Wanted: Developers to transform Brackenridge site in downtown Austin

Central Health on Thursday issued a formal call for developers interested in transforming six prime blocks in downtown Austin into a project that officials say will “change the face of downtown,” generate thousands of jobs and put prime land back on the tax rolls.

Central Health officials have invited developers to submit their qualifications for tackling the proposed redevelopment of the University Medical Center Brackenridge hospital campus into what could become one of downtown Austin’s largest projects. Developers have until Oct. 21 to respond.

Central Health will choose a short list of developers it wants to submit proposals detailing what they envision for the site. The request for proposals is expected to be released in January, said Juan Garza, Central Health vice president of finance and development.

The request for qualifications “represents an important milestone in redevelopment of the 14.3-acre downtown site, one of the most exciting mixed-use developments in Austin’s history,” said officials with Central Health, the Travis County entity charged with providing health care to uninsured and underinsured residents.

“We expect a robust competition among experienced and well-capitalized developers from throughout the country,” and perhaps even internationally, Garza said. “There are only a handful of projects like this one around the country so this will be an attractive project for developers.”

The site is bounded by Red River Street, East 15th Street and the south Interstate 35 frontage road.

Redevelopment would take place in phases over the next 15 to 20 years or more, officials said. Central Health will continue to own the land and lease it out long-term to developers tapped for the project.

Central Health is looking to redevelop the hospital site to offset the loss of $34 million a year that will go away after Seton Healthcare Family, which operates UMC Brackenridge for Central Health on a long-term lease, relocates hospital operations across to the Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas. The teaching hospital is scheduled to open in May 2017.

“Future lease revenue from development of this campus will help fund access to health care for those who need it most,” said Clarke Heidrick, a board member of Central Health who chairs the committee overseeing the proposed redevelopment project.

A master plan created by Gensler, an architectural and design firm, envisions a high-density, mixed-use development with as much as 3.7 million square feet of new development. Some buildings could rise 35 to 40 stories on the site, Central Health officials said.

The master plan calls for pedestrian-friendly streets and green space, as well as a “public marketplace” with local food vendors, community activities and other draws to foster a connection with the community, said Christie Garbe, Central Health vice president and chief strategy officer.

The site could house hotel, residential, retail and restaurant uses, as well as health-related uses and other development under scenarios outlined in Gensler’s master plan. The plan was approved in January by the board of Central Health, which owns the University Medical Center Brackenridge campus.

“The idea is to create a place where people live, work, play and learn, without getting in a car,” Garza said.

The 9-story UMC Brackenridge hospital tower was built in phases from 1967 to 1974. The master plan calls for the tower, its south wing and a 3-story professional office building along Red River Street to be among the first building razed, shortly after Seton vacates them in mid-2017..

Not counting state-owned properties, the Brackenridge campus is the largest potential redevelopment site left downtown, real estate experts have said.

“We’re really excited about it,” Heidrick said. “It will generate revenue for our mission and do something good for the community.”

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