Austin: The Fastest Growing City

If it feels like a zillion people are moving to Austin, it is because it is true. A recently published analysis of the rate of migration for the top 40 cities shows that Austin is going at roughly twice the rate of the second fastest city in the U.S. (Tampa). And while Austin is leading the pack, San Antonio is the third fastest growing City, Dallas is #7, and Houston is #12.


The rapid population growth of Austin make downtown development important: as thousands of people move to Austin, the City will need to choose between density and sprawl. Density is more efficient and more environmentally friendly. It also means less traffic. But the high costs of dense development and long-lead times for new projects make it difficult for downtown projects to keep up with downtown housing demand.

Two More 50-Story Towers Proposed

It's starting to feel like 2007 again. It's been five years since good economic times resulted in a wave of development that resulted in projects such as the Austonian, Four Seasons Residences, the Monarch, and Spring. In 2007, it seems that a new project was announced every couple of weeks. That's exactly what is happening right now.

Last week's big announcement was that two fifty story tourers could rise in the warehouse district. According to the statesman, The Sutton Co. wants to build the project on about two acres it has under contract bounded by Rainey and Driskill streets and East Avenue. The development would continue the transformation of a part of downtown where a new nightlife scene has emerged with the addition of numerous bars and restaurants. Together, the towers could have as many as 800 to 1,000 apartment and condominium units, along with hotel rooms in the first tower to break ground, said Mac Pike, a principal — along with Wally Scott — in the Sutton Co. The first tower, which Pike estimated would cost $75 million to $100 million to build, is at least a year to 18 months from breaking ground and would require a number of city approvals, he said.

It's key to note that financing has not been secured for the very ambitious project In addition, the project would require approval from the city's Historic Landmark Commission to knock down the houses on the site. It would also likely require additional special exemptions to build a project that tall on the Rainey street site. The developer does have a strong track record in the City "having converted older buildings into the Brazos Lofts in 1999, the Avenue Lofts in 2000 and, later, co-developing the Plaza Lofts, a new condo high-rise built in the early 2000s."

Two Towers Proposed for the Rainey Street Neighborhood

New Development Near 6th & Lamar

Add this to the very long list of planned projects downtown: "A new crop of development is about to sprout up on the western edge of downtown, bringing with it a proposed 493,000 square feet of office space, 70,000 square feet of retail and 370 apartments," the Austin Business Journal reports. The project includes the redevelopment of the KASE-KVET offices and 7th & Lamar near Book People shown below.


30-Story Office Tour to Rise in Warehouse District

When it comes to downtown Austin, almost everyone loves the Warehouse district. It's historic, iconic, and full of life. Its small scale is a nice counterbalance to the surrounding towers. The area, though much smaller than it used to be, is widely known and a common entertainment destination for residents and visitors.

So it will be mixed emotions that downtown dwellers will greet yesterday's news of a new 30-story shiny glass office tour planned for one of the key warehouse district blocks. The tower, which will certainly block many Austonian northwest views, will contain 18 stories of fancy offices on top of 12 stories of above-ground parking. The building is being developed by Cousins Properties which also developed the Frost Bank Tower just a couple of blocks away. Fortunately, the new building will not sport the same giant nose hair trimmer crown.

The building -- currently named "Colorado and Third" -- is planned for a parking lot site that was previously supposed to become a hotel. The lot, located on 3rd and Congress, is at a prime intersection connecting the warehouse district to the Second Street District.

The 30-Story "Colorado & Third" Project
Cousins Properties Colorado and Third Tower Austin

There is no doubt that the expansion of downtown Austin office inventory is essential to bringing more people downtown and to increase downtown destiny. According to the Statesman, "Cousins has filed for a zoning change with the city to build a tower with more square footage than current zoning would allow. Hendricks is presenting Cousins’ plans to brief the Downtown Commission on the project this afternoon. The commission is an advisory board that makes recommendations to the City Council on downtown policies and projects. Hendricks said two key factors are driving Cousins’ decision to add more office supply downtown, where office rents and occupancies are on the rise. About 80 percent of the leases for first-class office space downtown will come up for renewal between 2012 and 2016. In addition, the downtown office market is becoming increasingly diversified, with a growing number of technology companies choosing to locate in the central business district, pushing up the demand for space."

