Feature Photo: View of the Austin Police Department headquarters from an Interstate 35 elevated highway. Image: Google Streets.
by Art Benavidez
Austin (Travis County) — The Austin Public Safety Commission began preliminary discussions last week concerning the future of the Austin Police Department’s downtown headquarters.
The commission discussed possible options for reusing the real estate, which is located at 715 E. Eighth Street and sits just west of Interstate 35.
The options mentioned included relocating police headquarters elsewhere, demolition of the existing building on site to make way for a new tower, combining the city’s three emergency services departments into a new or renovated facility, or establishing a public-private partnership (P3) to allow public safety to continue using the building while offering space for private offices.
Commissioner Rebecca Webber said that moving police headquarters would fit the city council’s vision of reconfiguring public safety.
Austin PD will soon be addressing whether it still needs the downtown facility, Webber said.
Local nonprofit representatives, along with a member of a public safety union spoke at the meeting.
Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie said that the site should serve as a joint public safety use facility.
“I really do think that it should continue to stay in the city’s hands,” she said. “Public safety in general has such a challenging time downtown. We see the most explosive growth downtown and because it’s growing so quickly everything is very expensive.”
Xir emphasized that it was important to understand that moving Austin PD headquarters would make it difficult for the department to house resources that were essential to serve that area of the city.
“We don’t have the luxury to just purchase buildings,” she said.
The discussions are the result of the city discussing the police budget and the need to revamp disparities within the system as it heads into the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
According to city officials, these preliminary discussions were the first of many that the city is managing from a real estate perspective; city officials said they must conduct a needs assessment for the police department prior to consideration of any facility changes.
“The first phase is we have to find someplace for APD to move to,” Darrell Alexander, the city’s building services officer said. “That first phase is accessing and analyzing what (are) the space needs and the requirements. It’ll probably take anywhere from a month to six weeks before we can start that and we’re looking at a max of six weeks to fully read and begin that process. Once we have that process down we can start looking at the options that we have.”
Conor Kenny the director of public affairs at Civilitude LLC, an Austin civil engineering company, concluded that the height of a new building could be between eight to 10 floors under the current zoning of property.