Board favors new building for vacant lot
Main Street site where three previous structures burned is badly in need of repairs.
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.
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.
The Bastrop Economic Development Corp. will be seeking a developer this month for the 921 Main St. site.