The project would include 6,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

This Sunday: Downtown Living Tour

If you are interested in living downtown, you should make sure to spend time on the 2012 Downtown Living Tour. This annual event is a fantastic showcase of homes located in Downtown Austin, and is put on by the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (it’s DANA’s only fundraiser, and helps keep the organization chugging throughout the rest of the year).  The tour is this Sunday, April 22, from 11AM to 5PM.
In addition to many great units in the major condo projects, you'll get to see the very amazing Graeber Residence, one of the few single family downtown residences.

Graeber Residence: Part of the 2012 Downtown Living Tour

Graeber Pool

The tour gets you access to just about every building that you should see:

- The Buttrey Building - 107 W. Sixth
- The Graeber Residence at 410 E. 6th Street
- 555
- The 360 Condominiums
- The Railyard Condominiums
- The Milago - PH08
- The Shore Condominiums
- The Residences at The W
- Towers of Town Lake
- The Four Seasons Residences (VIP only)
- The Speaker's Apartment at The Capitol (VIP Only)

You'll need tickets --- so visit for the full tour details and to buy tickets for Sunday.

Pasted Graphic

Green Redevelopment Tension Builds

Earlier this month, the City council delayed a key vote to approve the plan for Trammell Crow to develop the 4.4 acre Green Water Treatment Site. Now, pressure is building for the City to renegotiate the 4-year-old agreement to sell Trammell the prime downtown site for $42.4 million as part of the $500 million development proposal.

According to a lengthy editorial on the subject by the Austin American Statesman editorial board, "Under the 2008 proposal, Trammell Crow agreed to pay the city $42.4 million over several years to buy and transform the land, beating four other teams that submitted bids with an offer that 25 percent of rental housing it built on the land would be affordable. That meant that 80 of the planned 320 apartments would be rented to those who earn less than 80 percent of Austin's median family income and 240 apartments for more moderate incomes. Trammell Crow also proposed building a housing project for seniors. It would build many other features as part of its $500 million project, including offices, shops and restaurants, making it one of the biggest developments ever built downtown.

But that was not the deal city staffers brought back to the City Council earlier this month. That proposal increased the total number of apartments to 826, but decreased the percentage of affordable housing to 10 percent. That change would yield 87 affordable apartments. Five of those would be designated for low-income people, while the rest would go to people earning incomes of below $43,000 for a single person to just more than $60,000 for a family of four. Also, Trammell Crow is offering $250,000 for improvements to Shoal Creek near the Green site, $375,000 for public art, $150,000 for on-site music programs and discounted office space for nonprofit groups, among other things."

The Undeveloped Green Water Treatment Plant Site: Now Just a 4.4 Acre Fenced Lawn

The editorial also points out that the City shifted responsibility for construction of a $60 million underground parking garage from the City to the Developer, further increasing the development costs.

The bottom-line seems clear the market has accelerated dramatically over the last few years. Downtown land values continue to spike. There is more need than ever for affordable housing downtown. The 4.4 acre site -- one of the best downtown sites that will ever be developed -- requires the City to get the best deal possible. Since it's City-owned land, community pressure is building for the Council to look at increasing the cash payment for the site, increasing the about of affordable housing included within the project, and decreasing City costs by shifting as much development responsibility to the developer.

According to the Statesman, "The council has time to do that when it again takes up the Green proposal on April 26. If its goal is to get more or longer-term affordable housing, council members should be willing to pay for that with concessions or trade-offs in the proposed deal, given that Trammell Crow is paying market value for the land and building an underground parking garage. Perry Lorenz, who is working with Trammell Crow, said its intentions still are to build senior housing on the site. That is good; it should be spelled out in a new deal, as well. . . Certainly the city is wise to do business with the private sector regarding the sale of Green; as city property, it is not generating taxes or income. Trammell Crow estimates that when developed, the project will generate $112 million over 30 years in city property taxes. A previously adopted council policy would steer $67 million of that to the city budget for services such as parks and libraries and $45 million to a fund the city uses to build and renovate affordable housing across the city.

The Green deal offers a good opportunity to increase affordable housing downtown. It is public property, and there is value in having a downtown that is populated by people from different walks of life. But the city has to be willing to pay for that benefit on property that, when sold, will be in private hands."

Metered Parking: Good for Downtown Business

Six months ago, the City of Austin began charging drivers to park on downtown streets Thursday to Saturday night until midnight. Prior to the change, parking spots would fill-up early in evening -- or early in the weekend -- and spots would remain full all night. Now it's much easier to find downtown parking.

According to City, the result of the change has been an increase in parking capacity with room for as many as 6,000 more cars on downtown streets on most weekend nights. With the change, the City reports, long-term parking has moved into garages while short-term parking has stayed on the street. According to KXAN, "Now, people are about three times more likely to find a space on the street to park."

