Developer sues Austin ISD over Alamo Drafthouse dealings


Lawsuit comes as Austin district and Alamo Drafthouse negotiate plans for Baker Center land in Hyde Park.

Lawyer for developer Colina West says firm’s bid was higher than Alamo’s.

A developer is suing the Austin school district over the Baker Center, a former school that is one of the surplus properties the district is considering selling or leasing.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Colina West Limited, owned by developer David Kahn, alleges the district chose Alamo Drafthouse Cinema for a “significantly lower bid” than Colina West for the Hyde Park property, and that the district did not follow requirements for the impending sale.

The lawsuit does not say what makes Colina West so certain that Alamo’s bid is the winner. Attorney Mitchell Savrick, who represents the developer, issued a statement:

“The purpose of the lawsuit was to insure that the bidding and award process was compliant with the bidding package and/or applicable law,” it said. “The highest bid was apparently not accepted and Colina West wants to make sure that a full and open vetting of that process occurs. Colina West has full confidence that a Texas court is the best place for such vetting.”

The Austin school board has not yet voted on the sale of that property. District officials on Monday said they are still in the process of negotiations.

In recent weeks, however, Alamo’s plan to relocate its headquarters to the Baker site has emerged as the favorite among Hyde Park neighbors. The plan includes transforming the school, built in 1911, into a community cultural center, art galleries, commissary kitchen space and affordable housing for district employees and families.

The minimum bid for the property was $10.6 million. Three proposals, including Alamo’s, were made for Baker, as well as six other bids, including $10.6 million by Alamo and $11 million and $12 million bids, depending on terms, from Colina West.

Alamo’s plans was among 40 bids and proposals for the 10 district surplus properties. The district’s school board already has sold two of the properties for a combined $11.8 million and two others have been pulled from the list.

Colina West is seeking more than $100,000 but not more than $200,000 in damages.

“As an AISD taxpayer, I believe it’s important for the taxpayers to find out why the school district would choose to sell any of its properties for hundreds of thousands of dollars less in a public process. That just makes no sense,” Kahn said.

In its requests for proposals, the district sought to sell, lease, swap or repurpose the properties for one-time revenue or long-term plans for their use. Trustees have said publicly that they hoped for proposals or bids that included educational purposes and created affordable housing for district employees and their families.

“The board’s intent has always been to allow creative and innovative development and to explore proposals that expand academic offerings, support efforts to increase affordable housing for district employees and families with children, as well as provide fiscal benefit,” board President Kendall Pace said Tuesday evening.

Other high profile properties among the 10 include the former Millett Opera House currently leased by the Austin Club and the district’s 128,000-square-foot headquarters on West Sixth Street.

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