Two Austin foundations on Monday announced that they are giving $450,000 toward an effort to figure out what to do with the city’s long dormant Seaholm intake building on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.
The Austin Parks Foundation and the Trail Foundation are giving the money to Studio Gang, an architectural firm with offices in Chicago and New York City that has performed work on civic park projects in the past. It will study the intake building as well as 3 acres of parkland between the Pfluger Bridge and Shoal Creel from the shores of Lady Bird Lake to Cesar Chavez Street.
“I want to be clear the plan for this space will preserve and respect the historic significance of this underutilized structure and real genuine public asset, and it will become a space that all Austinites can use and enjoy,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.
The facility was built in the 1950s to draw lake water to help cool the boilers at the nearby Seaholm Power Plant, which closed a couple of decades ago. In recent years, as developers turned the former power plant into a mixed-use development with tenants like Athenahealth and Trader Joe’s, the city held a design competition for ideas to convert the intake building into an event space with public gardens.
However, after some raised concerns about preserving the intake building’s appearance and historical integrity, the Parks and Recreation Department canceled those redevelopment plans, said Kimberly McNeeley, acting director of the Parks and Recreation Department. The concrete building is on the National Register of Historic Places as part of a historic district encompassing the old Seaholm Power Plant.
The art deco building has sat dormant in its highly visible spot along Lady Bird Lake, becoming a curiosity to visitors to the Butler Hike and Bike Trail over the years.
“I used to look at this building and think, ‘What is that wonderful building, and what could it become?’ ” Council Member Kathie Tovo said.
But even as it has devolved from a part of a downtown industrial center to a graffiti-covered repository for empty cans of malt liquor strewn among broken glass on the floor, the building has endeared itself to Austin residents.
“To be able to transform this, what has basically been a languishing public asset, to be able to reimagine and reinvent itself for the future is a wonderful opportunity,” said Brian Ott, interim executive director of the Trail Foundation.
Up next for the Seaholm intake building is months of public input that officials said they hope to receive online and at meetings to be announced soon. More details on the project are available at austintexas.gov/department/seaholm-intake.