The additional parking may have boosted business revenue dousing the period, although it is difficult to attribute the corresponding rise in business revenue and taxes during the period to just one source.

Update: Green Water Treatment Redevelopment

Nearly four years ago, the City picked Trammell Crow to redevelop the 4.4 acre Green Water Treatment site on the Southwest end of downtown. Now, with the site finally cleared and ready fro construction, the $500 million project remains stalled as the City Council further deliberates on the planned land and development deal.

According to the Austin Business Journal, "Some residents are complaining that Trammell Crow's plan doesn't offer enough affordable housing and there are concerns being expressed about safety issues for construction workers. The downtown block of land at Cesar Chavez and San Antonio streets was appraised at $41 million. Under the agreement, Trammell Crow would purchase the land for $42.4 million over the course of a few years."

Renderings of the Proposed $500M Green Water Treatment Site Redevelopment

One of the major issues driving reconsideration of the project is Tramell Crow's reversal of its 2008 commitment to provide 320 units of affordable housing as part of the development. According to YNN, " Trammell Crow plans to lease 127 apartments below market rate for seven years so more families can afford to live downtown, which is fewer than the 320 units pitched to planners in 2008. "We want to go back over this project and make sure that we are getting the maximum return on our investment, that we are getting the levels of affordability and that they are staying affordable for more than just five years," Martinez said. Martinez says 40 percent of property taxes gained from Project Green will go to the city's affordable housing trust fund.

The City Council is now scheduled to vote on the project on April 26.

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Austin: Top Investment Market

According to and data from the National Association of Realtors, Austin is the second-best real estate investment market in the Country. Out of 146 markets analyzed nationwide, Austin placed second after Tucson, Arizona.

Austin ranks high for the potential for market appreciation and ability to generate financial returns through renting. With a very strong rental market, rapidly increasing rents, and low interest rates, more people are purchasing investment properties in Austin. According to the Austin Business Journal, "Austin’s potential for price growth is one of the best in the nation and the median list price of $229,500 is about 12 percent higher than a year ago."

The Top 10 Real Estate Investment Markets:

1. Tucson, Ariz.
2. Austin
3. Kansas City, Mo.
4. Baltimore
5. Fort Worth, Texas
6. Salt Lake City
7. San Jose, Calif.
8. Raleigh, N.C.
9. Milwaukee
10. St. Louis

With high downtown rents and low interest rates, an increasing number of buyers are looking to invest in downtown condos, funding the payments by renting the units out. While it is increasingly possible to make such investments "cash flow positive," many building restrict speculative purchases by limiting the ability to rent out units. Some buildings have special rental deeds which require larger deposits.

It's Official: Austin Growing Like Crazy

According to the Austin Business Journal, Austin is the second fastest growing urban area in the country.

"Austin experienced the second largest urban population growth over the last 10 years when compared to its peers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Among urbanized areas with populations of 1 million or more, Austin — with a growth rate of 51.1 percent — ranked behind Charlotte, N.C., which grew 64.6 percent from 2000 to 2010."


More information is available here.

Nokonah shows strong Price Appreciation, 360 Growth Flat

It's well known that the value of a condo is mostly determined by the value of the building. No matter what improvements you make to your Railyard condo unit, it will sell for less on a $/SF basis than a unit in the Austonian. For this reason, we've crunched our full-year 2011 data to see how various buildings performed in terms of realized pricing and appreciation over the last year. If you live downtown, view this as a handy guide to the likely value of your unit.

Here is what we learned:
- The most expensive projects are all new: the W ($620/SF), the Austonian ($557/SF), and Spring ($436 / SF).
- Units in the W averaged an insanely high $1.24M each
- 360, the largest downtown project, had the most annual sales at 46: almost one per week
- Greenwood saw the highest rate of year-over-year price appreciation at 16.8%, followed by the Nokonah at 15.9%.
- Two condo conversion projects, the Brown Building and Brazos Place, saw the largest yea-over-year price declines (-11.0% and -10.5% respectively)
- Greenwood, Towers on Town Lake and Sabine were the most affordable downtown projects and also some of the fastest appreciating
- The two biggest selling projects, 360 and Shore, saw relatively flat price appreciation
- Milago stood out as a high performer with solid sales volumes, price appreciation, and very rapid sales

Here is the full analysis:

