Austin school district to seek bids on 10 properties worth $95 million

aisdFrom today’s Austin American-Statesman:

The Austin school district will seek bids for 10 of its properties, including its 128,000-square-foot headquarters on West Sixth Street, the former Millett Opera House currently leased by the Austin Club, and the Baker Center administration building in Hyde Park.

The district could sell, lease, swap or repurpose the properties to generate one-time revenue or create other long-term plans for their use. They have a total value of more than $95 million.

The most valuable of the offerings is the Carruth Administration Center, which sits on 2.75 acres at 1111 W. Sixth Street. Originally designed to be a mixed-use project with office, residential and retail components, the headquarters is valued at $33.6 million, according to district estimates.

The district bought the property more than 25 years ago and has looked into selling it at least once, but it never got an offer that was attractive enough to district leaders.

“I can certainly see this as an opportune time; the market would respond very favorably,” said Charles Heimsath, president of Capitol Market Research, an Austin real estate consulting firm, pointing to the major redevelopment taking place at the former Seaholm power plant and the former Green Water Treatment Plant nearby.

Regarding the Austin Club, which is a half-block off of Congress Avenue, Heimsath also said “there’s a wide range of possibilities for a property like that.”

District records show the Austin Club, which has had a lease with the district since 1979, paid the district about $48,000 in rent in 2014. The district has valued the property at an estimated $6.3 million.

The list of properties the district is offering includes the former Allan Elementary, and the school board is also considering options for other plots of land, ranging from an acre in East Austin to 32 acres in Northeast Austin, as well as its Central Warehouse and Service Center. The properties are labeled as being noninstructional, but some trustees pointed out that early education is being taught at Allan, albeit through partnerships with local nonprofits and not by the district. More than 12 acres of green space the district owns in Travis Country in Southwest Austin has been used as an outdoor environmental sciences classroom by the Green Tech Academy at Small Middle School.

The Austin school board will vote Monday night on whether to issue requests for proposals that allow developers and other entities to pitch ideas for using the lands and facilities. District leaders are considering a three- to four-month time frame to gather proposals, but the process could take longer.

“We’re hopeful that we can get some really thoughtful proposals back,” said Nicole Conley, the district’s chief financial officer. “There’s a lot of interest now in sort of partnering in the market.”

Community members and some city and district leaders have discussed ideas such as creating affordable housing for teachers and other civil servants on surplus property, doing leasebacks or swapping properties.

“These are not done deals,” Trustee Ann Teich said. “We’re exploring opportunities with this land, and it would be a better use of our time and our energy to do this rather than to just leave these properties unexamined.”

The Austin school district previously sought bids in 2011 for its West Sixth Street headquarters and the Baker Center in Hyde Park to ease a budget crunch, but it ultimately wasn’t satisfied with the offers. This time, trustees say looking at the district’s real estate resources is a necessary step for long-range planning.

As was the case in 2011, the district has retained Austin commercial real estate firm Southwest Strategies Group in seeking proposals for the properties.   

Previous board discussions on properties have dealt with how to more wisely use district assets, including leasing buildings for market value. The district last month hired consultant Brailsford and Dunlavey to look at facilities and planning in a broader way, as trustees tackle prolonged issues of underenrolled schools in some areas, overcrowded schools in others, and aging facilities. District leaders expect a master plan for all the facilities by May 2017, and they will consider any proposals made for the 10 facilities within that plan.

Trustee Amber Elenz said she is excited to see what ideas come forward and considers the requests for proposals a necessary step before the district can consider going back to voters with a bond request to address its needs. However, she cautioned that the district might need to place appropriate restrictions or expectations on any real estate deal.

“We’re approaching this as an opportunity to see what greater yields we may have in the use of these different properties,” Trustee Yasmin Wagner said. “It’s an exploration exercise at this point, not an austerity measure.”


Need a break from the SXSW madness?

