Austin, Texas, United StatesMap
The Seaholm Ecodistrict is a 90 acre mixed-use brownfield redevelopment project in the heart of Austin’s vibrant downtown business district. With 90% of the infrastructure constructed, Seaholm is now a vibrant urban neighborhood that models sustainable urban living. It is also the most densely populated downtown district in Austin, drawing visitors from around the world and hosting a variety of green events and educational tours. While the Seaholm Ecodistrict Development is highly acclaimed, the Office of Sustainability recognizes that the assets constructed within the district can be further leveraged to achieve priorities and objectives that were not funded or planned during the design and development phase. In December of 2016, the Office of Sustainably began the process of obtaining certification for the Seaholm Ecodistrict to move these and other projects forward. Perhaps most importantly, EcoDistricts Certification will enable the district to transcend beyond architecture: engaging the community, and developing a permanent governance and funding structure dedicated to EcoDistricts™ imperatives and priorities.
The former mid-century industrial site was home to the iconic Seaholm Power Plant and the Green Water Treatment Plant facilities, both strategically located along the banks of Shoal Creek and the Colorado River – now known as Lady Bird Lake. The site is transversed by the Union Pacific Railroad that is still in operation, carrying passengers and hauling cargo. The district was named after the iconic Seaholm Power Plant buildings, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The site itself is located in the southwest quadrant of the downtown core and is bordered by Lamar Beach Park and Lady Bird Lake, where the Seaholm Intake Structures are located. These structures are significant not only to the history of the power plant, but to the Colorado River and the dams that form a series of reservoirs that are integral to the growth and prosperity of the city. Cesar Chavez Street, a major gateway to downtown and Austin’s City Hall, defines the southern entrance to the district with the Seaholm Power Plant on the north and the Intake Structures on the south side. The new Central Library, now under construction, is located on this corridor. Austin High School and the Independent School District Headquarters are located within walking distance, and the Amtrak Depot is immediately outside the northwest district boundary, along with abandoned brick warehouses, two of them built in the first part of 1900 out of regional brick. Seaholm is located in Council District 9, represented by Kathie Tovo, the Mayor Pro Tem, and a long term City Council member who is fully engaged in education and equitable development issues such as affordable housing. Portions of the district are within the Downtown Austin Alliance that manages the downtown Public Improvement District (PID).
During the decommissioning and remediation of the Seaholm Power Plant, the city developed a master plan completed in 2001. In 2005, the Seaholm Power Development, LLC team was selected to develop the property. The overall redevelopment investment totaled approximately $136 million. A Master Development Agreement (MDA) between the City and Seaholm, signed in 2008, set forth developer responsibilities including the highest standards of green building, and an extensive rainwater harvesting system that provides 100% of the development’s irrigation requirements. The agreement also required preservation of the Seaholm Power Plant Building and associated structures, affordable housing and additional funds for public art. Lastly, the agreement included a provision that repaid the City 11 million dollars of the incentives invested in the project when the property was recently sold to Clarion Partners LLC. This allowed the city to recoup much of the investment it made in sustainable infrastructure such as district cooling, rainwater collection and storage, solar energy, and Electric Drive: a mobility hub whose name was partially inspired by the 1980s hit ‘Electric Avenue’ by Eddy Grant—Electric Avenue already existed in another part of town. Electric Drive features bike and car sharing, charging options for two and four wheel electric vehicles, and access to a network of hike and bike trails that connect the district to parks, neighborhoods, and other city amenities including Barton Springs—the City’s spring fed pool located just southwest of the Seaholm EcoDistrict, across Lady Bird Lake. A new 198,000 square foot central library, planned to open this year, will provide an informational town center with cutting edge technology, art exhibits, performance areas, community gathering spaces, and terraces that overlook Shoal Creek and Town Lake. The building will feature a rooftop photovoltaic system, rainwater harvesting, vegetated roof, and a host of regional and recycled construction materials. The Central Public Library will tap into an extensive reclaimed water system that saves millions of gallons of potable water.
PROJECTS ON THE HORIZON
Additional projects have yet to be realized that that will fully maximize cultural, historic, and environmental assets and increase dividends to the community. The Austin Park Foundation and Austin Trail Foundation will fund a $450,000 Program and Implementation Study that will provide a plan for the renovation, operation, and maintenance of the Seaholm Intake structures – a significant element of the district’s history. The plan will include a feasibility study that will 1) identify civic uses that are self –sustaining, and 2) provide a continuous bike and pedestrian trail along Shoal Creek that connects neighborhoods north of the district and terminates at Lady Bird Lake along its southern boundary. Also under discussion with developers and the Shoal Creek Conservancy is a pop-up park that will transform a portion of 3rd Street into open space and provide a pedestrian gate way into the district. Considerable public, private, and non-profit investment has already enhanced the city’s tax base, and it is upon this foundation that the district will build a core backbone organization and decision making body to develop a future vision that reflects future EcoDistricts imperatives, priorities, and community aspirations.