2011 MLS Sales Result by Building: Price & Sales Trends
Avg $
2010 $/SF
Y/Y %
Avg SF
% Ask
W Austin Hotel & Residences






Spring Condo






360 Condominiums



Austin City Lofts



904 West



Shore A Condo



Brazos Lofts Condo Amd



Plaza Lofts



Five Fifty 05






Railyard Condo



Brown Building



Cambridge Condo



Brazos Place



Avenue Lofts



Sabine On 5th



Towers Town Lake






2011 MLS Sales Results by Building: Least and Most Expensive Units


Max $
W Austin Hotel & Residences






Spring Condo






360 Condominiums



Austin City Lofts



904 West



Shore A Condo



Brazos Lofts Condo Amd



Plaza Lofts



Five Fifty 05






Railyard Condo



Brown Building



Cambridge Condo



Brazos Place



Avenue Lofts



Sabine On 5th



Towers Town Lake






Exclusive: January & February Sales Fetch Higher Prices

We've updated the AustinTowers | urbanspace Downtown Austin Condo Market Index for January and February, 2012, and our seasonally neutral 12-month tracking index set four new records. With January and February sales included, the 12-month tracking index set records for the highest $/square foot ($336), average sales price ($405,503), newest units (avg 1997) and shortest average days on market (78.8) as well. When combined, the two months saw a 20% increase in condo sales in comparison to the same time period in 201.

January, 2012 Downtown Condo Sales
Avg. Price
Avg SF
Avg Year
% Ask




















YoY Change




February, 2012 Downtown Condo Sales


Avg. Price
Avg SF
Avg Year
% Ask




















YoY Change




One of the factors driving high sales values was the inclusion of two big dollar sales. One of these was another $2.3 million sale in the W and the latter was a $2.6 million sale in the Austonian, the most expensive unit recorded in MLS since we began tracking downtown sales 4-years ago. As a result, both months show significant improvements in price, $/SF, and size. Days on market continues to improve, showing increased strength in the downtown market. Sales also showed a shift toward higher price bands with 2 units sold for less than $200K, 5 units sold for $200K - $300K, 11 for $300K to $500K, 3 X for $500K to $1 million, and 3 for more than $1 million.

Top buildings during the two-month period were 360, Spring and Milago with 4 sales. The remaining sales were spread across 9 additional buildings. As usual, additional private sales -- which are not reflected in the MLS data -- continued to close at Spring, Four Seasons, the W and Austonian.

See the full index here.

Migration, Job Growth Likely to Push Real Estate Prices up

The factors that drive real estate appreciation are very well known: migration, job creation, low interest rates, and accessible credit drive price appreciation as long as supply isn't increasing equally rapidly. Over the next two years, Austin will see very strong migration and job creation in a low-interest rate environment with only small increases in the supply of housing. As a result, both rental rates and housing prices are expected to rise. In downtown Austin, where prices are already rapidly increasing, this trend should be particularly strong.

According to Employment Spectator, Austin will add more than 45,000 jobs in the next 2-years as well as 88,000 new residents swelling the metropolitan area population to more than 1.8 million by the end of 2013. Today, Apple alone announced plans to build a new $300M+ campus in Austin to hold 3,600 new employees.

According to the article, "Angelos Angelou, who published his firm’s 26th annual forecast on Thursday, the major drivers in job growth would be venture-backed startups, renovation of tech companies already functioning in the area, and a stronger real estate sector. To this would be the added the factor of immigration of skilled labor from other parts of the country infusing new blood in the local human resources pool.

Experts say that except a miss in 2009, Angelou’s economic reports for the past 26 years have been able to predict Austin’s economy with fair accuracy. The only miss of 2009 was, however, on a positive note as he predicted a job growth of only 2000 positions, while Austin outdid itself by adding 16, 000 new jobs against the prediction.

Point to note, is that Austin’s performance in employment growth has been quite poor in the last two fiscal years with a meager growth rate of 1.7 percent, while other cities in Texas had an average job growth rate of 2.3 percent. Last year, Austin added only 12, 800 jobs to the local economy."

In addition, "The report expects a spurt in real estate activities during 2012-13 with an estimated 8, 000 new apartment units and 14, 500 single-family dwellings.
Austin’s development is also expected along entertainment industry events including the unabated growth for South by Southwest festivals, the Austin City Limits music festival, and the city’s first Formula One auto race scheduled to launch in November. According to the report, only the Formula One event can have an economic impact of an additional $500 million annually."

Starting Today: Friday & Saturday Night MetroRail Service

Starting today, MetroRail trains will run on Friday and Saturday nights, ferrying people to and from downtown on a new evening schedule that runs from 4pm to midnight every weekend.