SXSWFor our friends NOT attending SXSW who want to escape from the crowds and lines, here are a few restaurants outside of downtown to enjoy Austin’s great food suggested by Eater Austin:

  • Barley Swine
  • Black Sheep Lodge
  • Dai Due
  • East Side King Thai Khun
  • El Meson
  • Epicerie
  • Fabi & Rosi
  • Gourmand’s Neighborhood Pub
  • Hoover’s Cooking
  • Jack Allen’s Kitchen
  • Jacoby’s Restaurant & Mercantile
  • Olive & June
  • Papalote Taco House
  • Pieous
  • Porter Ale House
  • Quality Seafood
  • Salt & Time
  • Sichuan River
  • The Peached Tortilla
  • Vinaigrette

More information>>>

Don’t panic: Here are 5 last-minute SXSW survival tips

SXSWFor our friends attending SXSW events; so much great information and so many fun things to do, it can be overwhelming! A few tips from the Austin Business Journal:

• Plan and RSVP where you can. Some events may be full. But you still can and should RSVP everywhere you possibly can. Often you can get in by lining up early. Have your badge, be on the list, get in line, and hope for the best. No badge? Don’t forget the handy-dandy official link to the free stuff. Also look for other great resources like Do512, and several Facebook Groups including “RSVP for your Life” and “Free at SXSW.” Keep up with social media during the events to keep up with news real-time.

But have a backup plan. Even with perfect planning, panels will be full, parties will be overflowing. Make sure you have several choices for panels, parties and events. You are probably not getting into the main room to see President Obama unless you had amazing luck in the ticket lottery, so be prepared to watch the live stream version on your laptop at a cool downtown coffee shop or bar.

And when that fails, be flexible. Much of SXSW is kismet. If none of your plans work out, go with the flow. I’ve had some of the best experiences when all my plans failed, I found an old friend or met a new friend, and just wandered around. Downtown will be absolutely full of stuff going on that you hadn’t planned for, so you have no excuses for not making the most of your time.

Get into survival mode. Yes, we are expecting some weather for SXSW Interactive. Have a lightweight rain slicker, a tiny umbrella and maybe mittens. It’s not supposed to be freezing, but anything is possible. Dress in layers and try not to drown. Pack some protein bars and jerky. Get some sleep. Plan your transportation carefully. With the Obamas in town the always-epic traffic and parking situation will be exponentially worse on those two days. Check out the new CapMetro app for schedules and to buy tickets and special passes for SXSW. Have ride-sharing apps ready. And APD has instituted no-refusal from now through the end of SXSW. If you plan to drink, plan ahead.

Don’t forget the after-show. You did it. You survived. Don’t let it be just a — possibly hazy — memory and a few extra pounds of barbecue and beer weight. Make sure to organize your cards and do your follow-up with all the great contacts. Assimilate what you’ve learned, and put some of that great stuff into practice. And we’ll see you back here next year! Additional information>>>

Congratulations to Ali Khataw for receiving “Engineer of the Year” Award

EOY_Graphic_mxw326_mxha_e0The Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE) Travis chapter has named Ali Khataw the recipient of its 2016 Engineer of Year award.  Khataw, an accomplished entrepreneur, photographer and philanthropist was also a “featured artist” in August of 2015 on the Miller IDS website.

The Central Texas business community knows Ali Khataw as the founder of Encotech Engineering Consultants, Inc. a leading engineering firm specializing in MEP, Structural, Civil and Transportation Engineering. However, Khataw is also an avid artist and adventurer and is increasingly known for his insightful photography, which not only documents his extensive travels and experiences, but reflects the socioeconomic issues of the countries he visits and helps direct help to those issues through Photo Philanthropy.

