Seaholm: a Storied Past, a Bright Future

For years, the Seaholm Power Plant has been an iconic Austin landmark. Situated on Ladybird Lake and named for Walter Seaholm, Austin’s fourth city manager and a former utility director, the property features a rock solid structure, 65-foot-high ceilings, clerestory windows, and more than 110,000 square feet of useable floor area. The plant’s art deco façade – a symbol of Austin – has long captivated residents and tourists alike. But for years, that symbol’s existence was threatened by demolition. 

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Credit: Nick Simonite, ABJ

Seaholm was built in the 1950s and generated the city’s power until 1989. Its remaining three generators were finally shut down in 1996. For years, the building sat empty, its landscaping overgrown and its windows cracked, the object of graffiti and neglect. Thankfully, though, Seaholm had friends who recognized the significance of the structure and were willing to fight for its continued existence, and in April 2005, the Seaholm Redevelopment Team was formed to create and execute a plan to preserve and repurpose this piece of Austin’s past.

After a long fight, the preservation efforts paid off; the plant was officially recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark in 2007 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. But before any redevelopment could begin, it would need to undergo some significant environmental remediation. Thus began a massive nine-year, $13 million project by Austin Energy, after which Seaholm was given the “Ready for Reuse” designation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

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A glimpse of the new office spaces inside Seaholm; Credit: Nick Simonite, ABJ

Next came the fun part: the redevelopment of the building and the surrounding area. The nearly complete result, years in the making, is a carefully devised, 85-acre redevelopment bounded by Cesar Chavez Street, West Avenue, 3rd Street, Seaholm Drive and a rail line. It features 150,000 square feet of office space, 280 high-rise condos, close to 50,000 square feet of retail shops (including a Trader Joe’s), restaurants and meeting space, and a terrace overlooking the lake. And still in the works is a new central library that will replace the current Faulk Central Library. It’s set to open in 2016 and will be located at 710 W. Cesar Chavez St., facing Ladybird Lake and nestled alongside Shoal Creek.

The transformation of the Seaholm Power Plant into an “urban oasis for future generations” is an exciting change in downtown Austin, and a symbol of the strength and power of Austinites when they rally around a cause.

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