Q: Remember the plan to remodel the Seaholm intake facility on Lady Bird Lake? It’s been forever since the city’s said anything about it, so what’s going on, my guy?
A: Our readers have an uncanny knack for asking the right questions in just the right way, so let’s catch up on the future of everyone’s favorite Art Deco pumping station!
Nearly seven years ago, the City of Austin started sniffing around for design submissions from local architects for an adaptive reuse project that would fashion the former Seaholm Power Plant’s currently unused intake facility into something more useful for the public — a sort of combination park and community event space.
It’s a project that made perfect sense the moment the power plant itself was decommissioned, taking advantage of the historic structure’s ample architectural character, its proximity to the water, and presence along the Hike-and-Bike Trail. After all, we already transformed part of the plant site into residences and a Trader Joe’s, so why not spruce up the intake too? Especially since it’s going to waste at the moment.
Again, that was seven-odd years ago, and despite the city choosing its favorite design submissions (some of which were incredibly kickass) for inspiration on the upcoming project, in 2016 we heard some concern from the Parks and Recreation Department that the previous concepts might harm the facility’s ample historic character, so we were basically back to square one design-wise.
In 2017, the parks department announced it would fund a new concept study for the project along with the Austin Parks Foundation and Trail Foundation, bringing in acclaimed Chicago architecture and design firm Studio Gang to hash out another vision for the facility’s next act. Early in 2018, we got our first view of that concept, now going by the Seaholm Waterfront, and it looked great in our opinion — so when do we get it? That wasn’t clear a year and a half ago, with funding basically up in the air, and it’s no clearer now. In fact, it’s been radio silence ever since.
Depending on how much the public likes a given project, that sort of silence often leads to reader inquiries — and considering the number of inquiries we’ve received about the Seaholm Waterfront in recent months, people like it a lot. That means it’s time to bug the parks department for an update! And it worked.
“The goal of the first phase of improvements at the Intake Facility was identified in the planning phase, and is to make the facility safe and inhabitable for small programs and events by updating the building and grounds for code-compliant occupancy,” says Kevin Johnson, a project manager for the development at the Parks and Recreation Department. “The team envisions this as an iterative first step that can be built upon in future phases, as envisioned by Studio Gang’s planning document.”
Johnson says the parks department, Austin Parks Foundation and Trail Foundation are currently working with Cotera + Reed Architects — a local firm that also submitted its own design for the intake back when the city solicited them in 2013 — to deliver the first phase of improvements identified in the 2018 plan. They’re currently in the design development phase, and the scope of work includes egress and ADA improvements for better access to the structure, along with upgrades to site safety, the systems of the building, and other architectural and historic preservation concerns.
Specific goals at this stage are closing some of the large openings in the floor of the facility, sealing off the basement level of the intake structure from Lady Bird Lake, ventilating the building, restoring its utility connections, replacing the roof, restoring the windows, and improving interior acoustics — all that concrete ain’t too friendly on the ears. That’s obviously a lot to tackle, so what about timing and funding?
Construction documents are anticipated to be complete in late Spring 2020, at which point we intend to competitively bid for construction phase services. The project is funded both by the 2018 Bond and through the Hotel Occupancy Tax program, approved by City Council.
— Kevin Johnson, City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Prior to completion of this design phase, Johnson says the department will seek approval from the city’s Parks Board on the proposed scope of the project — but since City Council already approved the previous planning document for the development, there’s no big hurdles left in that regard. That means we might see real movement on the Seaholm Waterfront’s realization next year, and we hope you can agree that’s pretty great news. We’re not particularly patient people when it comes to building stuff we like, but in this case, it’s hopefully worth the wait.