Wanted: Developer for county-owned block in downtown Austin

One of downtown Austin’s most high-profile undeveloped blocks is up for grabs.

Travis County is seeking proposals from developers who might be interested in transforming the property, which was proposed as a site for a new courthouse until voters said no to that plan. The site is currently a parking lot.

Zoning would allow for nearly 2 million square feet of development, according to CBRE, the commercial brokerage firm marketing the block for the county. Proposals are due to the county purchasing agent by 2 p.m. Nov. 9.

In May, Travis County commissioners voted to lease or sell the site, which is bounded by Third, Fourth, Guadalupe and San Antonio streets. The property is close to major new development projects valued at more than $2 billion, according to CBRE. The potential height for buildings on the site is not limited by rules that protect views of the state Capitol dome, CBRE said.

The county had proposed building a courthouse on the block, which is just south of Republic Square Park. However, those plans changed last year when voters rejected a $287 million bond proposition for the proposed civil and family law courthouse. The county is weighing potential alternate sites.

“We heard the voters when they rejected the site for a courthouse and told us the real estate was too valuable,” said Brigid Shea, a Travis County Commissioners Court member. “So part of what we’re doing with the (request for proposals) is asking the market, ‘What’s this property worth?’ It’s part of our commitment to maximize this asset to benefit taxpayers. I don’t have a plan for what should go there, but I will be looking for every possible benefit to the community.”

Should the county opt to sell the property, there is no minimum bid, CBRE said. The Travis Central Appraisal District puts its current appraised value at $18.59 million.

The county purchased the block from the Austin Museum of Art in 2010 for $21.75 million.

The county drew fire from some in Austin’s real estate development community for proposing a public courthouse on a site that developers said could generate millions of dollars in property tax revenue if it were in private hands.

The land is near Lady Bird Lake; the thriving Second Street District of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues; and the significant development taking shape in the larger Seaholm District, where major new mixed-use projects continue to revitalize former industrial sites.

“I expect it will generate strong interest,” Beau Armstrong, president and CEO of Stratus Properties Inc., which developed the nearby W Hotel & Residences.

He said the tract is “perhaps the last full downtown block with no practical height restrictions” that is close to the waterfront and in the midst of downtown’s transforming southwestern edge.

In a statement, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt said: “In response to our constituents and voters, we are seeking to leverage the potential of this site, steward its value, and ultimately deliver enhanced county services by reinvesting the proceeds into our future Civil and Family Courts Complex. We are excited to be executing a competitive process that enables us to concurrently achieve County policy goals and maximize value.”

The Travis County Purchasing Agent and CBRE will host a pre-bid conference Wednesday for interested developers.

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