Commission Proposes Downtown Changes
By Era Sundar
The Texas Facilities Commission is looking to redevelop several downtown properties including parking lots in the State Capitol complex. The project could change the face of downtown Austin.
The commission owns and occupies about 70 city blocks in the downtown area, and it wants to make better use of that space. Among the proposals: new office buildings, apartments and underground parking.
Terry Keel is the director of the Texas Facilities Commission. He says the changes are not only a matter of convenience, but they’re also good economics.
“Our goal eventually is to downsize our leased-office portfolio where we’re spending a lot of tax dollars to lease space to house state employees,” Keel says. “And instead put them in state-owned facilities that, in the long run, will be a fraction of the cost.”
The increased office space will mean more people and cars downtown. Keel says the parking issue is being addressed: In lieu of garages, they plan to construct underground parking lots. And he says the legislature will not be asked to pay for the project. Instead, the state will lease property in the area to private businesses.
But the state shouldn’t be acting like a private developer, Ford Alexander says. He’s with the locally owned commercial real-estate firm Oxford Commercial. Alexander says it’s okay if the government holds ground leases and lets the private sector develop the land.
“There are big profits in it for a reason – it’s very risky,” he says. “And for the government to get in, I just don’t think they are nimble enough to be able to make good decisions to protect the tax-paying citizens in an investment like that.”
The project is only in the initial stages and will have to jump several hurdles before any construction can begin.