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CS aims for new mix in low-income development

CS aims for new mix in low-income development

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College Station officials plan to begin looking this week for a developer to create a combination of low-income housing, office and retail space.

The city will set aside more than six acres for the development, which would be the first of its kind in College Station, officials said.

Preliminary plans are to use property at Holleman and George Bush drives for the project. The city purchased the land for $2.5 million in October.

David Gwin, the city's director of economic and community development, said finding the right developer and getting the right mix of uses in the center are key to the project's success.

The city will begin soliciting proposals from developers this week and hopes to have an agreement signed by fall, he said.

"We believe this project has an opportunity to actually harness entrepreneurial spirit, to actually create jobs from some of those really bright brains that come out of the university across the street," Gwin said.

The developer will be expected to design, finance, develop, operate and ultimately maintain the project, Gwin said. The development will be expected to include mixed-income rental housing, public open space and employment opportunities while utilizing sustainable building practices.

Gwin said the project would be a centerpiece for the city to showcase environmentally friendly construction practices.

"We have not seen that outside of the university construction on any significant scale on the private sector," Gwin said.

The development would specifically target low-income, recent Texas A&M graduates.

"I believe those students, they're leaving here with one of the best educations in the world. And what's happening is they are making other locations great," Gwin said.

College Station Mayor Ben White said he thinks many graduates move away because they think the city isn't "cool" enough. He said the project would be designed to appeal to young, single professionals who aren't ready to buy a home but are ready for the next step after student living.

The city hasn't been involved in many projects that include offering land to private developers, White said, but if it works, more could follow.

"Will it be a success? Only time will tell. But I have got to believe, conceptually, it's a sound concept," White said.

Gwin said the economy shouldn't pose a problem for the project because development in the area is already seeing a comeback.

The city's concept for the project is based on similar mixed-use developments in Austin, El Paso and Houston, Gwin said.

One of those projects, Villas on Sixth, is a $16 million retail and residential center covering six acres in Austin.

Regina Copic, a real estate and development manager for the city of Austin, said that project was successful, in part, because the developer was experienced in building affordable housing and had adequate financial backing.

"It's much more difficult to do those types of deals if you don't have someone with that type of experience," she said.

Copic said the city recently sought proposals for another mixed-use development with affordable housing and received only one response. Financial institutions don't seem interested in lending money for those types of projects right now, she said.

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