AthenaHealth to expand operations in Austin

(Shakil Adil/AP Images)
(Shakil Adil/AP Images)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The fuzzy future of the Seaholm Power Plant is now a lot clearer.

Sitting empty for nearly two decades, the concrete building with the iconic “City of Austin” signage is expected to become the new home of AthenaHealth. The Austin city council approved a deal allowing the IT healthcare company to receive $679,000 in incentives over then next 10 years for their Austin expansion.

GOING IN-DEPTH // City Incentives

The city and state have given nearly $4.5 billion in tax breaks and other incentives to lure businesses to Austin, and a lot of people wonder if it’s worth it for taxpayers.

  • A report given to the Austin Chamber of Commerce showed a net benefit of more than $39 million, meaning the city made back the cost of the incentives, plus $39 million.
  • The report also shows the incentives have brought nearly 8,000 jobs to Austin.

The Austin Chamber of Commerce said incentives were needed to lure AthenaHealth because of competition from other cities.

“We would not support any project that did not have a net positive return for the taxpayers,” said Jeremy Martin, senior vice president with the Chamber, about the use of incentives.

That return includes 600 jobs over the next decade with an average salary in six figures. AthenaHealth, already with a small office at The Domain, says 90% of those jobs will be hired locally.

“Austin would not have been on the list if they could not meet their long-term talent needs,” said Martin.

But the council decision to approve the deal was not unanimous.

Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison voted against the deal and for Tovo, it was about two things.

The incentives and the building.

“I was not persuaded that incentives were necessary for AthenaHealth to make the decision to locate here,” said Tovo who made her vote after listening to public input at Thursday night’s council meeting.

Putting a private business inside a public landmark also figured into her resistance.

“It is a public building and one we have already made significant public investments in,” said Tovo. “That building was envisioned to have some type of public use, perhaps ground floor retail.”

As a part of the agreement with the city, AthenaHealth will be required to keep a level of public access into the building which was built in the 1950’s.

They will also be required to maintain the current exterior.

“The wonderful, historic, facade will be there for generations to come,” said Tovo.

Many walkers on the Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail admitted to not knowing what the current status of the power plant may be, but expressed hopes the aesthetics would not change.

“If it stays the same on the outside, I don’t care what goes on,” said Amit Mookerjee.

AthenaHealth is a provider of cloud-based health information technology services for electronic health records, practice management, and care coordination.

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