Austin at Large: The Showdown at the Batcave: Part I: What do we all hear about a $ 277 million developer document? – News

Even with everyone trying to shut down and out of town hall in mid-December, there was a disruption in the Force, as city council met to resolve a last-minute issue. caused by calls from a major developer. For our former law firm friends Bill, Bill and Fred – Bunch, Aleshire and Lewis, respectively – no further evidence was needed to mount a scandal in the making, as Nick Barbaro reported last week in “Public Notice. In tandem with their sympathetic media The Austin Bulldog, BB&F discussed how the creation of a Tax Increase Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) for the South Central Waterfront District was an obvious mess that well-meaning Austinites should. be duly outraged.

As is often the case with Bill, Bill and Fred, the glow of their own outrage, which is a valuable asset to organization and political action, has cooked a bit too much here and overtaken their own lighthouses. analytical as public interest lawyers. (Their roles and titular organizations – Bunch at Save Our Springs and the Zilker Neighborhood Association, Lewis at Community Not Commodity, Aleshire in his own practice – are tangential to the South Central Waterfront kerfuffle.) Something in the TIRZ milk isn’t- it not clean? May be! Is this what they think or say it is? Maybe not! To fully understand what is going on, you have to be aware that, as is so often the case in this city, this big news has really been going on for over 50 years – so long that I’m going to have to tackle it in several. installments in this space.

Mid-century modern

Back in 1960, when the Longhorn Dam was completed to cool the old Holly powerhouse and turn the river into a lake. The north shore of this lake was high enough to be largely buildable since early Austin, and everything from Cesar Chavez (originally Water Avenue) to today is part of the city plan. original by Edwin Waller in 1839. So the dam changed things, but not that much at first.

The South Rim slums, however, had been repeatedly ravaged by flooding in previous decades, and today’s 78,704 neighborhoods were protected by a slew of low-density industrial uses that could work. in an active floodplain – like the sand mining and National Guard Armory which would later become the world headquarters of Armadillo, and the former Disch Field, home to the Austin Pioneers, Senators and Braves of the Big State and Texas Leagues (that’s baseball), which closed in 1967. Seen through today’s land use lens, it was like a bunch of Walmart supercenters, without even the Basic urban fabric applied to places like Tech Ridge and Southpark Meadows. No streets, just parking lots; no landscaping or green space; no public service except what was deposited directly in these few structures.

Now, of course, Austin is very different. The south shore stretch to the west of South First has become a park and civic space during several waves of public investment; the extended congress avenue bridge made the waterfront more accessible to downtown. Yet the early arrivals to the region maximized what they could gain from the existing land use model. One of them was the Austin American-Stateman, who escaped from a dingy warehouse in the old Warehouse District (the site of the current Hobby Building) in 1982 to build a large office building with room for printing presses, and parking still larger, on 19 acres (again, about the size of a large Walmart store) on the corner across from the new bridge, and its accidental but now iconic bat colony, which is why this newspaper called the daily “la Batcave”.

Fast forward to 2021

And we are back! As you may have heard, the Cox family of Atlanta (owners since 1976) recently sold the statesman but retained the Batcave, which now has the potential value, given the heat of Austin, of a world-famous urban infill property like Hudson Yards in New York or Canary Wharf in London. It is about being redeveloped into 19 hectares of real city, with a real urban fabric (streets, landscapes, public services), which is expensive. This is the largest infill site among 32 properties in the South Central Waterfront Planning Area – the stretch east of South First – that the town and Lota stakeholders have lovingly and lovingly crafted. a vision and regulatory plan over the past decade. This planning effort identified $ 277 million in infrastructure upgrades needed to get us from here to there.

Who has this money? One of the preferred channels for the financing of infill infrastructures is the financing by tax increase (TIF). The concept is pretty obvious; until you build streets, landscapes, and utilities, the potential value of the Batcave and the other 30 private properties (one is the city-owned One Texas Center, which was the Armadillo ) will remain dormant, which means less land tax revenue for the city. To keep up with the market, TIFs (a TIRZ is only the geographic layer of a TIF district) capture and set aside a portion of tax revenue in the future to repay bonds or other debts used to pay these 277 millions of dollars.

This is much easier for the City of Austin to borrow than it is for any private developer, because that is how public finances work. Even though that developer is Endeavor Real Estate Group, which brought you the domain (and a number of Walmart supercenters) and is overseeing the Batcave restart. They are at the top of the local developer food pyramid, and their interests as a participant in the South Central Waterfront TIRZ are represented by Richard Suttle of Armbrust & Brown, an actor in many of the sagas that have built Austin in the past. 30 years. Its antithesis, you might say, is the law firm Bill, Bill and Fred. They and their non-lawyer allies, and sometimes this newspaper, clashed directly with Suttle over the decades. And it is why the Council needed to have a special meeting called the week before Christmas. Why and what then? Stay tuned.


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