Each year, the TSPE recognizes the achievements and contributions of a professional engineer with this prestigious award. This year’s award was presented to Ali Khataw, P.E. on Friday, February 26 at its Engineer’s Week Banquet, held at the Barton Creek Country Club in Austin. To read the full article, visit this website>>

Miller IDS’ Featured March Artist

Miller courtney holder broken spokeThis month, our Featured Artist is Courtney Holder.  Courtney began oil painting at age 9, and it’s still her favorite medium, especially for personal pieces like our featured “Broken Spoke”. She believes “oils deliver a spectrum and depth of color and flexibility that’s hard to beat and that punch of color that really resonates with the neon colors and swirl of movement that permeate the music and dancing that takes center stage at places like the Broken Spoke”.

Courtney wants her paintings to tell a story – and this painting beautifully tells a story about a nostalgic place encrusted with emotions and memories that mean so much to generations of Austinites. The Spoke is one of the first places Courtney heard live music as a kid, and it’s where she later went boot scoot’n with her now husband. In her own words, “you may recognize some of the regulars in the painting; while the city grows with the new wave of hipsters and progressives, some Austin mainstays dig in their heels and refuse to change. When I drive by the Spoke on my way home, with all its character hanging out all over the place, and surrounded by shiny new towering apartments and lofts, all that rusted metal, dirt and neon glow the Spoke gives off just makes me smile. It’s good to see, that some stories never change.” You can enjoy more of Courtney’s artwork on her website.

Local Companies Supporting one another

Miller ABP“Quick, friendly and local” are the words Hattie Lindsley of Austin Bouldering Project uses to explain why she uses Miller IDS for all the new business’ signage and printing needs. “I call them ALL the time, they do everything we need and they also do the research to find the best and most cost effective materials for us”. Hattie is pictured here with Tyler Kevorkian and Britt Greer and some of the window vinyls we’ve printed for them.

Hattie has been calling quite a bit, as the new Austin Bouldering Project is one of Austin’s hottest new businesses, a big friendly space on Springdale Road for rock climbing, yoga, fitness training and socializing.

Per our own Bob Miller and EJ Romero, the “adult Disney” has been a great experience for their extended family who range from beginners to advanced and age 3 to 70’s.  “We ARE a living commercial!” says EJ. Check them out at!

Bowling alley coming to downtown Austin

bowlingFrom the Downtown Austin Blog:

… a new bowling alley is on tap for downtown Austin at the former Miller Blueprint building at 501 W. Sixth Street. Public records seem to tie this effort to the team behind the Goodnight, the adults-only gaming venue on Anderson Lane. If true, a downtown Goodnight should do very well on West Sixth.

The two-story building – abandoned since Miller Blueprinting relocated – is slated to be redeveloped into a four-story mutli-use building with a restaurant, cocktail lounge, event space and 9,500 square foot bowling alley.

The project will also bring Great Street improvements, which makes it a win/win/win for downtown Austin. The timeline is to-be-determined, but paperwork is flying at the city’s planning office, which indicates this project is far beyond conception and well into execution. Additional information>>>

Council moves toward halting some home demolitions

Miller2015-10-15-Austin-City-CouncilFrom today’s Austin Business Journal:

Council moves toward halting some home demolitions under small-lot development rules.

In a year in which Mayor Steve Adler has said he wants to tackle housing affordability, Austin City Council has given preliminary approval to a measure that city staff said would make it harder to build affordable homes.

The measure amends the city’s rules regarding small-lot amnesty, which permits development on property that is less than the minimum lot size requirement of 5,750 square feet. The small-lot amnesty program is only available in areas with a neighborhood plan that allows it.

Under the amendment, narrowly approved on first and second reading at the Feb. 11 Council meeting by a 6-5 vote, developers would be prohibited from demolishing one home that straddles two small lots and then breaking up the lots in order to build homes on each lot. They measure is still subject to a third reading and vote by Council before being passed into law.

Greg Guernsey, director of Austin’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, said the amendment goes against the city’s broader affordability goals.

