By Lindsey Carnett
New Braunfels Utilities is out of space and that has it looking to sell its main plaza location to build a new headquarters.
NBU has requested a special public workshop on Jan. 21 with members of the New Braunfels City Council, Historic Landmark Commission, New Braunfels Downtown Board and the Planning Commission to outline plans for the utility’s future facilities.
In February, NBU plans to seek city council approval to create an overlay district protecting the “historical integrity” of its downtown facility assuring the site’s future owner maintains the buildings’ history, NBU officials said. The overlay district would cover only NBU’s downtown buildings and parking lot.
“So (in 2018) we completed a facilities master plan, and the reason we completed that master plan is because we’re out of room at both the service center at FM 306 and at our headquarters, which is the office on the plaza,” said Ian Taylor, CEO of NBU.
Realizing they were out of space in 2017, NBU commissioned Merriam Pitt/Anderson, Inc. to conduct a master plan study, which concluded NBU had three options: to upgrade NBU’s main office and service center facilities; consolidate at the NBU service center; or develop a new combined campus. The latter option was recommended.
“We wanted to take a look at what our total headcount is for our workforce now and in the future — we wanted to look at the conditions of our existing facilities and talk about what it would mean to expand at each one, and then look at all the options we have available to us,” Taylor said. “And the option that came out as the most efficient and the best use of resources was to sell the office center on the plaza and the service center at FM 306 and build a new combined facility.”
In December of 2018, NBU’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution to explore the purchase of a 48.575 acres’ tract of property from New Braunfels ISD, located off Loop 337 adjacent to the NBU Trinity well field and treatment plant.
At the Sept. 26, 2019 board meeting, the trustees passed a resolution to purchase the property and NBU closed on the property in November for $3.64 million.
“Moving NBU facilities, staff, and assets is a major undertaking and one the NBU board of trustees and senior management team takes very seriously,” Taylor said. “The local utility company has anchored the corner of the Main Plaza since 1942. Through the decades, NBU, as the Main Plaza’s northeast anchor, has served as a trusted community steward. New Braunfels Utilities has had the privilege to watch the main plaza and entire downtown district grow and flourish.”
The selling of the main plaza office and construction of the new facility would happen on parallel tracks, Taylor said.
“We’re going to design and construct a new facility — that’s probably three years until we move in and then on a separate track is selling this property,” Taylor said. “So once the overlay district is established, then the next step will be for NBU to solicit proposals from developers who would want to buy the property and then make the selection on which is the appropriate one. Depending on how that schedule goes will determine when the actual closing happens on the property.”
NBU’s property consists of an entire corner of the plaza, and contains three buildings and an adjacent parking lot, Taylor said.
“The first is the one on the corner — it’s the one story building that is closest to the courthouse, and that building was built in 1930 as the original electric utilities building,” Taylor said. “It was bought by the city of New Braunfels in 1942, when the city commission created the New Braunfels Utilities board of trustees.”
The other historic building was once a part of the old Eiband and Fischer Store, and the third building connects the two and was completed in 1986, Taylor said.
Money from the sale of the downtown building would go to the utility and would be used to help fund the construction of the new facilities, Taylor said.
“We’ve taken a lot of time on this and really thought through it really carefully, and we really want to take the steps to do the right thing,” said Melissa Krause, executive director of communications and external affairs for NBU.
The utility consulted Douglas Architects on the project, the firm that has earned local renown for its work on the South Castell Avenue project.
“We asked them to take a look at property and determine highest and best use,” Taylor said.
Douglas suggested best use would be private. The plan is to put the property back on the tax rolls, and bring commerce to this corner of the plaza, Taylor said.
“One of the things Douglas Architects pointed out is that for downtown to expand and to grow and develop, it really goes one building at a time,” Taylor said.
Douglas suggested the overlay district, which is what NBU will present on Jan. 21.
“I’ll explain what it is we’re doing, why we need to move and then explain what it is we propose to include in an overlay district to protect the property,” Taylor said. “Once we have the joint meeting on the 21st … then we’ll have separate meetings with the (four city entities) individually, with the last one being with City Council.”
At the moment, NBU and city staff are working together on the presentation and explaining the overlay district, Taylor said.
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the New Braunfels Civic/Convention Center. It is open to the public.