City staffers and a renowned shorefront planning expert are helping drum up interest on a South Central Waterfront Initiative that outlines efforts to redevelop 97 acres immediately south of downtown Austin.

South Central Waterfront The 97-acre area immediately south of downtown Austin has been pinpointed for redevelopment. The map shows the area under consideration and some of the primary landmarks within that zone—dubbed the South Central Waterfront.[/caption]

The city and Downtown Austin Alliance hosted Alex Krieger, a Harvard professor, international architect and urban planner, to share other examples of high-density waterfront redevelopment projects throughout the world, including some he personally helped design. Krieger spoke May 6 to Austin residents at the Mexican American Cultural Center and again May 7 at the Hyatt Regency Austin during a DAA breakfast event. Approximately 350 people attended both events, according to organizers.

Krieger emphasized May 7 that waterfront transformations often take decades or longer. Chicago, for example, opened Millennium Park next to Lake Michigan in 2004, marking the last step in a shoreline redevelopment plan first hatched in 1909, he said.

But Austin's redevelopment effort should not take a century to complete, said Alan Holt, the city's principal planner for the South Central Waterfront Initiative. Instead, Holt said private investors could help fund $1.2 billion worth of redevelopment projects in the next five to 15 years.

The 97-acre zone identified for redevelopment includes 31 properties, including one 5-acre tract owned by the city—the Texas One Center, which houses city staff. A combined 22.6 acres of land is owned by one family, he said, and the Austin American-Statesman property represents 18 acres of the redevelopment zone.

Krieger offered multiple recommendations for approaching Austin's redevelopment efforts, emphasizing that pedestrians gain better access to the Lady Bird Lake shoreline.

"This is maybe the most important point: Make sure there are perpendicular arrows that connect the rest of the city to the waterfront," Krieger said. "Open up access to the water's edge."

The next step in the city's effort to help steer redevelopment, according to Holt, is to welcome a nationally known urban consultant who was hired to help incorporate more "green" infrastructure—anything that helps reduce runoff and flooding as well as increase shade and improve water quality—into the South Central Waterfront zone. The consultant was hired using grant money awarded to the city through the Environmental Protection Agency's Greening America's Capital program. He or she will likely work this summer with community members to develop recommendations for making the shorefront more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, Holt said. More information should be released next week about the consultant's efforts, he said.

A financial consultant will also be hired this summer to model potential returns on private investment, Holt said. That same consultant will also outline potential financial returns should the city decide to "strategically" invest in the redevelopment efforts, Holt said.