According to the article, "The city-funded service will begin March 23. But Capital Metro on its own dime will have late Friday and Saturday service for the two weekends prior, starting March 9. Like the ongoing service to come, the March 9 and March 16 Friday trains will run until midnight rather than stopping about 6:30 p.m. But the Saturday service March 10 and March 17 will begin much earlier than what will happen beginning March 24. For those first two weekends, because of expected heavy demand during the South-by-Southwest festivals, Capital Metro will run Saturday trains every 34 minutes from 10 a.m. to midnight. On March 24 and thereafter, the trains will run on 35-minute intervals starting at 4 p.m. and ending at midnight."

The Coming Transformation of South Lamar

So many areas of the City seem to be changing so fast. In addition to Seaholm, Green, and the Waller Creek area, multiple developers have proposed ambitious projects for the South Lamar corridor. South Austin development is clearly controversial, and a flood of new proposed apartments and retail will likely see considerable opposition.

According to the Austin Business Journal, "Six apartment projects are currently being planned or are under construction, adding nearly 1,700 apartments in the next few years. Areas where apartment complexes being planned include Sterzing Street and Barton Springs Road; 1717 Toomey Road; South Lamar Boulevard and Juliet Street; South Lamar Boulevard and Treadwell Street; 1219 S. Lamar Blvd.; 1500 S. Lamar Blvd., currently under construction."

In addition, developers have announced plans to redevelop the strip mall that houses the Alamo Drafthouse and Highball into a more-dense multiple use project.

StudioDWG Rendering of South Lamar Plaza

StudioDWG Rendering of South Lamar Plaza

StudioDWG Rendering of South Lamar Plaza

Furthermore, the Statesman reports that "two prime properties just south of Lady Bird Lake are on the market, including a parcel where developers planned to build luxury condominiums priced as high as $6 million.

The recession halted plans for the condo project that was to be built on Barton Springs Road just east of South Lamar Boulevard. The site housed the trendy Mackedrick's Treehouse restaurant and nightclub in the late 1970s and subsequently other venues, but the angular glass building has sat vacant on the 1.5-acre tract for a quarter-century.

Now, that land and the adjacent Park Terrace Apartments, a 65-unit complex that was built in 1962 and renovated in 2001, are being offered for sale. Brokerage firm ARA Central Texas is billing the parcel as "an unparalleled development opportunity" to own about 4 acres with unobstructed downtown views."

Previously, the treehouse restaurant and nightclub site were to house 1155 Barton Springs, a super high-end low-rise condo project adjacent to Peter Pan golf and the train tracks. The 27 units were originally priced at $1 - $6 million in a project that was often shown as a poster child of condo boom excess.

While there is strong demand for South Austin housing -- south Austin rents are among the highest in the City, often as high as downtown rents -- the south Austin neighborhoods remain many of the City's most iconic and resistant to change. Many people fear that further development and gentrification will damage the charm that makes the area so popular and eclectic. We will continue to track these developments as they proceed.

Hike & Bike Boardwalk Underfunded but Project will Proceed

According to the Statesman, "the boardwalk trail over and along Lady Bird Lake might cost at least $3.3 million more than estimates released for the 2010 City of Austin bond election that authorized the project. The city received eight bids for the work, all far exceeding the expected cost." Despite the significant projected cost overrun, the City remains committed to finding the funds to complete the popular downtown project.

The Hike and Bike Trail that runs alongside Ladybird Lake in downtown Austin is one of the City's most-valued recreational areas. 3,000 - 15,000 people use the trails each day to run, walk, bike, or relax. Unfortunately, the trail loop is incomplete: a 1.1 mile gap on the south shore on either side of I-35 is a problematic hole in a much-loved 10-mile loop. Ttrail users who venture East of Congress Avenue on the south shore "must divert onto the narrow sidewalk and travel along busy Riverside Drive, crossing 35 busy business entrances and other points of conflict and crossing 6 lanes of I-35 access roads to travel east or west and use the south side of the Trail."

Last year, the City passed $14.4 million in bonds to build a boardwalk in the lake to close the entire 1.1 mile gap. The bonds were contingent on a contribution of $3 million in private funds to be raised by the Trail Foundation. This week, the Trail foundation announced good news: they have quickly raised $2.4 million of the $3 million goal and are increasing the target to $5 million to fund additional trail improvements.

