Board fa­vors new build­ing for va­cant lot

Main Street site where three pre­vi­ous struc­tures burned is badly in need of re­pairs.

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Mary Hu­ber mhu­ber@ac­n­news­pa­pers.com

The votes are in. A build­ing will rise on the va­cant slab at 921 Main St. down­town where three pre­vi­ous build­ings burned to the ground.

The Bas­trop Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp. board voted unan­i­mously this week to have a build­ing fill the empty lot down­town, in­stead of a pocket park or com­mu­nity gath­er­ing space — both op­tions on the ta­ble.

Of­fi­cials have de­bated what to do with the va­cant lot for sev­eral years. The city pur­chased the prop­erty, which ex­tends back to Water Street, in 2009 with a plan to ex­pand down­town park­ing. Then the Down­town Busi­ness Al­liance used the space for mar­kets and events. When side and rear walls on the prop­erty were found to be crum­bling, of­fi­cials de­clared it a haz­ard and closed the site.

Un­cer­tain how to fix the prob­lem, the city agreed to sell the lot to the Bas­trop Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp. last year for $4.

Since then, the cor­po­ra­tion has been en­gag­ing the com­mu­nity on op­tions for the lot.

Busi­ness own­ers and com­mu­nity mem­bers ex­pressed over­whelm­ing sup­port for a build­ing over a pocket park.

In a pub­lic sur­vey, 14 re­spon­dents fa­vored the build­ing. Four ex­pressed in­ter­est in a pub­lic gath­er­ing space, and one said to re­pair the lot and leave it as is.

The in­put came after the cor­po­ra­tion pre­sented the pub­lic with two stud­ies: an engi­neer­ing re­port that weighed the cost for re­pairs, a new build­ing and a pub­lic gath­er­ing space, and a Texas His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion sur­vey that laid out, in its opin­ion, the high­est and best use for the lot in the com­mu­nity.

While the op­tion for a build­ing was the most ex­pen­sive on the ta­ble at $1.7 mil­lion, a pub­lic gath­er­ing space pre­sented a host of chal­lenges to the cor­po­ra­tion, of­fi­cials said. Some­one would have to pay to pro­gram the space an­nu­ally with live mu­sic and events as well as dish out sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars con­sis­tently to main­tain the del­i­cate walls.

The Texas His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion study con­curred with the cor­po­ra­tion’s find­ings. It found the best op­tion for the space was a mixed-use build­ing with four res­i­dences and two ground-floor retail spa­ces.

“In­fill con­struc­tion,” the study says, “of­fers two ad­di­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties for new re­tail­ers on Main Street and four new ur­ban res­i­dences, which will pro­vide street ac­ti­va­tion, energy around the clock and an ad­di­tional $500,000plus in prop­erty tax valu­a­tion.”

This month, the cor­po­ra­tion will put out a re­quest for qual­i­fi­ca­tions to round up po­ten­tial devel­op­ers. Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Shawn Kirk­patrick said he ex­pects the board to re­view re­sponses in mid­sum­mer with the hope that a project can get off the ground be­fore year’s end.

He said he thinks the lot can hold on an­other six months with­out re­pairs, but it can’t wait much longer than that.

Neigh­bor­ing busi­ness own­ers Richard and Anne Smarzik have spent $90,000 to fix their ad­join­ing wall, and in a city-com­mis­sioned re­port, en­gi­neers said the struc­ture was so mois­ture-rid­den that chunks could be re­moved by hand.

Lot re­pairs are ex­pected to cost about $100,000, en­gi­neers found.

Kirk­patrick said the cor­po­ra­tion is will­ing to cover that ex­pense in its 2017-18 bud­get if it doesn’t nail down a de­vel­oper. A plan for re­me­di­a­tion will be in­cluded as part of the re­quest for qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

COUR­TESY U.S. NAVY

Dur­ing a cer­e­mony last month in Jack­sonville, Fla., Rear Adm. Ba­bette “Bette” Bo­li­var re­lieved Rear Adm. Mary M. Jack­son as com­man­der of Navy Re­gion South­east. Jack­son, a for­mer Wim­ber­ley res­i­dent, had served as com­man­der from July 2014. Vice Adm. Dixon Smith, com­man­der of Navy In­stal­la­tions Com­mand, pre­sented Jack­son with the Le­gion of Merit for her per­for­mance of out­stand­ing ser­vices and achieve­ments. Jack­son will in turn re­lieve Smith as head of the in­stal­la­tions com­mand.

HU­BER / BAS­TROP AD­VER­TISER MARY

The Bas­trop Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Corp. will be seek­ing a de­vel­oper this month for the 921 Main St. site.

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