Very Expensive Barton Springs Living

Developers just announced plans to proceed with a 4-story, 27 unit development on Barton Springs just east of Lamar. The project is a very odd combination of location and pricing that suggests a lack of experience in residential development.

Here is the summary from the Statesman:

Now called 1155 Barton Springs, the project will consist of a four-story condominium building atop three levels of parking. The building will replace the long-vacant Treehouse restaurant and nightclub at Dawson and Barton Springs roads, which is next to a railroad track.Developers Elisabeth and Steffen Waltz and their partners plan to sell 27 condos for $1 million to $6 million each, well above the price range of the most expensive downtown-area condo projects announced to date.Skeptics may question the prices because of the location. But the developers say several factors set the project apart: It will have large units, from 1,600 square feet to more than 6,200 square feet. The grounds will be designed by the renowned landscape architectural firm Peter Walker & Partners of Berkeley, Calif.The building's concrete and sound-proofing insulation will minimize noise from the railroad.And its location near cultural and arts venues, including the future Long Center for the Performing Arts, is expected to appeal to arts patrons.

This project does not sound viable as planned. With prices starting at $625 / SF, it is 25% more expensive than the next highest price proposed project - the beautiful Pelli designed 5th & Congress project. And with a location on the south side of busy Barton Springs adjacent to the railroad, McDonalds, and Peter Pan mini golf, it's not a top location. And with units priced as high as $6 million, it's clear they have not done their research. There are almost no residential sales over the last five years of houses above $5 million -- that is a price point that just does not exist in Austin. Maybe, the Austonian can sell a crazy penthouse for $6 million - but it is not going to happen on the fourth floor of this project.

The Austonian: Crazy Luxury?

Today's Statesman brought to light new details on the planned 55-story Austonian:

The Austonian, the swanky 55-story condo tower planned for Second Street and Congress Avenue, is pulling out the stops on amenities. The bathrooms will have marble walls; the kitchens will have Italian cabinets and built-in cappuccino machines, and 54th floor lounge will have a catering kitchen. A 10th floor "urban garden" will include a lap pool, billiard room and outdoor movie screen. It also will have a dog park with a scented, self-cleaning doggie toilet — just the thing for pampered high-rise pooches. Prices will range from $550,000 to $3.8 million and higher than that for buyers who create a custom unit on the three highest floors. "We knew what the standard was, and we wanted to blow it out of the water," said Laura Gottesman, whose firm, Gottesman Windham Real Estate, is marketing the units.

The market remains unproven for super-high-end projects -- it will be interesting to see whether there is enough demand to make the Austonian successful.

How much does it cost to own a condo?

The price of a condo is only one component of the final cost. In addition, you'll need to think about monthly condo fees, property taxes, utilities, etc. The good news is that the price is relatively fixed: unlike owning a single family house, you won't need to worry about surprise maintenance projects like a new roof or new AC that can cost thousands of dollars.

Here are cost estimates for three size condo units in a new downtown high-rise development:

Typical 1-Bedroom Unit
Square Feet: 750
Price: $281,250
Monthly Payments:
Mortgage: $1517
Condo Fees: $255
Taxes: $592
Total: $2,364 / Month

Typical 2-Bedroom Unit
Square Feet: 1500
Price: $562,500
Monthly Payments:
Mortgage: $2,995
Condo Fees: $510
Taxes: $1,184
Total: $4,689 / Month

Typical 3-Bedroom Unit
Square Feet: 2,200
Price: $825,000
Monthly Payments:
Mortgage: $4,392
Condo Fees: $748
Taxes: $1,736
Total: $6,876 / Month

All of these cases assume a standard 30-year mortgage with 10-percent down and the balance financed. The cost assumes an average purchase price of $375 / SF and the monthly condo fees are calculated at $0.34 / sf. What does it add up to? Plan on spending about $3.15 / month per square foot to live in a typical downtown condo building.

How many downtowns does one city need?

