Cap Metro Breaks Ground on Plaza Saltillo

Linda and Pio
Capital Metro President/CEO Linda Watson with Board and Council Member Pio Renteria

This was a big week for Capital Metro, a week decades in the making. With our partners Endeavor Real Estate and Columbus Realty alongside members of the community, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the Plaza Saltillo District on Wednesday.

Braving the warm, muggy weather, a couple hundred people joined us at Plaza Saltillo, right next to our MetroRail station and directly adjacent to a 10-acre tract of land that’s laid empty since the mid-1990s.

It won’t be empty for much longer, though. When construction is through, the development will feature 800 residential apartment units (almost 20 percent of which will be reserved as affordable housing), more than 110,000 square feet of retail space, 140,000 square feet of office space, an acre-and-a-half of open space with public art and access to a range of transportation options. In addition to our own MetroRail and MetroBus services, the Plaza Saltillo District will be located right along an extended Lance Armstrong Bikeway and two historical walking paths (the Tejano Music Legends Trail and the Tejano Healthy Walking Trail); it will also have access to Austin B-cycle stations and Car2Go vehicles.

Rather than your typical event with a big pile of imported dirt and shiny new shovels, the Plaza Saltillo groundbreaking featured a flag-planting ceremony. Representatives of Capital Metro, the city of Austin, Endeavor Real Estate and the neighboring community staked flags symbolizing the three organizing partners: Cap Metro, Endeavor and the city. We included the Texas state flag too.

Cap Metro President/CEO Linda Watson spoke enthusiastically about the trajectory of the project, and the agency’s efforts to guide the development in a way that served the needs of Capital Metro, as well as the neighborhood and the entire region.

Pio Renteria is a member of both our board of directors and the Austin City Council, representing East Austin. He and East Side resident Johnny Limon talked with passion about the history and the people of East Austin. In his dual roles, Renteria was instrumental in getting the project through the final steps of the approval process. Limon, too, worked for years leading a community group dedicated to finding a solution for the abandoned railyard that will be home to the development.

In addition to the flags and the great speeches, the crowd was able to enjoy tamales and agua frescas from the Tamale House (located just down the street from the station), conjunto music by Los Pinkys and paletas from Mom and Pops Frozen Pops.

Remediation work on the former brownfield site has already started and construction of the underground parking structure will begin shortly. In all, the project is expected to take about 30 months.

Wednesday was a fun way to acknowledge the road we’ve taken so far and to look to the days ahead when the development be finished. Once done, the resulting Plaza Saltillo District will be a great addition to Austin and Central Texas.

Mapping the Future

TOD_BannerGrowth happens. You can’t change that. What we need to do is to manage how Central Texas grows, direct where that growth takes place and ensure that everyone benefits from our growing region.

The city of Austin is attempting to do just that with CodeNext, its rewrite of the city’s development code. It’s a massive undertaking and you’ve probably read much about it since the draft version was released in January and maps were put out last month showing how the proposed code would affect different parts of the city.

Continue reading “Mapping the Future”

Austin Mobility: East Fifth St. Transit Oriented Development Underway

Austin Mobility featured an article in their newsletter yesterday, describing the ongoing development in the east 5th area — around our MetroRail Plaza Saltillo Station. Check out the Austin Mobility to learn more about local Transit Oriented Development at: http://ow.ly/ealZv or read on:

E. Fifth St. transit oriented development underway

Projects near Plaza Saltillo are moving forward.

The 256-unit Corazon mixed-use project has begun construction, and will feature 9,400 square feet of retail, along with 6,400 square feet of restaurant space.

That project, the first to break ground at the Plaza Saltillo MetroRail station and transit oriented development east of IH-35, is expected to be completed by 2014.

The project is a step towards realizing the vision for Transit Oriented Development on Fifth Street.

Transit Oriented Development, or TOD, is a rapidly growing trend to create compact and walkable communities with high quality design centered around transit, and offering mobility choices.

The TOD vision was created by working with community members to address issues such as connectivity, open space, and design within the realities of economics.

The TODs have a complimentary regulation and zoning framework to facilitate compact and connected development, which is a key part of the Imagine Austin plan, passed by a unanimous City Council this month.

In addition to the private development, Capital Metro is making progress on about 10 acres it hopes to develop under future private-public relationships.

An environmental assessment of the land is close to being completed.

An upcoming report, by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency, will give planners an understanding of what remediation would need to occur to develop the land.

In addition, Capital Metro expects to begin design and engineering later this year to relocate rail along Fourth Street, which will free up land for mixed-use development.

