former Driveway tracts were most recently appraised at $1.56 million, and Oracle will also pay at least $23.5 million for design and construction of the replacement maintenance complex at Bolm Park plus $1 million for the Fiesta Gardens project, according to the parks department.
Combined, those elements total just over $26 million.
Citing ongoing negotiations, city staff said they couldn't provide Austin's appraisals of the properties in question. A parks department spokesperson said they had no additional comment about the difference between the public appraisal values and the department's calculation of Oracle's overall package.
Aside from those components of the transaction, a Financial Services Department spokesperson said that appraisals, consulting and legal work related to the property exchange have cost Austin about $107,220 since Proposition B passed in late 2021.