Groceries for Central East on Tract 5!
Dear City Council and Urban Renewal Board of the City of Austin:
The people of Central East Austin have long needed and desired a full-service, affordable organic grocery store, and attracting one to East 12th Street should be the #1 focus of City efforts to leverage its holdings along this long-neglected urban renewal commercial corridor.
Unfortunately, the City seems poised to squander all potential to address this need, as it moves forward with hasty and unnecessary action this week to place all publicly held East 12th Street tracts up for sealed bid, with parcels going to the highest bidder. Neighborhood Housing staff have indicated that pressure from HUD requires the City to repay by September 30 approximately $240,000 in grant money expended on acquisition of 4 separate East 12th Street tracts in Swede Hill and Robertson Hill, either with local funds or by sale of the property for development. However, Staff has offered no written proof to URB that HUD requires any of the tracts be cleared of its obligations by September 30, nor any proof that the City Manager is unwilling to clear the stated $240,000 obligation with local funds, nor any proof that HUD is inflexible in its supposed deadline.
URB and the public need more information before the City sacrifices East 12th Street development to an unsubstantiated looming obligation of $240,000 to HUD.
Furthermore, we know there is no pressure from HUD on Tract 5, 1320-1336 East 12th Street, so this property need not be disposed of on a rushed timeline. The 2011-2012 East 11th & 12th Street Development Strategy commissioned by Neighborhood Housing identified this tract as "the most viable option" for development of a grocery store and recommended a delayed RFP to allow time to attract a grocer to the area. That same market study also noted a lower priority for disposition of this site "due to a lack of federal pressure." If the marketing consultants were informed there was a lack of pressure on Tract 5, where is the proof that this property is now a focus of HUD's urgent demands?
Only large-scale affordable housing interests and the would-be developers of a 300-seat movie theater/apartment complex--which lacks support from Central East neighborhoods--are in a position to compete for public property at this time. There is very little chance that a full-service grocery store will result from a sealed bid initiated this week.
That is not an outcome the City should risk.
At the very least, we, the undersigned, urge you to withhold Tract 5, 1320-1336 East 12th Street, from any sealed bid process and instead dispose of it via a well-constructed RFP targeting grocery store development that will provide a range of healthy foods accessible to lower and middle income families in our area.
Please let this community know that you are committed to eliminating our food desert, and that you will do so using Tract 5!