The former Home Depot store currently sitting empty on a roughly 19-acre tract of city-owned land along Interstate 35 in the St. Johns neighborhood of Northeast Austin could soon be demolished, according to a number of permits filed earlier this week. It’s only the latest update in a frustratingly long saga to redevelop the vacant store located at 7211 North Interstate 35, which the city purchased in 2008 along with an adjacent former car dealership property in 2013.
Other than Austin Public Health using the former Home Depot’s parking lot as a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in 2020, the building has remained in a decaying unused state for roughly 15 years, which has become a point of contention for residents of the surrounding neighborhood who still remember the site’s history as the home of an orphanage and elementary school — but efforts to develop an affordable residential community at the property by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin are currently in progress, even if the timeline is slower than many would prefer.
In July 2021, Austin City Council voted in support of a proposal from national multifamily developer Greystar for a 560-unit mixed-use residential and commercial development at the site, which would provide 50 percent of its residences at affordable rates to families earning 50 to 70 percent of the Median Family Income. Despite the project being described as mostly “fully baked” roughly a year ago, the pending demolition of the approximately 113,300-square-foot Home Depot building is the first public sign of progress we’ve seen at the site since then.
Since the residential project planned for the site has now passed the torch between the offices of two consecutive council members in District 4, we figured the demolition permit showing up this week was a good enough excuse as any to get in touch and check its pulse. Here’s CM José “Chito” Vela:
I’m excited to celebrate the demolition of the old Home Depot. This abandoned building has been an eyesore for quite some time and needs to go. Thanks to the decade-long advocacy work from the community, this site will soon be redeveloped with a larger park, housing, and commercial space. I look forward to continuing our collaboration with the St. John community to ensure the success of this project. Negotiations on the final contract are going well and we expect to break ground early next year.
— CM Vela
While we have our criticisms of the Greystar plan — namely a sense of frustration that this long-awaited project’s design ultimately dedicates a huge percentage of its property to surface parking lots even after redevelopment — the demolition now pending here is the most definite sign of forward motion we’ve seen at the site in ages, unless you count driving through to get your nostrils swabbed three years ago. With other housing developments planned on public land currently falling like dominos, we’re just glad to hear this one’s still breathing.