thinKEAST End-of-Summer Update

The planning and visioning process for thinkEAST is entering its final months, by the end of 2015 the master plan and financial road-map for the project will be completed and shared with the community. The entire team (owners Richard de Varga and Robert Summers, Fusebox, City of Austin Economic Development Department, Fred Schmidt, TBG Partners, and QBL Partners) have been working this summer to incorporate feedback, strengthen community and stakeholder relationships, and solidify partnerships to make sure our plan is realized.

Since our last public meetings in mid-June, there has been a lot of progress on designing a vision for thinkEASTthat achieves all of your/our goals for making the site an affordable, creative, healthy, and inclusive place. We have attended community meetings with Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association and the Govalle-Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Contact Team. Our team has met with civic leaders from AISD, CapMetro, Austin Energy, UT, and numerous departments within the City of Austin including District 3 Councilman Renteria. We attended the Spirit of the East Austin forum hosted by the mayor and city staff, and we continue to have one-on-one and small group conversations with neighbors, creatives and artists to share our process and what we have learned so far.

From all of these ongoing community conversations, some exciting progress has been made toward the plan for thinkEAST Creative District:

Affordable Housing at thinkEAST
thinkEAST is working with two affordable housing developers (Housing Authority for the City of Austin and the Cesar Chavez Foundation) to bring as many as 300 units of affordable housing for people and families with earnings ranging from 30% to 80% of the median family income. Our goal is to get many of you that qualify on those tenant lists.

Progress on “La Loma” Trails
Conversations with neighborhood leaders, AISD, CapMetro, Austin Energy and the City of Austin Urban Trails Program have led to some early progress on identifying solutions and alternatives to the dangerous trails that students use to get to and from Ortega Elementary and Eastside Memorial High School. The 50+ year-old paths were highlighted in a documentary called La Loma: or the place sometimes called Hungry Hill, made by filmmaker Deborah Esquenazi, Carra Martinez, and Eastside Memorial students Joseph Sanchez and Isaac Reyes. In August, the film was screened by  the Austin History Center who is adding the film to its collection. The AHC screening was standing room only, and featured a lively panel discussion about issues of access and equity in the neighborhood. Last mint, we had an amazing group of 70+ people help us on a trail clean-up day as part of National Public Lands Day - supported by the Austin Parks Foundaiton. 

Emphasis on community health
One of the most significant discoveries in the thinkEAST Living Charrette was that the entire project is, at its core, a community health project. To further support this thinking, we have met with neighborhood leaders to better understand the health needs and started conversations with experts at Dell Children’s Hospital, Huston-Tillotson University, and the new Dell Medical School at the University of Texas (specifically the Design Institute for Health) about incorporating innovative approaches to community health into the thinkEAST plan.

Improvements to Jain Ln.
Progress has been made with city officials to complete necessary improvements to Jain Lane that will help with traffic and safety in and around thinkEAST. Improvements to Jain Lane were originally laid out in a voter-approved bond initiative in the 1980’s, but never completed.

Parkland and open space designations
Of the 24 acres that make-up the thinkEAST site, more than ⅓ of it (9 acres) will become public open space including 1.5 acres dedicated to the city to provide direct northern entrance to Govalle Park and the proposed swm center. Other public uses could include community gardens, trails, and a community plaza/mercado.

Plans for artist housing and workspaces
In addition to the traditional publicly subsidized affordable housing to be offered at thinkEAST, Fusebox is exploring the creation of subsidized live/work space for artists, an artist-in-residence program, studio/rehearsal space, an art + technology lab, and community cafe on the thinkEAST site.

There is still a lot of work to be done this fall including finalizing partnerships for affordable housing, shaping the community health component, and understanding the financial road-map and impacts of the plan, but we are on-track to share the full-vision for the thinkEAST Master Plan at a public event in November/December 2015. If you have questions, or would like more information about thinkEAST and the planning process please feel free to contact us. We look forward to sharing another update in November.