After a ticklish, on-and-off-again process lasting two decades and two deadlocked votes, a sharply divided Capital Metro board Monday chose a team led by Endeavor to develop a former railyard just across Interstate 35 from downtown Austin.
The 5-3 decision overturned the hopes of neighborhood groups, who have been concerned for years that Capital Metro and a partner would install a massive development on the 10 acres between East Fourth and Fifth streets.
The Saltillo Collaborative team, led by veteran East Austin builders Perry Lorenz and Larry Warshaw, included non-profit affordable housing builders Foundation Communities and the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp.
But the Endeavor team, which evidently was offering better financial terms, brought on Habitat for Humanity as a partner in the later stages of the bidding process. And in the end, Board Member John Langmore, who found himself in the uncomfortable position of being the swing vote, said that with two good proposals on the table, money for transit had to matter.
“Funding for public transit is completely inadequate,” said Langmore, who in a vote minutes before had twice sided with Saltillo Collaborative, bringing the count to 4-4. “Money doesn’t drive everything. Everything being equal, though, I think we need to provide additional resources for public transportation.”
The board then voted a third time, with Langmore and board members Norm Chafetz, Terry Mitchell, Beverly Silas and Ann Stafford going with Endeavor.
Both the Saltillo and Endeavor teams were allowed to sweeten their offers after two other teams were eliminated in May. Capital Metro, despite a request from the American-Statesman under the Texas Public Information Act, has declined to release the financial terms of any of the offers.
That request has been referred to the Texas Attorney General’s office for review.
A spokesman said the agency will start detailed negotiations with Endeavor and, should those talks run aground, Capital Metro would not want Saltillo to know what Endeavor was offering.
The two competitors’ visions have substantial similarities, including low-rise residential buildings throughout most of the 10 acres and 25 percent of about 800 rental units set-aside for affordable housing. The Saltillo offer included a 120-foot-high hotel near I-35, while the Endeavor plan has a 60,000-square-foot “full service” grocery store.
Capital Metro acquired the site in 1995 as part of a $9.3 million purchase of Southern Pacific railroad’s 162-mile freight track between Llano and Giddings. Capital Metro officials say the East Austin land is worth $40 a square foot, or more than $17 million.
Construction will not occur for a couple of years at least. The six-block site has track running down the middle of it. Capital Metro, relying primarily on a federal grant, will move the tracks close to East Fourth Street in a project likely to begin late in the year.
Then environmental cleanup will be required before construction. Who pays for that — Capital Metro, Endeavor or both of them — will be part of the negotiations to come, officials said last month.