AUSTIN (KXAN) — Twenty acres of prime Austin real estate bought with public tax dollars more than 10 years ago continues to sit empty. The land that once housed a Home Depot and car dealership was purchased for $6.9 million with a 2006 public safety bond to eventually become a new police substation and municipal court. The city never moved forward with those plans. Thursday, city council will vote on a resolution asking the city manager to move forward with a new vision for the property.
“What I would like to see is something to encourage the community and the people,” says Thelma Williams, Vice President of the St. John’s Neighborhood Association.
Thelma Williams has lived in the St. John’s neighborhood since she was 7 years old. Her home is built on the property her father bought back in the 1930s. “The original home is gone, but I built my home here and it still has the old decking.”
While she’s seen the demographic of the neighborhood change over the years, some things remain the same: poverty and drugs.
“The police commander for our area told me we have one of the highest drug rates in the city,” Williams says.
Residents have been fighting to make their neighborhood better. However, they have discovered getting the city to make a change takes years.
“We have been working with the city for two years to create this pocket park behind Home Depot and there’s funding there, but it still hasn’t happened,” Williams says.
So now with city council asking the city manager to move forward with revitalizing the former Home Depot site into a place residents could use – Williams is cautious about what they should propose.
“We thought about low income housing, but the problem with that is number one it costs a lot of money and it’s going to take another 20 years for the city to invest in it,” Williams says.
City officials have proposed everything from low income housing to a recreation space and government facility.
The St. John’s Neighborhood Association plans to propose repurposing the existing building into a learning center. The hope is with the building already there, the turnaround time to create a facility can be reduced by years and the center could provide job training, city programs and drug counseling.
“So I said, what can we have right now that can help encourage young people, so even if there are drugs here so we can clean them out, because we get our kids early, we teach them early, we train them early, we eliminate the problem,” Williams says.
If Thursday’s resolution is passed, city officials will create community meetings to gather input.