Austin’s waterfront Seaholm intake facility should become a multifunctional meeting space, with a coffee shop, food trucks, a large yard and kayak docking, according to a recommendation commissioned jointly by the city and outdoor nonprofits.
The report, from Studio Gang, included three layouts for the former power plant structure on the north shore of Lady Bird Lake and numerous renderings showing yoga classes, art shows and concerts that could happen there.
“The Waterfront’s vacant Intake Building occupies an enviable position as the only building that touches both land and water along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail,” stated the report, released Monday. “The Intake Building was once used to pump water from the lake to cool turbines at the decommissioned Power Plant located just north of the site. … It is poised for a revival.”
The Austin Parks Foundation and the Trail Foundation announced a year ago that they would give $450,000 to hire Studio Gang, a Chicago- and New York-based architectural firm with experience in park projects.
The group’s recommendations center on making the street level of the intake building a space that’s flexible enough for relaxed coffee drinking, periodic small events such as art shows and educational activities, and occasional large events such as concerts.
The renovation would involve moving the Butler Hike and Bike Trail closer to the water’s edge, from its current position near Cesar Chavez Street, and creating some kind of barrier between the street and the green space alongside it.
One concept calls for adding a large porch facing Cesar Chavez, overlooking a large yard, with trees blocking views of the road. A second plan would block the street with rammed earth wall segments that could pivot and a covered pavilion for performances. Another idea would add a long building along Cesar Chavez to house amenity and service programs, with a courtyard between it and the intake building.
A preferred version being recommended offers a combination of the three, with trees along the street, the open air pavilion and the front porch.
All of the designs envision parking for food trucks and space along the water for kayaks to launch and dock.
Under the upper shell of the former intake building, the thick concrete space at the water’s edge could use a passive water-cooling system to keep the upper level comfortable.
It’s unclear how much construction would cost or where funding might be found.
“We don’t have very vetted cost estimates for it yet,” said Katie Robillard, a park developer with the Austin Parks Foundation. “We do know we have $600,000 from the hotel occupancy tax for this.”
Robillard added that the group hopes to receive city funding from a potential bond package that could go on the November ballot. Whatever the ultimate cost, the project will unfold in phases and begin with the basics: fire suppression, utilities and covering large holes in the floor once essential to pumping water.
“We will use whatever funding we have to make it occupiable,” Robillard said.
Studio Gang suggested approaching the renovation in three stages. The first phase would be updating the building, replacing the windows, covering the holes in the floor and cleaning it. The second would involve serving food, building the dock and putting in a design feature to separate the space from the street. The third phase would call for opening the building’s façade, adding more windows and launching the basement cooling system.
The building, built in 1951, was most recently expanded in 1955. Assessing the main floor, Studio Gang suggested reinstalling a 5-ton gantry crane once used for moving pumps in the lower level. It could highlight the building’s past and help with moving furniture and partitions so the building could have flexible uses, the report said.
The old Seaholm pump house has sat vacant for decades. A 2013 design competition to remake it led to finalist visions that included using the space for events, kayak rentals, floating food trucks and a restaurant. Instead of choosing any of those visions, though, the city approached developers for proposals and asked the public to vote on them.
The city staff recommended a proposal from Stratus Properties Inc., but instead of moving forward with the plan, the city restarted the process in 2016 after historic preservation advocates said the Stratus design would alter the structure too much.
Now, with the new recommendations in hand, the foundations plan to take input from various city boards and commissions this summer and get the City Council’s blessing to keep moving ahead.
“We’re really excited about the potential of this building being opened to the public,” Robillard said. “It’s never been open before.”