Austin train stop lures developers
Developers arriving at East Austin train stop
Premium content from Austin Business Journal by Sandra Zaragoza, Staff Writer
The MLK transit-oriented development is attracting interest from developers and the community at large as an up-and-coming area
that will see more than $22 million in projects break ground in the next 18 months.
The Meredith family, local philanthropists, has worked more than five years on Chestnut Plaza, where the next phase includes two
nonprofit headquarters and a community garden. Sustainable Food Center is breaking ground on its approximately $4 million, 7,000-square-foot headquarters and 2.4-acre community garden at the end of May. Theater Action Project hopes to break ground on its new $3 million, 7,000-square-foot home in the next 18 months. Also, Plano-based Premier Transitional Care LLC has plans to build a $12 million, 58,000-square-foot skilled nursing facility for seniors, which will bring roughly 150 beds and about 160 mostly entry-level
MFI Real Estate LLC is also planning to break ground on a $3 million, 25,000-square-foot commercial building in 2013 that could
include a small sandwich shop and a co-working space.
Nearby Chestnut Plaza, GreyStar Real Estate Partners has plans for a 252-unit apartment complex on 5.5 acres at 2900 Manor
Road. The apartment units, which should get permits to break ground in 60 to 90 days, will be the northern anchor of the MLK TOD, said Will Schnier, president of Big Red Dog Engineering and Consulting Inc. The development will incorporate a 10-foot-wide bike trail that will feed into the city’s bike trail, which is under construction.
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority estimates that more than $47.7 million in new development has gone up at or
around the MLK station, including the 64-unit Chestnut Commons; the PeopleFund building; the $25 million, 150-unit M Station & Open Door Pre-school; Redeemer Presbyterian Education Center; and new homes on Clifford Street. Opened by Foundation
Communities last year, M Station, which provides low-income housing and services for its residents, is seen as a catalyst for the TOD.
Will Meredith, of MFI, said money has taken a backseat to values when it comes to Chestnut Plaza. Meredith and his partner, Tom
Patton, have worked on the project for six years.
“Our driving purpose has been culture and sustainability,” Meredith said. “We are really making an effort to address the rainbow of needs in the community. It’s not either make money or do good. We want to do it well and make a more meaningful impact on the
community to find a way to address the systematic needs that arise in a neighborhood.”
Ronda Rutledge, executive director of Sustainable Food Center, said her organization was drawn to the project because of the
opportunity for a community garden. The Meredith family gave the land for the garden and building to the nonprofit; the land is
valued at around $1 million, she said. The project’s access to public transportation and the fact that it would be neighbors with other nonprofits were also draws.
“We have a base where we can envision a family social nonprofit village for everyone from infants and kids to grandparents,”
Meredith believes the skilled nursing facility will add to the project’s diversity.
Justin Henry, of Fort Worth-based FNA Land & Development Consultants, said the skilled nursing facility needed to be in the 78702 ZIP code as part of its Medicaid and Medicare license, and was pleased to be part of a master-planned development.
“We feel that our assets are protected with the TOD,” Henry said, adding that he believes its proximity to Austin Community
College’s Eastview campus will be helpful too. “ACC has health care programs that we can pull from.”
The skilled nursing facility did face some neighborhood opposition.
Talia McCray, an assistant professor at the University of Texas’ School of Architecture and member of the Chestnut Neighborhood
Association, has lingering doubts that the nursing center is the right fit for Chestnut Plaza. But overall, she’s pleased with what she’s seen at the M Station and is excited for Sustainable Food Center and its garden.
“There’s a very strong community group here,” she said. “I really do believe things are changing very quickly.”
Schnier said that while the MLK TOD is still evolving, it is one of two TODs in East Austin that are attracting attention from
“We get a call a week about Saltillo Plaza and the MLK TOD. As we come out of the recession, private developers are putting their chips into TODs,” Schnier said.
What makes the MLK TOD different from other local and state TODs is that the Meredith family made building a social nonprofit
village a priority early on.
From a developer’s perspective, one could argue either way about whether the Meredith’s nonprofit village has been beneficial,
Schnier said. He believes it has been by helping nonprofit organizations who often struggle to build and find locations.
“Having nonprofits and affordable housing creates a mix of uses with new construction, and that is much more attractive to
market-rate developers,” he said. “It also yields a critical mass. You want to attract people that want to live and visit here.”
Rutledge believes the community and teaching garden, which is next to the rail stop, will be one of the attractions.
“We will have a kitchen and garden. Other school districts will have field trips here — having that be a destination, a place where everything will be walkable. It’s a neat sort of catalyst for the Chestnut neighborhood,” she said.
As for what’s next at Chestnut Plaza, Meredith shies away from talking about the 7 or so acres that are available for mixed-use
development. But he said he’s had some calls from residential developers. Meredith is also working on plans for a stone vault
amphitheater and a BMX skate park that would be part of the planned 7.5-acre MLK Jr. Park.