Central Health opened the month of September with an invitation to developers interested in reinventing Brackenridge Campus, one of the crown jewels in downtown Austin real estate.
Any takers must be well versed in Central Health’s master plan, a painstakingly crafted document that lays out a high density urban oasis with something for everyone and seamless connections to neighboring institutions. Developers have until October 21 to submit their qualifications.
Top prospects will be notified in December and Central Health will then issue them Requests for Proposals in January. What these finalists turn in from there must fit into the template Central Health spent two years assembling in concert with the public and other downtown stakeholders.
Hitting the highlights, the master plan envisions about 3.7 million square feet of development on its 14.3-acre site; that is six full city blocks. This will be accomplished by the construction of several towers aligned in two columns that will straddle a nearly two block long east-west Central Plaza that will connect to Waterloo Park.
Waterloo Park itself, while not directly part of the project, has become an attractive amenity since the recent construction of the Waller Creek Tunnel, a years-long flood control project that [will] provides the creek year-round water flow and the recreational possibilities that allows.
The Brackenridge site is becoming available because of Central Health’s pending May 2017 move to the new teaching hospital, Dell Seton Medical Center. Once the old hospital complex comes tumbling down, the master plan describes a “mixed-use community … where people can live, work, learn, and play in an environment that encourages and supports innovation.”
The campus boundaries include:
- Interstate 35 frontage road to the east
- Red River Street to the west
- East 15th Street to the north
- The southern boundary is a half block north of East 12th Street
There are no through streets on the campus, but Central Health plans to cede 4.1 acres to the city to realign Red River Street and connect Sabine Street northward to 15th Street. East 14th Street would also come across from the frontage road, splitting around a Central Plaza before reaching Red River.
Among downtown properties, Brackenridge Campus is especially attractive for development, and not just for its size and location. Despite its close proximity to the state capitol, the vast majority of the site is exempt from the height restrictions of the Capitol View Corridor Ordinance.
There are seven essential project components affecting site development considerations that Central Health has highlighted:
- High Density, Mixed-Use Development
- Roadway and Open Space Infrastructure
- Public Market
- Health-Related Uses
- Affordable Housing Context
- Transportation Context
- Parking Context
While the emphasis is on a High Density, Mixed-Use concept, Central Health does state that its “Illustrative Plan” is not intended to specifically prescribe locations.
“That massing (height and bulk) … reflects the desire to create a central open space with a public market building, flanked by lower building masses in the site’s interior and taller building masses toward the site’s edges. The public market building and accompanying open space connecting to Waterloo Park are a part of the public community benefit package.”
Roadway and Open Space Infrastructure: In addition to the street realignments and additions, there is to be a “Waterloo Promenade” linking to Waterloo Park. Pedestrians and cyclists will be able to traverse the park along 14th Street, crossing Waller Creek.
New streets are to be designed as multi-model streets, incorporating green infrastructure or low-impact development techniques such as rain gardens. Also incorporated into this scheme will be a Waterloo Park Overlook.
“At this point in time, …. Central Health is asking that all respondents assume the master developer will be responsible for all infrastructure design, funding and construction. However, this may be a point of significant partnering as a development agreement is negotiated,” the RFQ states.
Public Market: Essentially an indoor bazaar, the market concept requires a permanent structure that will have vendor spaces for foods, products and services provided by local entrepreneurs. It would be governed by a non-profit organization. Respondents to the RFQ are to offer their own ideas, however, Central Health has been working with Project for Public Spaces on a study about its design, financing and operation. That study is due the end of this year.
Health-Related Uses: Block 167 is directly across East 15th from Dell Seton. This makes the location a candidate for healthcare uses that capitalize on its proximity. The University of Texas is interested in developing the block or a portion of it. Central Health has not made a commitment but reserves the right to develop the site “working solely with UT or an end user.”
Affordable Housing Context: This goal looks tentative, as there is no mandate. Central Health notes that mixed-income housing is a part of its planning parameters, then goes on to state its primary mission is access to high-quality, affordable healthcare and generating revenues that accomplish that.
“The selected master developer will be encouraged to propose innovative concepts for addressing the community’s (housing) affordability objectives.”
Transportation Context: The master plan calls for a new bus plaza to be sited at the heart of the development, the intersection of Red River and 14th. Also, the new street grid is to be tree-line and multi-modal, “creating a walkable and bikeable new neighborhood that connects seamlessly with adjacent areas.
Parking Context: Surface parking isn’t allowed, except for short-term use. Respondents must consider such options as underground garages for podium-style garages.
“The master plan assumes Seton’s parking requirements will continue to be met by retaining and leasing the existing Main Garage on Block 168 for the foreseeable future.”
However, developers that reach the Request for Proposal stage may propose alternatives. Again, next step is that the top prospects will be notified in December and Central Health will then issue them Requests for Proposals in January.
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