Renderings of the New Boardwalk
Proposed Hike and Bike Trail Boardwalk

According to the article, Howard Lazarus, director of the city's Public Works Department, said there are numerous options for coming up with the extra money — unspent bonds authorized in past elections, bonds that might be OK'd this November, short-term borrowing, even private donations — and that the project is not threatened. He said he anticipates settling on a source, or sources, for the extra money later this week, and that the city staff probably will make a contractor recommendation to the City Council by late March or early April. That would allow the project to begin construction by late May."

Aquatic Center, Water Slides, Lazy River Planned Downtown!

There are many downtown proposals that I look at and say: who thinks that is a good idea? And there a few that look interesting and that I hope work out well. The new downtown park proposal for Lamar Beach looks so crazy awesome that all I can say is that I would like for it to be done now.

If this gets built, it will transform downtown daytime fun with a beautiful mix of architecture, pools, water slides, diving boards, lazy rivers, ballparks, running trails, lakes, and natural landscaping. The renderings below tell the full story.

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center Water Slides

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

According to the Austin Business Journal, "More details have been obtained about the YMCA’s proposed public-private partnership for the Lamar Beach park area currently made up of the Town Lake Animal Center and ball fields north of Cesar Chavez between MoPac Expressway and Lamar Boulevard.

A team of architects, designers and engineers mostly from the Austin area worked with the YMCA and the city to come up with the concept of a sustainable multi-purpose park.

The YMCA is committed to raise $10 million to $15 million in capital for the project, estimated to cost $38 million to $42 million, said James Finck, president and CEO of the YMCA.

He said they hope to include $25 million to $30 million in funding for the project on the city’s 2012 bond initiative. . .

The aquatic center will be open to the public and operated by the YMCA.

The 29-lane, 70-meter pool should be welcome news for swim teams that have trouble finding space to meet.

“We can’t keep up with demand,” Finck said. He said the YMCA will continue using its indoor pools.

Additionally, there will be a recreational pool with water slides and a lazy river.

Plans for the surrounding facility include offices, a multipurpose room, retail and a cafe.

Also planned for the 35-acre site is a bio-filtration pond, a boardwalk, a trail that runs along the roof of the aquatics facilities building, a multipurpose field that could host concerts and events, bike lockers and restroom facilities. The current roadways will be connected along the north and more parking will be added."

Free: 2012 Downtown Austin Guide!

Every year, downtown residents anticipate the release of urbanspace's Urban Lifestyle and Residential Guide (Get it here for free). The 2012 edition was just released and includes profiles on more than 100 condo and rental projects near Austin's urban core. It is the most comprehensive list of cool places to live that we have seen. In addition, it includes hundreds of great urban spots across downtown and adjacent neighborhoods.

Through special arrangement with UrbanSpace, a free copy of the new guide will be sent to any AustinTowers reader who requests one. To get your copy of the guide -- click here. It's a great resource -- get one while they last!

2012 Downtown Austin Guide

You can get your free copy of the Guide here.

Waller Update: 9 Design Teams Selected

The redevelopment of Waller Creek will lead to a wholesale transformation of the East end of downtown. As a massive tunnel diverts floodwaters and removes the area from the floodplain, an independent conservancy is driving bold plans for redevelopment of the area. The first step is a design competition.

On Monday, The Waller Creek Conservancy announced the results of the first phase of "Design Waller Creek: A Competition." Out of 31 submissions, nine design teams were selected will continue on to the next stage of the competition. The goal is to pick a design team lead development of a master plan for Waller Creek redevelopment across the southeast corner of downtown.

Waller Creek As it Flows through Downtown

The lead design teams chosen by the independent jury to advance to Stage II includes a good selection of local and national design firms:

Burgos & Garrido Arquitectos and Miro Rivera Architects
Civitas and BIG New York City
CMG and Public Architecture
James Corner Field Operations and SHoP
!melk and Page Southerland Page
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Thomas Phifer & Partners
Stoss Landscape Urbanism and Saucier & Perrotte
Turenscape and Lake | Flato Architects
Workshop: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and Rogers Marvel Architects
In Stage II, the lead designers must assemble complete integrated design teams that are capable of executing the project. To assist in this effort, the Conservancy will host a networking session to provide an opportunity to local consultants and contractors, including small, women- and minority-owned and small, disadvantaged businesses, to meet with the nine lead design teams for potential opportunities to team up during Stage II of the competition. The networking event will be held February 28, 2012 at the Palm Door on 401 Sabine Street from 10 a.m. to noon.