That $5.4 million track project is funded 80 percent by federal funds, with a 20 percent match from Capital Metro.

Transportation, Development, Priorities

Kevin Buchanan wrote a thought-provoking article in the Fort Worthology blog yesterday. He includes a number of examples specific to Fort Worth, but you could substitute Austin development projects and roadways and it would be just as relevant.

Transportation, Development, Priorities
Written by Kevin Buchanan on March 24, 2011

“This transit project’s nothing but a handout to developers!”

Words similar to those are often heard in the United States when cities plan transit projects (it was certainly heard during the discussion around Fort Worth’s own streetcar project). The plan to spend ~$80 million, from the Near Southside and TRV TIFs combined with a federal grant, to build a streetcar linking the districts with Downtown, just as other TIFs spend their money on infrastructure, was seen by some as a handout to developers because one of the stated goals of the project was encouraging higher-density transit-and-pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development. “If these developers want it, they can pay for it!”

So, where are the calls for developers like Cassco or the homebuilders in Cleburne to pay for the nearly $1.5 billion Southwest Parkway, which is undeniably a benefit to projects of theirs like Edwards Ranch (there’s a Whole Foods planned there – but not until the Parkway is built)? Where are the calls for developers like Hillwood to foot the bill for the I-35 widening that will undoubtedly benefit developments like Alliance?

To call a transit project a “handout for developers” and a roadway “necessary public infrastructure” is an enormous double-standard. The reality is that every transportation project is also an economic development project – every transportation project has impacts for development.

Transportation and development/land use are deeply, deeply entwined.

This gets to one of the hearts of the sprawl vs. urbanism debate – the reality that sprawl is not the result of the free market simply choosing a totally car-dependent lifestyle. The invisible hand of government has led the way since WWII, resulting in the built environment we have, and are paying for (in more ways than one), now.

Without hugely subsidized roadways and freeways (the reality being that roads don’t even come close to paying for themselves, as even highway-crazed TxDOT has admitted), there wouldn’t be the sort of car-dependent development we have now. Those same roadways mean that when we do have moderately successful urban places, they’re little pockets surrounded by parking (as seen downtown and on 7th) or choked with excessive car trips. Or, put more simply:

You get the development you design your transportation systems for.

Read the full article by K. Buchanan.

More federal grant funds for Central Texas!

HUD Regional Administrator C. Donald Babers & Congressman Lloyd Doggett (photo from Envision Central Texas)
HUD Regional Administrator C. Donald Babers & Congressman Lloyd Doggett (photo from Envision Central Texas)
More great news! Just last week, Capital Metro was awarded $2 million in federal grant funds so that we could purchase some new buses. This afternoon, a group of local partners, which includes Capital Metro, was one of only 45 grantees across the country selected to receive $3.7 million in federal funds to develop new regional planning tools. The award was announced today at City Hall. In addition to Congressman Lloyd Doggett, the event was attended by HUD’s regional administrator C. Donald Babers. Continue reading “More federal grant funds for Central Texas!”

Plaza Saltillo’s lookin’ spiffy

After a long, hot day planting native trees, shrubs and grasses, Plaza Saltillo looks great!

Capital Metro–with the help of many volunteers, the landscape design dynamo of Ilse Frank, principal of Studio Balcones Landscape + Urbanism, the grant and materials support of Keep Austin Beautiful, the assistance of Austin Parks and Recreation Department and the Austin/Saltillo Sister Cities Association, and the in-kind donations of several local businesses–has been revitalizing Plaza Saltillo over the past several months.

The most recent volunteer day was this past Saturday, June 19th.  Twenty hard working, dedicated volunteers planted about 300 plants in sweltering heat at Plaza Saltillo.   Many thanks to Thistle Cafe for providing lunch and Texas Coffee Traders who supplied coffee.  This work day completed all of the large planting beds and added shade trees, ornamental shade trees, grasses, and native plants. It looks fantastic! Check out the photo gallery on the Friends of Plaza Saltillo Facebook page.

Continue reading “Plaza Saltillo’s lookin’ spiffy”

TOD update

Capital Metro’s Manager of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Lucy Galbraith gave a really interesting presentation this month to the board’s Rail Committee meeting on June 14. It contained a good overview of what TOD is all about. It also included updates for development plans and progress at four stations: Leander, Crestview, MLK Jr., and Plaza Saltillo. Check out her presentation below.

Capital Metro applied for a Livability Grant from the Federal Transit Administration to support TOD at Leander Station, and we should learn any day now how our grant application fared. We asked for $10.9 million to replace the surface parking with a parking garage and to build the streets and infrastructure needed to support TOD.