“It would negatively impact the implementation of some of the imagine Austin visions goals and priorities related to household affordability,” Guernsey told Council members at the meeting. “ It would also negatively impact land-use zoning opportunities for affordable housing development and impact the cost of development negatively and negatively impact the production of affordable housing.”

Still, Guernsey said staff were in support of the amendment because they never anticipated that it would result in the demolition of homes that straddle lots to make way for a new home on each separate lot. Rather, they envisioned it as a step to allow development on lots where no demolition was required.

“Staff felt very strongly about this because this is something that we went to the neighborhoods and told the neighborhoods how this tool would be used,” said Guernsey. “There’s a trust factor here.”

Critics of how the small lot amnesty program’s use has evolved gave voice to the notion that trust could be breached at the Council meeting, highlighting examples of top-dollar homes built where a single, larger home once stood.

“My neighborhood, Northfield, feels like we have been duped. In good faith we opted into small lot amnesty just as we have been proactive for over 15 years in welcoming density to the neighborhood. And now we are staring down the barrel of this SLA loophole,” said Clay Crenshaw during his comments to Council. “Now some developers are pointing to 100-year-old land plans and claiming technically all of the houses in certain neighborhood areas are built on two lots and, therefore, have been legally separated.”

Those against modifying the small lot amnesty program tried to appeal to macroeconomics to back their case, noting that more supply equals lower cost.

“I built homes in the North Loop area on small lots, and the simple truth is homes on smaller lots cost less at market rate,” said David Whitworth, a housing developer. “If you remove this option, all you’re leaving on the table tonight is the $800,000 options that is incentivized by our zoning. The banks love it.”

Councilman Greg Casar (District 4), who voted against the amendment along with Council members Delia Garza (District 2), Don Zimmerman (District 6), Sheri Gallo (District 10) and Ellen Troxclair (District 8), said that the unintended application of the small lot amnesty rules had long-term benefits that were worth keeping around.

“Long-term, if we’re requiring homeowners or renters to pay for 6,000 square feet of dirt, which is what is actually expensive, then it’s going to be unaffordable,” said Casar. “We need to be able to give people the opportunity, the choice and the option to live on less than 6,000 square feet of dirt. Because otherwise what will end up happening is only those that can pay for 6,000 square feet of dirt will be able to live in Central Austin, and we already see that occurring”

Adler, who voted for the measure along with Mayor Pro Tem Kathi Tovo and Council members Ora Houston (District 1), Ann Kitchen (District 5), Pio Renteria (District 3) and Leslie Pool (District 7), said that the original intent of the tool needed to be clarified but said he was open to further modifying it.

“I just think that when the city went through the process and adopted this tool, the analysis that was done was done for a very different purpose,” said Adler. “The way that it’s being used is something that should be discussed and go through our process.” Additional information>>>

Redevelopers wanted for high-profile downtown site

Miller statesmanFrom today’s Austin Business Journal: The first steps to redeveloping the the Austin American-Statesman’s prime downtown waterfront property are underway.

Today, the owners of the property announced they were soliciting mixed-use redevelopment proposals from qualified developers for the 18.9-acre South Congress Avenue site on the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake, the Statesman reports. The request for qualifications was sent Monday by Austin law firm Armbrust & Brown LLP.
The land represents one of the highest-profile redevelopment possibilities in town. The Travis Central Appraisal District values the property at $39.8 million.

For the time being, the Cox Enterprises Inc.-owned newspaper will remain at the location. The paper previously shifted its printing operations offsite. Then in December, Cox Enterprises sold the property to members of the Cox family.

In an email to newspaper employees, the paper reported Statesman publisher Susie Gray said the latest move was an effort by the Cox family to seriously consider potential future uses for the property.

