Most folks I know are in favor of having a range of housing options available in the downtown area. After all, having a mix of residents helps make for a vibrant urban core.
Part of what’s missing in terms of downtown Austin real estate is a strong inventory of affordable housing and dedicated housing for seniors. Although the ways to achieve the goal of affordable housing are hotly debated among just about everyone – most people think the goal itself is a worthy one. And while it’s true that empty nesters are a thriving component of downtown Austin’s population (Forbes listed at as the #4 City to Retire In in 2014), very little exists in Austin’s urban core in terms of housing specifically designed for an aging population.
One existing senior facility is located just southeast of downtown Austin. Built over 40 years ago and owned and operated by a non-profit called the Austin Geriatric Center (AGC), the 16-story Rebekah Baines Johnson residential facility (RBJ Center) has stoically watched as the downtown skyline and the surrounding neighborhood has transformed.
Back in July of 2014 we covered the redevelopment announcement for the RBJ Center.
The facility sits on land that was previously the site of a federal fish hatchery, and the AGC, led by Frank Erwin, Jr., bought the land cheaply when LBJ closed the fish hatchery and brokered the transaction right before he left office in January 1969. Over the years, the City of Austin acquired segments of the originally 27 acres purchased by AGC. Today, the 5-story RBJ Health Administration Building that sits next to the residential tower and includes city health offices occupies approximately 2.3 acres City-owned land that was part of the original 27 acre site. The City also purchased the remaining 6.7 acres of undeveloped land, dedicating it as parkland.
The AGC retired the mortgage on the RBJ Center and land in 2013. Years before and in anticipation of retiring the mortgage, the AGC Board of Directors began discussions regarding the future of the RBJ Center.
In 2010, the City approved a Resolution directing the City Manager to coordinate the City’s involvement in creating a master plan for the RBJ and adjacent City-owned site, and to consider adding the future redevelopment of City Land into a master planned project. A report was prepared and presented in late 2011, outlining options for a master plan for the tracts.
Option C from the report was selected. The attributes of Option C as listed in the original Master Plan Report are:
- RBJ builds structured parking in order to sell 8.8 acres of its land to generate revenue
- create 500 affordable senior units
- create 2-Story row houses on Haskell Street
- create 25,000 SF of commercial usage – 10,000 of which will most likely be an expanded health clinic (dental plus other medical care).
- Main new building is 5-story with structured parking
- 8.8 Acre site will be developed by others as mixed use, with 25,000 SF of commercial, and up to 340 residential units all with structured parking, which could be affordable / work force residential units
Just last month, the City approved the mixed-use zoning that would be required in order to have the commercial usage included in the redevelopment.
We’re excited to see that these major redevelopment plans for the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center at 21 Waller are moving forward. Infrastructure and accessibility improvements, the addition of high-density housing options to suit a mix of income levels, and significant commercial space will breathe additional new life into an already growing area. Not to mention the massive benefits of revitalizing the existing public green space – community space that is currently and will continue to be an integral part of the neighborhood.
The 2011 report described the impact of the project accordingly:
This opportunity to create an enlarged campus to include affordable housing and health services for seniors in a prime Austin location is one of the most exciting development prospects in the city today. Moreover, the possibility of including additional land uses on a parcel bordered by the Saltillo TOD on the north and the Holly Redevelopment to the east positions the RBJ Project as the potential gateway for a complete revitalization of East Austin.
There’s very little doubt that this project will have a big effect on the surrounding neighborhood, and should reflect positively on values for both single family homes and multi-family units in nearby condominiums like 41 Waller. Commercial activity in the area will increase, as well, to cater to an influx of new residents, medical staff, and other residents and staff that will be brought to the area because of the redevelopment.
Interested in checking out what’s for sale in the immediate area? Visit our partner site REATX to see Austin homes for sale near the RBJ Center at 21 Waller. This search also includes available commercial properties for sale.