AUSTIN, Texas - "We're very happy that this large crowd came out this morning to celebrate what will end up being a very historical day in our community," Austin Mayor Kirk Watson said.
After years of waiting, the city of Austin's economic development department finally moved to the next phase of redevelopment at the St. John's site in northeast Austin.
"We will be building about 500 homes here, expanding the St. John's park, adding retail and commercial spaces surrounding the park," District 4 council member Jose 'Chito' Vela said.
The St. John's site is roughly 19 acres of city-owned land. Council member Vela says the land has been vacant for far too long.
"Turning what has been an abandoned area and an empty building into a housing beautiful park and turning it into an asset for the community," says Vela.
Congressman Greg Casar, who is the former council member for District 4, was also in attendance Saturday morning, and says he is happy to see that the city of Austin is finally moving forward on this project he has worked hard for.
"We were told after those conversations in 2014, knocking on these doors, you know, so many times by so many different department heads come and gone, we were told it was impossible," Rep. Casar said.
The former Home Depot and Chrysler dealership will be transformed to affordable housing for community members and provide a space for the community to gather together.
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"We've created a model type of partnership that can get the housing and the development here on this land. But also in the future, hopefully, we'll be able to use this type of innovative partnership for other city properties throughout Austin," Vela said.
Prior to the city of Austin purchasing the land back in 2008, the St. John site held significant historical importance for the city's African American community.
Council member says the city wants to honor and celebrate the heritage the land has to the community. By doing so, the city will be giving back to the same people who are from the St. John community and prioritize them for the low-cost housing that will be developed on this site.
"I think that everything that they're trying to do is good because change is going to come and that if we fight change, then change will not help us. If we go with change and have input in the change, then at least we have a chance to get something in that," Thelma Williams, or Grandma Wisdom as the community calls her, said.
Community members can start to see change on Monday, August 14 when demolition begins.