Austin: Tax Dollars Could Help Fund Cypress and Shoal Creek Project
Featured Photo (above): Shoal Creek crossing at West Avenue. The city is reviewing its financing options for a proposed project that would improve part of the creek trail in the southwest corner of downtown Austin. Image: Google Streets
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–The city’s public works department has determined that the historic preservation part of the local hotel occupancy tax (HOT) could help fund the city’s proposed Cypress and Shoal Creek project.
City Council last August directed City Manager Spencer Cronk to explore how to prioritize the project. The city seeks to improve a high-trafficked part of the Shoal Creek Trail between Second Street and West Avenue by:
Repurposing a former railroad trestle bridge
Building three new public plazas along Third Street from Nueces Street to Walter Seaholm
Build a new trail under the existing West Third Street bridges
Improving or replacing the Third Street shared path bridge
Public Works Director Richard Mendoza authored a memo Jan. 9, saying city staff researched the issue and found that portion of the HOT that supports historic preservation is eligible for application toward renovating the railroad bridge.
The city is looking at rehabilitating the Shoal Creek trail between Second Street and West Avenue near the Seaholm redevelopment. Image: Google Maps
“While not fully vetted, the renovation of the Third Street trestle bridge does appear that it would be eligible for the historic preservation portion of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT),” Mendoza wrote.
“The process for utilizing those funds includes applying through the city’s heritage grant program following an interdepartmental review process that evaluates specific eligibility criteria, including the historic designation of the property, shovel-readiness, promotional tourism impact, city-assigned level of importance, equitable geographic dispersion, leveraged cost with other private funds, and measurable evaluation criteria subject to reporting and contractual requirements.”
City staff was also asked to see whether other funding sources, such as the Seaholm Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) District, parkland dedication or surplus money from the city’s 2018 bond could be used on the project.
Some city officials have cited worry that expanding the Seaholm TIRZ District boundaries in order to use TIRZ money on the project would give the impression that Shoal Creek suddenly gets a higher priority over bigger or long-standing projects around town.
The city established the Seaholm TIRZ in 2008 to pull in more than $20 million for infrastructure improvements in the area surrounding the potential Shoal Creek project site.
The area takes its name from the Seaholm Power Plant that was built in 1950 and named after Austin’s fourth city manager, Walter Seaholm. The former plant anchored a now-successful mixed-use redevelopment.
Mendoza said city staff has not completed its study of the possible use of Seaholm zone funds. Mendoza also said all mobility funding from the parks and recreation part of the 2018 bond has been allocated to other higher priority projects.
As for parkland dedication, Mendoza wrote: “Although the Seaholm intake project and Cypress/Shoal Project would likely qualify for parkland dedication fee funding, there are many other very high priority park projects in the downtown area which staff would recommend utilize this funding.”
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.