Seaholm Power Plant

Scheduled to be finished in June of 2015, the Seaholm Power Plant, otherwise known as “The City of Austin Power Plant”, is being redeveloped into a public space that will include shops, apartments, and restaurants. 

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

The site of the iconic “City of Austin Power Plant” sign, the Seaholm Power Plant, will soon be redeveloped for use as a pedestrian-friendly public space including shops, restaurants and apartments.

The new site, located on Cesar Chavez Street just east of Lamar Boulevard, is scheduled to be completed in June 2015. The site will include the preserved power plant building and two new buildings to serve as apartment, office and retail spaces. In 2012, Trader Joe’s specialty grocery store signed on to be the site’s first retail location.

The historic plant generated the city’s power until it was decommissioned in the late 1980s. In 2000, the city created a master plan that recommended redeveloping the site for urban use and selected the final team to lead the project in 2005. Seaholm Power, LLC is comprised of three organizations leading development of the site along with several other consulting groups.

John Rosato, principal for Southwest Strategies Group, which is one of the organizations chosen to lead the redevelopment, said many factors slowed down the intricate process of securing the site, creating the development team and finalizing design plans.

“This project is unlike any other in Austin’s history, and it took an extraordinary amount of cooperation from the governing bodies and private sector to reach this point,” Rosato said. “Right of way and environmental issues slowed things down, not to mention the collapse of the capital markets. Getting all the moving pieces of this puzzle in alignment was a challenge that took a great deal of ingenuity and time to solve.”

Though the total costs for the development have not been made public, figures of more than $100 million have been estimated, according to public relations officials for the project. The city’s $27.5 million contribution will go into rehabilitation of the plant, street infrastructure, underground parking and the creation of the new Bowie Underpass, city spokeswoman Melissa Alvarado said.

Jack Tisdale, principal on the project from STG Design, said the team has been in talks with upscale retailers for the area, though nothing has been secured yet aside from Trader Joe’s.

“There have been some very high-end national retailers looking at it,” Tisdale said. “There’s currently a very large user looking at the whole power plant building. They want to be in Austin because of the way Austin is — the entrepreneurial spirit and the creative energy here.”

Rosato said the location of the power plant is a feature of the site that will make a positive addition to Austin’s skyline.

“Being right along Lady Bird Lake, [the plant] offers the eye a more gradual way to build up to the other, taller structures,” Rosato said. “It also preserves an iconic architectural gemstone that helps keep some history along with the new development.”

As ground breaks this month for excavation of the parking garage area, Rosato said the whole team is ready to finally get started on the development.

“We’ve reached a historic point, and we’re really looking forward to transforming our vision into a reality,” Rosato said.

Funding combinations and proper budgeting have enabled Austin Energy to finance Austin’s most expensive public art project to date.

Despite a three-year deficit forcing a raise in electric rates this year, Austin Energy will be the key sponsor in the construction of an art wall around the retired Seaholm Power Plant on Ladybird Lake, Austin Energy spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said. The City of Austin Capital Improvements Program requires Austin Energy to fund an art project for the city, which they previously budgeted $81,000 for, Sopko said. To complete funding for the project, the company combined this amount with a previously budgeted $750,000 intended for building a conventional wall surrounding the plant, Sopko said.

“This project has been in the works for a long time and the money is coming from funds we had already set aside way before any of our more recent financial problems,” Sopko said.

Austin Energy is working with Art in Public Places on the design for the wall, which may include wood, concrete pillars and panels, perforated metal and rainbow lights at night, Sopko said.

“Because the Seaholm substation is wanting to become a retail area with hotels, shops, condos and venue space it really needs to be pedestrian friendly,” Sopko said. “The wall is first and foremost a safety precaution that is necessary but since we are already required to designate funds for a city art project anyway and the wall will be in such a public place, we decided to combine the funds into one big project.”

Sopko said Austin Energy originally planned to incorporate art with their office renovations, but the plans were canceled and funding went directly to the Seaholm wall art project.

“We had been working with Art in Public Places on another project for our art requirement, but the wall was in a better and more public location so we decided to transfer the
money,” Sopko said.

Consumer advocate Bill Oakey, who has led the fight against what he calls Austin Energy’s “multiple unfair rate increase proposals,” said he understands that a city art project usually takes years of planning and budgeting and therefore is most likely not wasteful spending.

Although he said he does not know much about the art wall because he has been focusing more on Austin Energy rates, Oakey said he sees the reasoning behind funding it.

“I am, of course, for Austin art and promoting Austin as an art friendly city,” Oakey said.

Nicole Larance, radio-television-film junior with business foundations, said the art wall is a good investment for Austin because its downtown location will make it a tourist attraction.

“Because most of the money is being used for a wall that will make the area safer for people, and not just on something that will not be useful, I think it’s a good investment,” Larance said. “There are already art museums there, too, so it will fit right in and become another Austin attraction.”

Printed on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 as: Austin Energy sponsors Seaholm Power Plant's wall art project