The placid Lake Austin shorefront has a new resident.
The Holdsworth Center, a $200 million public educator training center, announced the opening of its 44-acre campus on Wednesday.
Built on one of Lake Austin's last large undeveloped tracts, the center features an outdoor amphitheater, boat dock, walking trails and 186 guest rooms.
H-E-B Chairman Charles Butt invested $100 million in the nonprofit, which is named after his mother, Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt, a former Hill Country school teacher. It broke ground in 2018.
"My hope is that the (Holdsworth) Campus will provide an inspiring place for educators to enhance their self-reflection, skills and creativity," he said in a statement. "Our objective is to be part of a strong future for all Texas students."
Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth, third from the right in the top row, pictured with her class in Center Point in 1923. (Holdsworth Center)
The Holdsworth Center has partnered with 13 Texas public school districts across two cohorts, including Round Rock ISD, and will welcome a third cohort of six additional districts in July. By the end of the year, it is on track to serve as many as 40 districts.
Over five years teachers, assistant principals, principals and administrators in participating districts will attend learning sessions with leadership experts from the business and education sectors to strengthen the school leader pipeline.
The center's mission is to improve the quality of K-12 public education in Texas by developing educational leaders. (Holdsworth Center)
"Being able to develop your own talent and grow your own leaders is critical for any successful organization, from the U.S. military to Google," Board Member and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a statement. "School districts are no different."
All programming and support are covered at no cost by Butt and other philanthropic supporters at an estimated cost of $6 million per district. When not being used for Holdsworth programming, the campus serves as a private event venue, with revenue benefitting the center.
"As we begin the multi-year effort to recover from the impacts of COVID-19 across the state, educators are facing an extraordinary moment," President Lindsay Whorton said in a statement. "It will demand incredible leadership, and we are honored to invest in educators at such a critical time."
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.