AUSTIN (KXAN) — Between the walls of the former University Medical Center Brackenridge Hospital, countless lives are connected.
Today, the old hospital sits at the corner of 15th and Red River Streets, just west of I-35.
Wednesday, Central Health (Travis County’s Healthcare district) announced that demolition of the nine-story hospital building will begin this summer, starting with the old hospital’s tower. Central Health, which is funded by Travis County taxpayers, owns the property around the tower and plans to redevelop it in order to generate money to fund health care for low-income Travis County residents.
Currently, Central Health funds healthcare for about one in seven Travis County residents, nearly 184,000 people.
Former patients, nurses, and doctors shared their memories of the old building Wednesday morning at a ceremony to say goodbye to Brackenridge.
Former Chief of Surgery at Brackenridge Dr. Thomas Coopwood spoke to attendees there about his more than 30 years of work at the hospital.
“Today we come to say goodbye to an old friend who has served us well and whose glory days are past,” Coopwood said.
One former patient told attendees at the ceremony he owes his life to the staff at the old building. Kirk Van Zandt credits the hospital’s trauma center for saving him 33 years ago after a motorcycle crash in Austin when he was a sophomore in college.
“I attribute this hospital for being here today and what direction my life took after that,” Van Zandt said, he traveled out from Fort Worth to be at the ceremony.
During that crash more than three years ago, the motorcycle he was on collided with a bus. Van Zandt spent six weeks in the hospital but was so severely injured he only remembers the last week.
Today, Van Zandt is a school teacher and said his desire to work in a profession helping people stemmed from the kind of care he got at Brackenridge.
Van Zandt is one of many generations of people who’ve been cared for within the walls of the old hospital.
Past, present, and future for Brackenridge
Brackenridge Hospital was considered the community’s public hospital for 133 years from 1884 to 2017. The nine-story tower was constructed over 50 years ago.
The City of Austin transferred ownership of the hospital and property to Central Health in 2004. At that time a lease was started with Ascension Seton to operate “Travis County’s safety net hospital.”
In May of 2017, Brackenridge (or “Brack” as it’s fondly referred to) closed and its patients were transferred across the street to the new Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Look here for KXAN’s coverage of that transition.
Dell Seton Medical Center now serves as a Level 1 trauma center as well as the primary teaching hospital for Dell Medical School. Dell Seton was not funded by local property tax dollars.
The upcoming demolition of the Brackenridge tower makes way for the redevelopment of Central Health’s entire 14.3-acre property. There is not a set date yet, but the demolition of the tower will begin this summer, a Central Health spokesperson said.
There are six blocks in total Central Health owns downtown. The possibility of a future realignment of Red River Street could leave Central Health with even more property.
In June of 2018, Central Health leased off the first two of those blocks to the 2033 Higher Education Development Foundation, a Texas nonprofit corporation. The foundation was created to support the growth of Dell Medical School and UT Austin, so these two blocks will be developed with the goal of advancing those institutions.
A UT Austin spokesperson said the university is developing plans now for what will occupy those two lots and hopes to have proposals ready to share with the public this summer.
The new lease for the property Central Health owns begins in 2019 and will continue for 99 years, over the course of which the 2033 Higher Education Development Foundation will generate more than 460 million dollars for Central Health. In the 2019 Fiscal Year alone, $4.1 million will be generated for Central Health from the lease revenue.
The other four blocks will likely go toward high-density, mixed-use development, though there are no official plans yet for what will go there and no timeline yet for when that will happen. All of these changes could mean this entire multi-block area will have some dramatic changes over the coming years.
Ascension Seton is still leasing the Ascension Seton Clinic Education Center as well as the parking garage at 15th Street and Red River. All of the other parts of the property are empty and ready to be demolished.
Central Health has been seeking public input for the future of this property over the course of the past four years. Central Health says the community made it clear that their first priority was generating money for health care ]and that residents also expressed that they wanted to see a mixed-use development with a focus on medical and health innovation jobs. This public feedback led Central Health to a Master Plan for a walkable, sustainable development with access to Waller Creek Park next door.
Central Health Board members at the ceremony Wednesday encourage those who want to learn more about the redevelopment to attend their upcoming community conversation on May 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Central Health offices. Attendees will get an update on the redevelopment of the downtown campus property and future plans moving forward.
Dell Seton leaders told the crowd Wednesday they intend to continue carrying out the mission that the old Brackenridge Hospital championed.
“This is a proud moment for a community like ours and it is important to remember and celebrate both sides of that change,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told attendees at the ceremony.
“The redevelopment of this property will help pay for the growing health needs of the people who Central Health serves,” Adler said.