WIN: Adaptive Reuse of Closed Former Emmet Elementary School Receives Funding

“The Austin community celebrated Wednesday as construction started on the $40.9 million Aspire Center, a business development hub.

“Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) and other officials broke ground on the site at 5500 W. Madison Ave. The center will be at the former Emmet Elementary School, which closed in 2013, and it’s expected to be done in 2024.

“The center will be an advanced manufacturing training center, business incubator, community hub and spot for events, according to a city news release. It’s expected to create 50 permanent jobs and be used to train 2,000 workers in the next five years, according to the city.

“The city signed off on $12.25 million in tax-increment financing for the center in mid-April, and the state is providing another $10 million for the project.

“The center is part of the Aspire Initiative, which is focused on investing in buildings and infrastructure in Austin to revitalize its housing stock, schools, businesses and more.

“The Aspire Initiative was created by Austin Coming Together and the Westside Health Authority to build upon the Austin Quality-of-Life plan. Planners have said the project could include amenities like a café, a financial service center and a grocery store.

“Darnell Shields, executive director of Austin Coming Together, said he was a student at Emmet and its closure was an erasure of the community’s history. He is excited to extend the school’s legacy in a different way, he said.

“The project’s architect is the Lamar Jackson Collaborative. West Side Health Authority and Austin Coming Together will co-manage the facility when it’s done.

“‘This project was more than just about writing checks and laying bricks,’ Lightfoot said. ‘Government alone can’t fix disinvestment, but we need partners in the private sector to do their part as well. If our neighborhoods are starving, we are not an equitable city.’

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