We’re huge fans of the plan by the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department to rehab the historic 1950s Art Deco-style facility on Lady Bird Lake formerly used as the pump house of the adjacent Seaholm Power Plant into a new downtown public space — and unlike the fate of many plans we like, after waiting more than 10 years we’re happy to report that the project has finally entered its first phase of construction.
Fencing now surrounds the intake building, and according to PARD, its contractor Balfour Beatty Construction received the green light to move forward from the project team last week and is now beginning to mobilize on site. We’re, uh, pumped:
The contractor has 10 months to deliver the work, which (under the limited first phase of the project) is related to making the building safe, accessible and occupiable for small events. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this phase of the project should be completed in early summer 2022. These renovations will allow for activation of the space in the short-term, while preparations for the next phase of the Seaholm Waterfront Plan are developed in partnership with the Trail Foundation.
— Kevin Johnson, City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department
Overseen by the Parks and Recreation Department along with other local outfits including the Trail Foundation, the Austin Parks Foundation, and architecture firm Cotera + Reed, the plan for what’s to be known as the Seaholm Waterfront finds its roots in a 2018 master plan for the facility’s adaptive reuse by Chicago architecture studio Studio Gang, which itself arrived on the heels of a long period of prior discussion that included a defunct design competition and generally lots of waiting.
The eventual plan for the structure involves the creation of an indoor-outdoor park and public space that contains a cafe, lakefront dock, additional landscaping work on the surrounding property, and lots of other programming — but for this first phase of construction, we’re addressing the most pressing needs to get the building safely habitable for the public, which involves sprinklers, ventilation, lighting, safety railings, ADA and egress adaptations, a new roof, and more. Since this structure’s quite historic, all of the work must follow preservation guidelines and attempt to respect the building’s original character, which has certainly suffered over decades of inactivity.
But as mentioned in the above quote from PARD, even just getting people safely inside the structure would represent a huge step forward. Small activations of the building will demonstrate its immense potential as a public space, more public even than the larger work of adapted industrial architecture at the former Seaholm Power Plant itself across the street — which, despite immense character and a lot of public amenities, uses the stunning interior of the plant’s main building as private office space rather than directly serving the public. We don’t have to worry about that here, meaning the potential of the intake as a gathering place might even match that of the larger Seaholm complex. If all goes well, we’ll find out for ourselves next summer.