Thursday, June 29, 2017

"Capitol Complex" project epitomizes EVERYTHING wrong with both #ATXCouncil and #TXLEGE....


"Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it."
Genesis 2:15

Wow; we had no idea this was even under discussion until we saw today's Statesman story:
After a closed-door discussion Thursday, Austin City Council members agreed to waive $6.9 million in fees and provide other assistance to the state for a new Capitol Complex — a topic that had drawn wry skepticism during a council workshop earlier in the week.

The Capitol Complex is a planned $581 million three-phase project to convert North Congress Avenue between the Capitol and the University of Texas into a grassy pedestrian mall. The later phases will create new office buildings for state workers at 16th and 18th streets. Work is expected to begin this summer.

The 6-2 vote Thursday, with two abstentions and one council member absent, authorizes city staffers to draft an interlocal agreement with the state to waive fees for the first phase of the Capitol Complex project. It would also provide expedited permitting for the project, appointment of a city staff project team and an agreement that the city will vacate four blocks of North Congress Avenue and convert 16th, 17th and 18th streets to two-way traffic.
There's so much to say about why this is a terrible idea, but we'll start with a personal observation we made numerous times throughout this past regular legislative session.  If you walk around the area north of the Capitol Grounds and south of UT campus after 6pm, you quickly notice that it's a dead zone once all the state employees go home at night.  Having a dead zone between two of the most robust neighborhoods in the city (Downtown and Campus) is one of the worst missed opportunities we have for land use in this city.

As we made that observation over the past few months, we've come to an increasingly obvious conclusion: the State of Texas should sell that land (or, at a minimum, do a long-term ground lease) for mixed-use residential/commercial development.

Beyond that, there's the city of Austin's chronic housing shortage.  If this area were properly re-developed, you could get 10,000 additional units of housing supply in a desirable location, which can only lower housing costs citywide.  And the best part is that you wouldn't have to displace any current residents, because there aren't any current residents.

Then there's the traffic consideration.  The primary driver [Note: Pun not originally intended, but left in place after being recognized] of traffic on I-35 is state employees commuting to and from work.  Getting all those state employees off of I-35 and replacing them with people who aren't travelling long distances to their job can only ease traffic congestion.

Then there's the cost: $581 million to build luxury office towers for state employees.  One thing we learned during the Courthouse bond campaign two years ago is that construction costs in less prime locations are a fraction of construction costs on prime real estate.  If this project moves forward, it's safe to predict it'll cost twice as much as advertised, take twice as long to complete as predicted, then once the project belatedly opens the buildings will rapidly depreciate to the point where within 7 years they'll need another infusion of cash for "maintenance."

Finally, of course, there's the ongoing nightmare of the city of Austin's fee and permitting process.  We've long been of the belief that the city needs to streamline fees and permitting for everyone and end the constant stream of "fee waivers" and "expedited permitting."  That the state of Texas was able to obtain special treatment is yet another example of how politically favored entities receive accommodations which are unavailable to the rest of us.

Bottom Line: Never forget, once you get beyond the headlines, that politics at every level in this state is about good ol' boys putting together shady real estate deals....

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely agreed! Latest CodeNEXT map has active FLUM catagories for all Capital Complex lots. I assumed they are there for any just in case scenario. But, City of Austin should take an active policy for the State of Texas to vacate area for cheaper land, so their employees can have an easier commute (esp, with many on lower income levels compared to private sector).

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