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City of Austin set to vote on waiving millions in fees for Capitol Complex Master Plan

The Austin city council is set to debate whether or not to waive nearly $7 million in fees for the Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan. (Photo: Texas Facilities Commission)

The Austin City Council is set to debate whether or not to waive nearly $7 million in fees for the Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan.

The $581 million project for phase 1 already broke ground in September. The plan is to build two new state office buildings, a five story underground parking garage below Congress Avenue and create a new pedestrian mall. The complex will be between 15th Street and Martin Luther King Blvd. taking over Congress Avenue.

On Thursday the council is set to debate whether or not to approve an agreement with the state on the project to waive right of way. They’re also set to vote on whether or not to waive $6.8 million in future fees for the project. Those fees would mostly be for closing streets for construction.

“I think it’s a terrific plan,” President of Capitol Market Research Charles Heimsath said.

Heimsath said this is a project that’s been in the works for decades. The original idea started in the 50s.

“That was a great idea, it just sat for 60 years,” Heimsath said.

That original idea was to consolidate state offices north of the Capitol. According to the Texas Facilities Commission, which is overseeing the project, the state leases 1.2 million square feet of office space. That costs millions every year.

All those employees could move to the new office buildings once it’s finished. That would save enough money to where the half a billion-dollar project would be paid off in 30 to 35 years the commission said Wednesday.

“It’s less expensive for the taxpayers bottom line, long term,” Heimsath said.

He also said it’s important that the city of Austin approve the agreement with the state for the project.

“I think it’s a really important message for the city to send to the state that we’re a partner with you in this and that we’re willing to come along side you,” Heimsath said.

That new agreement does include allowing people to bike through the pedestrian mall. That was something not allowed in original plans, but was changed after talking to Austin groups.

“The major concern we do have right now is that it’s going to be a bicycle dismount zone,” Central Austin CDC’s Steve Knapp said.

Knapp pointed out a tweet from Governor Abbott that read, “Wonder why Austin roads are more congested? Because of policies like this that reduce car lanes. #ATXtraffic”

That tweet was referring to the Guadalupe corridor project plans released Tuesday that show adding bike and transit lanes.

Knapp point out that tweet came the same week the city of Austin is looking to waive millions in fees for a project that takes away a street to traffic. He said that could be a time to try and change the plans to allow bikes, not knowing that was already done.

“And if the state’s going to weigh in on that and at the same day asking us to abandon some right of way, give them right of way and then abandon fees. Yeah I think our elected officials should stick to it like hey this is our vision for our city,” Knapp said.

Overall, though, he says he’s excited about the project.

“This is a really cool opportunity to kind of reimagine how these public spaces can be used,” Knapp said.

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