A very unusual $1.5 billion development was announced today -- it is a 681 acre multi-use development with a movie and music theme that is being proposed on empty land east of the city, near the new Texas 130 highway. The project includes a 50,000 SF soundstage and recording studio, a 70,000 seat outdoor amphitheater, and production facilities for movie, TV, and video game makers. It is being pitched as a master planned community for the creative class. The project will also include about 8,500 housing units -- mostly single family houses.

The developers claim they are trying to create an alternative downtown. But unlike the Domain, which may have as many as 85,000 residents in a dense multi-use neighborhood, this project seems to be very low density. It's more like Riverplace or Circle C than downtown with an average of just 4 households per acre. The amphitheater is a nice idea: Austin is lacking such a large scale venue. But it may be hard to fill 70,000 seats in a metropolitan area of just over a million for anything other than a UT football game. The bottom-line is that this is an ambitious project that seems unique. It's not a new downtown and it's not the focus of this site, but it will be interesting to see if it gets built. $1.5 billion is a big investment for any city, it's an amazing sum for East Austin.

1,000 visitors!

After 11 weeks, we had our 1,000th unique visitor today! If you have been visiting the site but haven't completed the survey, please do. We keep the data very private -- but we look forward to publishing the combined results in a future posting!

Do Downtown Residents Work Downtown?

One of the big questions has always been whether the people who live downtown also work downtown, making them less dependent on cars. If so, downtown residents may need fewer cars and may become a core constituency for the public transportation system. With traffic an increasing problem, the more people who are able to bike or walk to work, the better. The results look positive.

Demographic analysis reveals the following facts about downtown residents:

- Less dependent on cars (60% drive to work v. 92% across Texas)
- High utilization of public transportation compared to Texans (14% take public transportation to work v. 2% across Texas)
- Crazy high walking / biking (19% bike or walk to work v. 3% across Texas)
- More work at home (7% work at home v. 3% across Texas)
- A quicker commute (16.3 minutes v. 20.8 minutes across Texas)

Who lives downtown?

If you are thinking of living downtown, who will be your neighbors? This posting attempts to answer that question by looking at the most recent census data for 78701. 78701 is the predominant downtown zip code: it includes the area between the lake and MLK blvd and between Lamar and I-35. Virtually every project covered by AustinTowers is within these boundaries. The data is very interesting, but be warned, the downtown market is changing fast and their is always a lag with demographic information -- so next year's information will be very different as thousands of new residents continue to migrate downtown. In 8 years, the downtown population is expected to grow by a factor of 5.

So who lives downtown?

- 4,322 people
- Not that many people ( just 4,322 at last count)
- Mostly Men (65% men and 35% women)
- Well Educated (52% have college degree v. 26% across Texas)
- Racially Diverse (61% white, 21% Hispanic, 9% African American, 3% Asian)
- Single, No kids (94% of households do not have kids, 22% households are married couples)
- Age groups without Kids (Lots of people 20-40 and over 70, very few people under 20)
- High Income ($55K per capita v. $21K across Texas)

See the full demographic profile here.

Huge Downtown Plot Available for Development

Thirteen prime acres in the Rainey street neighborhood - the district between Red River and I-35 south of Cesar Chavez - are for sale in one of the largest downtown real estate offerings ever. The owners who assembled 20+ individual parcels including a large section along the lake are hoping that a master developer will purchase the land for dense multi-use development.

This would make sense as there are already multiple projects under way in the area including the Hotel Van Zandt. Shore Condos, the Mexican American Cultural Center, and the recently completed Milago condominiums. The area was recently rezoned for dense development and is a prime location for residential and hotel development. Additional retail, commercial, and entertainment projects would extend the traditional downtown boundaries and accelerate the shifting center of gravity further to the south.

The land is particularly attractive because the entire Rainey Street neighborhood is outside of existing Capital View Corridors that limit development. With the new zoning, it is a prime area for tall and dense new construction. However, a number of single family house owners continue to hold on to their parcels and may fight future requests for variances, which may add risk to the purchase and for any buyer who is looking to create a larger "master planned" district in the mold of the successful 2nd street district to the West.