Fund 12th Street Now
Dear Mayor Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Cole, Council Members, City Manager Ott, Chief of Staff Snipes, Assistant City Manager Lumbreras, Betsy Spencer, Planning Commissioners, Members of the Bond Election Advisory Task Force, Public Works, Capital Planning Office:
As outlined below, we humbly request at least $20 Million in funds be allocated for streetscape and infrastructure improvements for East 12th Street.
In 1999 the Council adopted the Central East Austin Master Plan/East 11th & 12th Streets Urban Renewal Plan (the “Master Plan”) which “provides a specific implementation mechanism for realizing concentrated redevelopment in the heart of Central East Austin” (Master Plan p. 3) intended to combat slum and blight in the area resulting from years of City neglect and underinvestment.
The Master Plan called for comprehensive streetscape improvements and utility upgrades for both East 11th Street and East 12th Street, but the City has yet to plan for, fund, or execute measures to improve the East 12th Street canvas. In fact, the City’s Audit Report dated November 3, 2009 regarding the redevelopment effort (http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/auditor/downloads/au09103.pdf) found significant deficiencies in the City’s implementation of the Master Plan along East 12th Street.
In an effort to help guide the future of the redevelopment effort, the City hired a consulting firm to conduct a “market study.” Included within that study is an effort to quantify the improvements needed for East 12th Street. The consultants have released a draft of that report which calls for the City to set aside $10 Million for the East 12th Street improvements. We believe this amount is inadequate and that will be borne out through consultant analysis to determine a more accurate cost estimate. Furthermore, the $10 Million estimate is based on only a portion of the improvements that are needed and called for in the Master Plan. We believe the amount should be no less than $20 Million for East 12th Street, as supported by the resolution passed unanimously by the Austin Neighborhoods Council (http://www.ancweb.org/docs/resolutions/Approved10262011_East12thSt_Improvements.pdf).
Why is $20 Million necessary? First of all, the consultants’ recommendations are all based on the best case assumptions of both the cost of the improvements as well as the state of infrastructure. Furthermore, they suggest the bare minimum of improvements rather than implementing improvements equal to the City’s investments in East 11th Street and other urban core streetscape improvement projects in Austin.
By way of example, Appendix F of the Audit Report provides a precise accounting of the funds spent on 11th Street, which total almost $7 Million (in 2000 dollars) for an area 43% the size of East 12th Street. Using the same level of funding for East 12th Street, and adjusting for inflation, is an amount just under $20 Million.
We also refer you to the City’s improvements to Rio Grande Street. As reported in the Austin American Statesman on January 2, 2012, the City is spending $11.3 Million for a length similar to East 12th Street, however, the project manager recently reported that the amount will likely increase due to newly discovered issues and higher than estimated bids for work. The amount required to underground utilities along East 12th Street is far greater than along Rio Grande, the conditions of East 12th Street in greater need due to years of neglect, and the original scope of the East 12th Street project envisions much more than that set forth for the Rio Grande Street project.
One of the recommendations by the market study consultants is to forgo the undergrounding of the transmission lines that run along East 12th Street. While burying these lines is costly, we believe this is necessary to fully build out East 12th Street to its potential and in accordance with the vision for neighborhood-serving mixed-used development with ground-floor retail. These transmission lines will impair the development envisioned in the Master Plan given the shallow lots along the street. We strongly encourage the City to underground these lines.
In July of 2011, the Planning Commission sent a letter to Council regarding needed capital improvements, stating that “[t]he Commission is anxious to see infill development on East 12th that bring jobs and services to the local areas as per the adopted Central East Austin Neighborhood Plan.” We are anxious as well. The City has taken up new project after new project without fulfilling its promise to East 12th Street. It is time we fulfill our commitment to East Austin and Central East Austin residents and fully fund improvements to East 12th Street. With your help, we can make East 12th Street the type of community it once was in the ‘40s and ‘50s—a bustling commercial corridor that was at the center of the East Austin community. We can make East 12th Street an East Austin Great Street just like those Downtown.
Please ensure that no less than $20 Million is dedicated for near-term expenditure on East 12th Street infrastructure and streetscape improvements!