The lead designers will decide who and which disciplines they choose to include, with a focus on the design phase as opposed to construction. The target audience for the networking session includes architects and landscape designers; civil, structural and MEP engineers; cost consultants; project/program management; urban planning and design, and specialty design consultants.

"Waller Creek presents a unique landscape challenge and we will see some incredible teams formed to respond to this challenge in the next phase," Stephanie Lee McDonald, executive director of the Waller Creek Conservancy, said. "This process, the first of its kind for Austin, has been thrilling and we are eager to see the work of the teams selected to advance to Stage II."

Exclusive: Full Year Analysis of 2011 Downtown Austin Condo Sales

The Annual AustinTowers | urbanspace Condo Sales Report
2011 Analysis: Downtown Austin Condo Sales

2011 showed new market strength as volumes, prices, and $/SF rose broadly across the market. With the addition of new, high-end inventory at the W and Austonian, the market saw increased breadth with more sales in mid and high-price bands. Sales were up 16% from 2010 and 74% over 2009.

With very few new condo units on the horizon, inventory is rapidly decreasing as more units are selling quickly at prices close to the asking price. By almost any measure, it's the strongest downtown Austin condo year in recent memory. If interest rates stay low and lending standards continue to return to more normal levels, 2012 should be a strong year for condo resale and condo values.

With new pricing records set throughout the year -- and a few big dollar unit sales --- the average condo price rose an amazing 13% to $388,157. During 2011, 195 downtown condo units sold -- not including additional non-MLS sales at the Austonian, W Residences, Four Seasons, and Spring -- for a record average of $329 / SF. Unit sizes were unchanged from last year and slightly newer, continuing a four year trend that has moved the average year of construction from 1983 in 2008 to 1996 today.

While the year ended strong, it is important to note that much of the increase in value, and a small part of the increase in volumes, comes from the expensive new units that sold in the big new projects. Not all existing buildings saw the same market average price appreciation: there were winners (Nokonah +16% $/SF, Milago +8%, Towers Town Lake +7%) and losers as well (Brown Building -11% $/SF, Brazos Place -11%, Cambridge Condos -8%). Buyer preferences seems to be favoring newer, nicer, taller buildings.

Downtown Condo Sales: 2008 - 2011


Avg. Price
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+ 3.7
- 27

A close look at the 168 recorded MLS transactions revealed the following highlights:

  • Once again, 360 was the downtown project with the most sales (46 this year, 38 last year)
  • 360 values, a good benchmark of the health of the market, were unchanged $377 / SF vs. $378 last year
  • The newest projects had the highest $/SF: $620 / SF at the W, $557 / SF at the Austonian, and $436 at Spring
  • The average time to sell a condo was 83-days, a 17-day decrease from 2010.
  • 7 units sold for $1 million or more during 2011 compared with 8 in 2010, 2 in 2009, and 1 in 2008.3 of these units -- including two priced over $2 million -- were in the W. There were 2 sales each in Austin City Lofts and the Nokonah. There were likely many more unreported non-mls $1+ million sales in the Austonian, W, and Four Seasons.
  • Despite a higher volume of sales, there were fewer values to be found. In 2011, only 27 units sold for less than $200,000 vs 38 units in 2010. The least expensive condo sold for $91,500.
  • Units sold the fastest in Greenwood (29 days) and Milago (31 days) and slowest in Plaza Lofts (260 days) and the W (156 days).

While 2011 far exceeded 2010 results, it is also worth noting that the market was stronger on almost every dimension than the peak market in 2008. As we look forward, it seems that 2012 will most likely be defined by a continuation of the trends that we have seen over the last year: constant inventory, slow but steady sales at the new high-end buildings, a sell-out at Spring, a reduction in inventory priced below $200K, and a broadening of the resale market for larger, more expensive units.

Over the next few weeks, we'll continue to provide detailed analysis of 2011 results, including a full analysis of building-by-building performance.

New 23-Story Rainey Street Apartment Tower to Rise, Block Neighboring Views

Novare, the developer of 360 and the firm behind the recent acquisition of the downtown post office site, has announced plans for another downtown Austin apartment project.

The new 23-story tower will rise in the rapidly transforming Rainey Street neighborhood on a long-narrow site directly east of Milago and north of Legacy on Town Lake. The new project is likely to extensively block the views of residents in both units -- especially residents on the East side of Milago.

The project, to be named SkyHouse Austin, will be enormous, adding 320 apartments to the Rainey Street district. The development will also contain ground floor retail and restaurant space. The project will be designed by Atlanta-based Smallwood Reynolds Stewart Stewart Associations Inc.

