Foundation picks Lake Austin site for educator center


H-E-B’s Charles Butt will invest $100 million to establish the center.

“World-class” center will aim to cultivate public education leaders across Texas

The Holdsworth Foundation has selected a 44 scenic acres on Lake Austin to build a “world-class” institute to train public education leaders across the state.

Charles Butt, chairman and CEO of the H-E-B grocery chain, founded The Holdsworth Center to improve the quality of public education by cultivating its leaders, who in turn are key to teacher development and retention.

Butt has pledged to invest $100 million to establish the center, which is named for his mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, an educator and philanthropist.

Pending a zoning change, the foundation could break ground in late fall on the project. Foundation officials envision a first-of-its kind training institute aimed at supporting current leaders and developing future superintendents, principals and administrators in Texas’ 1,200 traditional public school districts that some 5.3 million students attend.

The site is near the confluence of Lake Austin and Bull Creek along RM 2222. The land’s features include a wooded hillside, a sloped meadow and a pecan grove. More than half of the 44 acres would remain undeveloped, and 111 heritage trees on the site would be preserved, foundation officials said.

“It was important for us to find a place that was retreat-like in its setting, a restorative place where (educators) could get away and participate fully in the program,” said Kate Rogers, executive vice president of the Holdsworth Center. “This piece of property provides all of that and more.”

The Holdsworth Foundation has a contract to buy the land from the Mueller family trust. Foundation officials declined to disclose what they are paying for the land.

“It is one of the last large undeveloped tracts on Lake Austin and is likely the last one inside Loop 360,” said David Armbrust, the Austin attorney handling the zoning case. The Travis Central Appraisal District puts the site’s value at $13.8 million.

The project would include an administration building; classroom space; a learning center; an international think tank; a director’s residence; and casitas where faculty would stay.

Rogers and Ben Scott, director of real estate for H-E-B, said they do not have an estimate on the project’s total cost.

The property will be developed by the Holdsworth Foundation, using a general contractor, Armbrust said.

Armbrust said the foundation is seeking a type of zoning known as a planned unit development, or PUD, which aims to encourage higher quality development than what could otherwise be built under conventional zoning rules.

Armbrust said using a planned unit development was the “perfect tool” in this case “because there is no other zoning category (in the city code) that allows this particular use.”

“In addition, the PUD provides greater protection for the surrounding neighborhoods from the property being repurposed for another use in the future,” Armbrust said.

Most buildings would be one or two stories, with height capped at 40 feet across the campus, officials said.

Armbrust said the foundation hopes to have City Council approval for the zoning by this fall.

The center will be run by educators and will pull from best leadership training practices in education and the private sector.

More than 3,000 school leaders are expected to go through the program in its first 10 years, starting this summer. While the facility is being built, the program will be housed in hotels and conference centers and rotate among locations near the chosen districts.

So far the proposed project has received favorable feedback from some of its neighbors.

The proposal “to enact Mr. Butt’s vision for a world-class leadership training site” has “our strong support,” Mary Rose, a member of the board of trustees of the Cliff Over Lake Austin Property Owners Association, wrote in a letter to a land consultant with Armbrust’s firm.

“We believe… that it will positively contribute to the reputations of our area, of Austin, and of Texas,” Rose wrote.

Carol Torgrimson, who lives near the proposed site, said she also likes what she has seen of the project.

“Having worked on development issues in the 2222 corridor for over a decade, the biggest concern for most folks in our area is traffic impact,” Torgrimson said. “From that perspective, the Holdsworth Center should be well-received since it would generate very little traffic, certainly far less than other possible uses for the property.”

In addition, she said, “the proposal seems to be very respectful of the city’s environmental regulations.”

“Of course it’s very early in the process, so this is based on preliminary information. As always, the devil is in the details,” Torgrimson said.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Business

Top Local Business Stories of the Week
Top Local Business Stories of the Week

IRISH INFLUENCE Groundbreaking Irish leader talks tech, Trump at SXSW: The deep ties between the United States and Ireland are increasingly being measured in bytes and bits as well as heritage, Ireland’s groundbreaking prime minister said during a visit to South by Southwest this past week. “We have tried to make Ireland the tech capital...
Uber’s vision for future of ride-hailing: Driverless cars, air taxis
Uber’s vision for future of ride-hailing: Driverless cars, air taxis

Ride-hailing company Uber launched in 2010 built on a simple concept: Push a button, get a ride. Its popularity was driven by its ease. Much in the same way, Uber and other high-tech companies are now trying to build the next phase of ride-hailing on that same simplicity. Uber says it is partnering with aircraft firm Bell to bring an on-demand helicopter...
Beyond Bitcoin, can blockchain technology change the world?
Beyond Bitcoin, can blockchain technology change the world?

Anyone who remembers the “dot-com” boom — and subsequent bust — of the late 1990s might be having flashbacks amid the hype surrounding the terms “cryptocurrency” and “blockchain.” But proponents of the emerging technology underlying the new buzzwords say it largely deserves the attention it’s been...
Need a hotel this weekend for SXSW? Plenty of options still available
Need a hotel this weekend for SXSW? Plenty of options still available

Heading to Austin this weekend to catch the tail end of South by Southwest? Unlike past years, there are plenty of hotel rooms still available – many of them priced at or near normal rates. That’s likely because the city continues to add hotel rooms in the downtown area, including the 1,048-room Fairmont Austin that opened just before SXSW...
St. Austin Catholic Parish seeks redevelopment proposals
St. Austin Catholic Parish seeks redevelopment proposals

St. Austin Catholic Parish — a landmark for decades on Guadalupe Street — is seeking proposals for “a prime Central Austin redevelopment opportunity” to add commercial uses on part of its land across from the University of Texas campus. The parish has hired commercial real estate firm CBRE to solicit proposals from developers...
More Stories