AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin could choose a new developer for the empty Home Depot property this summer.
The long-vacant property at Interstate 35 and St. Johns Avenue has been called a lot of names after it was a home improvement store. Many of them, not so kind.
“You just kind of look at it and go, ‘why aren’t they doing something more with the property?'” said Steve Felgate, who manages ABC Supply, a roofing store across the street.
In 2018, a KXAN investigation highlighted the city-owned property. Voters approved a bond in 2006 to turn it into a police substation and municipal court, but the project fell through due to lack of funding.
The city wants to turn the property into a mixed use-development district with affordable housing and space for recreation. Six bids had been submitted when the RFP process closed last month.
A.J. Smith and Daniel Loe of Forsite Studio, an Austin-based architecture firm, thought it would be ideal for homeless housing.
“This was our opportunity to put this out there and say this is what we can do,” said Loe.
In the last few months, they sent their concept to council members and city homeless officials.
Under the plan, 400 shipping containers would serve as “microunits,” where individuals or families could live. The containers would be placed inside the Home Depot structure. More details on the plan can be found here.
The architects say their plan didn’t gain traction with city leaders, and the deadline for developers to submit bids has already passed.
“Forsite did not submit a proposal for consideration,” said a city spokesperson.
But it got us asking if the city ever considered the property for homeless housing, one of Austin’s most pressing needs.
“The former Home Depot building is in severe disrepair and is not habitable,” said a City of Austin spokesperson. “Water, wastewater and electricity to the building have not been maintained since the building was acquired in 2008. The only operating electrical service at this time is servicing the remaining light fixtures in the parking lot, and no other utility services are available outside the existing building.”
A city spokesperson also told us a mixed-use development was the consensus after two years of engagement with neighbors in the St. Johns area.
We reached out to the St. Johns Neighborhood Association. Its president, Akeem McLennon, said while there was broad support for affordable housing in the area, there were other concerns.
“Neighbors have also expressed concern that using the site for a homeless shelter would perpetuate the economic neglect that has historically occurred on this part of town,” he told us.
But it does not mean there won’t be any permanent housing for homeless individuals as part of a rebuild.
“I expect housing for those who are homeless to be part of what gets built here in collaboration with the community,” said Austin City Council member Greg Casar. “But the complete reconstruction of this site, because of its state of disrepair, is a long process.”
Details of the six bids will not be available until the city chooses an option.