Hopefully, the project will bring much-needed public-parking to the increasingly popular bar and restaurant district. Rainey street is one of the few corners of downtown that doesn't have a surplus of parking.

Exclusive: November and December Sales Set New Records!

We've updated the AustinTowers | urbanspace Downtown Austin Condo Market Index for November and December, 2011, and our seasonally neutral 12-month tracking index set four new records in each of the two months. With November and December sales included, the 12-month tracking index set records for the highest $/square foot ($329), average sales price ($388,157), and % of list (96.4%) as well as the lowest average days on market (83.4). However, after a long streak of increasing monthly sales, both November and December saw significant decreases in the absolute number of monthly sales.

Avg. Price
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Avg Year
% Ask
















YoY Change





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Avg Year
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YoY Change




One of the factors driving high sales values was the inclusion of two big dollar sales. One of these was a $2.35 million sale in the W, the most expensive unit recorded in MLS since we began tracking downtown sales 4-years ago. As a result, both months show significant improvements in price, $/SF, and size. Days on market continues to improve, showing increased strength in the downtown market. Sales also showed a shift toward higher price bands with 7 units sold for $200K - $300K, 5 for $300K to $500K, an amazing 8 for $500K to $1 million, and 2 for more than $1 million.

Top buildings during the two-month period were 360 with 7 sales and Spring & W which each had two sales. The remaining sales were spread across 7 additional buildings. As usual, additional private sales -- which are not reflected in the MLS data -- continued to close at Spring, Four Seasons, the W and Austonian.

See the full index here.

More Lady Bird Lake Improvements Planned

Lady Bird Lake may be the most-prized downtown destination. This week, a new grant was announced that will further improve the South Shore of the lake. The American Institute of Architects will contribute as much as $200,000 to improve the South shore of the lake.

According to the Austin Business Journal, "The areas around Lady Bird Lake that will benefit from the grant include the South Shore Central subdistrict, South First Street to the west, and East Bouldin Creek to the south and west."

USPS: No More Downtown Post Office

Last month, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it had come to agreement with Novare Group -- the developer of 360 -- to sell the current downtown post office site and to relocate the post office in early 2013. Novare is looking at building a new high-rise development on the current low-rise site.

Now, the U.S. Postal Service has confirmed the they will close the site next year and that they do not plan to open another downtown site. Once the site closes, downtown post office customers will need to go to the South Congress post office location for USPS service.

The downtown post office building may be the worst structure constructed downtown in the last century. It wastes a prime central block (Block 51) with an enormous elevated parking lot. It leaves all four sides devoid of retail, restaurants or cultural use. It places the structure in the middle of the block, far from the street and close to parked cars. It wastes a prime tall-building lot with a tiny 2 floor structure.

With mounting financial troubles and shifting demand for postal services, the USPS has been closing Post Office locations across the country. With the impending sale of the downtown site, it is no surprise that the USPS will not open a new site downtown. However, it is unfortunate that the growing pool of downtown residents -- many who do not own cars -- will no longer have a Post Office that they can walk to.

Sabine: the Next "Great Street"

Austin's great streets program has transformed second street into a prime downtown hub with wide sidewalks, rich landscaping, public art, controlled traffic, and crowded street cafes. Today, second street is a key destination for residents, tourists, and other visitors to downtown.

With the Waller Creek tunnel eliminating the flood plain on the East end of downtown, Sabine (the street between Red River and I-35) may be the next street to be transformed into a downtown destination.

According to the Statesman, the City is looking to transform Sabine "between East Fourth Street and East Seventh Street into a promenade that, according to a 2010 master plan for the Waller Creek district on downtown's east side, "can become a catalyst for the revitalization of the area."

Although the promenade details remain to be worked out, that master plan for Waller Creek, which meanders just east of this section of Sabine, anticipates that more than 55 feet of the street's existing 80 feet of right of way would be given over to broad sidewalks on each side, with a double row of trees on one side and a single row on the other.

The makeover would be similar to other "great streets" designs the city has done and continues to do elsewhere downtown, but this one would be oriented even more toward those on foot and on bikes."

Since much of Sabine Street is undeveloped -- there are plenty of parking lots -- the street redesign would create a foundation for developers to in the Area. The goal would be for the street work to be completed by 2014 to coincide with the completion of the Waller Creek Tunnel project. At that point, the Eastern end of downtown is likely to experience rapid and dramatic redevelopment as a large area is removed from the flood plain.