City seeks more public input for Seaholm Intake Facility’s future

AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s prime real estate nestled between Lady Bird Lake and one of Austin’s newest developments. New plans are evolving for the historic Seaholm Intake Facility, but there are big questions about what the future may hold.

The city of Austin finished its review of the facility and announced a new phase of the development process on Monday. Despite the buildup, KXAN learned we’re no further now than we were five years ago in terms of knowing what the facility will become.

While the rest of the Seaholm redevelopment project moved along, the Intake Facility building, sitting on three acres of lakefront property, has sat unused. An iconic Art Deco design, it was once the pump house for the Seaholm Power Plant.

A $450,000 planning study will begin in late May and will rely heavily on public input. Ideas presented will set the road map for future improvements. The study area will span between the Pfluger Bridge and Shoal Creek, and from the lake’s edge to Cesar Chavez Street. The mayor said private money coming from the Austin Parks Foundation and the Austin Trail Foundation will fund the study.

Austin Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) concluded after their review that the redevelopment should “ensure greater public benefit and harness the non-profit and philanthropic sector.”

“I just always thought it was a really cool looking building,” Sarah Leach said, who brings her dog to the Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail. “Real estate is just eaten up here, you know, and it’s kind of a waste that it’s there and not being utilized.”

The city asked the public to weigh in on two redevelopment proposals in 2015. KXAN asked PARD what’s different this time.

“We’ve had a lot of great ideas, but we need to really sort of match those ideas with reality and figure out how we can move forward,” Kim McKnight said.

When asked why it’s taken so long to get to this point, she replied, “Quite frankly, we haven’t had any funding to move forward.”

Two years ago, there were concerns raised about protecting the historic integrity of the building. This came up when gathering feedback for two proposed plans. At the time, the city was looking to the private sector for funding but found the greater public benefit wasn’t there.

Because of that, the city pressed for a better process. “The opportunity here is unparalleled and we’ll never have an opportunity to do something like this again,” McKnight said. “It’s just — it’s that important of a building.”

The city added what’s different this time is rather than just look at options for the facility’s use, the study will take into account how the building fits in with the waterfront location, the trail, the new Central Library and connection to Shoal Creek.

Mayor Steve Adler said he’d like to see the new development add to what the area around it already offers.

“One of the advantages of this location is that it is already in an existing park area,” Adler said. “It’s adjacent to the hike and bike trail that goes all around the lake. Which means it is going to accessible to lots of people and it will be a value add for the parks system that we already have invested in and so many people already enjoy.”

Donations from the community helped pay for Austin’s boardwalk. The nonprofit Trail Foundation stepped in because the voter approved bond didn’t cover all the costs.

For more information about the project, please visit www.austintexas.gov/seaholmwaterfront.

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