“As you’ll recall, members of the Cox family purchased the land that houses our facilities,” the email said. “You may have heard that a Request for Interest and Qualifications was recently distributed. The RFIQ does not mean there will be any immediate changes to the property. It does, however, signal the owners’ long-term investment in the property, and their desire to seek the best strategy for determining the future of the site.” Additional information>>>

How an Austin developer overcame racist deed restrictions to create a thriving retail space

DaiDueShop1From today’s Austin Business Journal:

Renovating an ugly commercial building takes guts. Shalou Barth believes she’s proved her mettle by turning an aging, ugly strip center into a cool East Austin retail project at 2406 Manor Road.

“It was a dump. It had been on the market for over a year. It had temporarily been Obama’s [campaign] headquarters,” Barth said. “I had a vision of totally re-imaging this place.”

Three years after Barth put a contract on the property, which reportedly had been a grocery store and rehab facility in a previous life, it’s now a thriving, fully-leased gold mine of a retail center boasting the likes of Dai Due restaurant and butcher shop and Raven + Lily boutique.

When Barth put in the contract In December 2012, however, the daughter of Indian immigrants couldn’t believe what she discovered in the antiquated deed restrictions: Only caucasians could own the property and only certain types of alcohol could be served.

She also discovered that the property next door — leased by restaurant and bar Haymaker — was also under the same restrictions. But changing deeds isn’t an easy fix.

Barth, 37, met with about 10 stakeholders, including her broker Jon Switzer, to come up with a solution. She was undaunted by the all-male phalanx involved considering that, for several years, Barth worked for General Motors, gamely assisting dealership owners about how to improve their sales.

“I had the responsibility of telling 50- and 60-year-old men how to run their business,” Barth said. “It actually taught me a lot about different ways of thinking.”

The legal requirement to change the deed mandated that all 15 owners of 21 surrounding land parcels approve those changes.

“Who can get 100 percent of anything, especially since many of them are rental properties?” Barth said. “It was all pretty discouraging.”

Doors were slammed on her. Phone calls disconnected. Barth was disconsolate, until she woke up one morning and started researching information about deed restriction legislation.

It became apparent that she wouldn’t need 100 percent buy-in, but she would need one more person to sign off on the changes. She was at day 28 of a 30-day extention she received to meet the deed deadline.

“My only hope was this one last property owner — and I got it done,” Barth said.

The fun part was yet to come: Finding cool tenants and designing the space. It helped that Barth’s husband, Eric Barth, is co-principal of A Parallel Architecture, the firm that designed Paul Qui’s signature restaurant and a host of contemporary Austin homes.

Pretty quickly, Dai Due, Sugar Mama’s Bakeshop and Raven + Lily all came on board.

“I had a target list of who I’d like to see and what would succeed here,” Barth said.

She couldn’t believe how intense the interest was and how many other people insisted that they had tried to buy the property.

“It was funny because I know it sat on the market for at least a year,” Barth said.

The fortunes of Barth and her husband turned again when another retailer signed a letter of intent for the remaining space in the 6,500-square-foot building but it fell through.

The Barths considered the possibilities over a bottle of wine and pizza.

“We penciled out some ideas on a napkin,” Barth said.

They decided they would open Unit D Pizzeria, a wood-fired Neopolitan style pizza joint and wine bar, in the remaining 1,600 square feet.

Finding the right oven was crucial — and expensive. So how would she pay for a $10,500 piece of equipment? By being a contestant on “The Price Is Right.”

It wasn’t part of the business plan, but the trip to California and appearance on the TV game show just happened when family members took one of their own on a vacation — to forget about the pain of a relative’s bout with cancer and just to enjoy each other’s company.

Barth was the last contestant of the day and won.

“It was hilarious. Drew Carey was so funny. And my husband was crying,” Barth said.

The episode ran on April 10, 2015. Unit D Pizzeria opened July 23.

Barth didn’t disclose the amount of her investment in the property but it appears to have been a wise acquisition. When she purchased the property, it was valued at $451,002, according to the Travis Central Appraisal District. Last year, the appraisal had jumped to more than $1.9 million, county records show.

Full story>>>