Waller Creek Project to Make Downtown Austin 11% Larger

For many years, downtown Austin visionaries have talked about the potential of Waller Creek and the adjacent floodplain that runs north to south though the East end of downtown. Through a massive tunnel project, work is underway to control the creek and thus remove a contiguous 28 acres from the floodplain, essentially increasing the size of downtown Austin by 11% by allowing development for the first time ever. Now, there is talk of a San Antonio-esque river walk or a string of parks to fill this amazing new space.

To this end, a new not-for-profit, the Waller Creek Conservancy, was founded in 2010 to help steward Waller Creek by playing a vital role in the preservation, redevelopment and maintenance of the creek's surrounding parks, nearby businesses, adjoining neighborhoods and community at large. The Conservancy was founded by Tom Meredith, former chief financial officer of Dell, Inc., Melba Whatley, who runs MDW Interests, a private oil, gas and real estate investment firm, and Melanie Barnes, a philanthropist and lawyer. (www.wallercreek.org).

This week, the Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin agreed to a unique public-private partnership with the goal of creating and implementing a master plan for downtown property that will be removed from the floodplain when the Waller Creek tunnel is complete.

The city and the Conservancy have each contributed $400,000 as seed funding for the effort, which is anticipated to be a 30-year project. The Waller Creek Conservancy anticipates raising about $60 million from private donors and foundations to fund the development and design of Waller Creek. The specific amount of funds raised will depend on the chosen design.

"Our purpose, simply put, is to serve as the steward of Waller Creek," Meredith, chairman of the Waller Creek Conservancy, said. "The only way to fulfill that goal is by playing a vital role in the preservation, maintenance and redevelopment of the creek and its surrounding parks, nearby businesses, adjoining neighborhoods and community at large."

Ground was broken on the Waller Creek tunnel in April. "The tunnel will finally provide what the area has needed—plumbing that will solve the flooding problems that have plagued landowners for years," Whatley, president of the Waller Creek Conservancy, said.
The 28-acre property to be master planned runs from about 15th Street down the Waller Creek watershed to Lady Bird Lake. It encompasses three existing parks—Palm, Waterloo, and Centennial—and can accommodate at least two additional parks. In addition, the property involves such diverse neighbors as: The University of Texas of Austin, the University Medical Center at Brackenridge, entertainment, housing, hospitality, business, retail, open space and recreational spaces. Much of the property is currently undeveloped because of the severe flooding issues.

"We have an opportunity to create a space for Austin that won't come along again in our lifetimes," Whatley said. Whatley said the Waller Creek Conservancy would work on and help fund such issues as financing, design and planning and implementation.
The Conservancy will work closely with the City of Austin to enact policies that support the implementation of a master plan while simultaneously launching an aggressive fundraising plan to finance the rehabilitation of the creek, three public parks and other public amenities.

"An important thing to note is while we're embarking on something Austin has yet to do on this scale, we're not reinventing the wheel," Barnes, secretary and treasurer of Waller Creek Conservancy, said. "We've carefully studied other conservancies that oversee places such as Central Park in New York, Millennium Park in Chicago and Discovery Green in Houston—and are using their success as a template for how we can accomplish similar objectives here in Austin."

The Conservancy will launch an international design competition in September to solicit concepts from teams of landscape architects, architects and artist. The competition, spearheaded by Portland, Oregon, architect Donald J. Stastny, FAIA FAICP FCIP, will assemble a jury of design professionals to narrow the field of entries to about eight contenders by November. The jury will then select approximately four finalists to be announced in December, and the winner will be announced in May 2012.

The Waller Creek tunnel is a $146.7-million project that has been 30 years in the planning. When it is completed in 2014, it will funnel floodwaters into Lady Bird Lake, freeing up about 11 percent of downtown Austin from the floodplain.

800 Foot 5th & Congress Super Tower to Return?

According to the Austin Business Journal, Tom Stacy (a veteran Austin developer) and Walton Street Capital (a $12B investment firm) are revitalizing plans for two dramatic downtown buildings on a key downtown block bound 5th and Congress.

According to the Report, "Developers are moving forward with plans for two new mixed-use towers and a parking garage downtown. . .The new towers are planned for the same block bound by Brazos and 5th Street, plus a half block across the street. Construction on the first phase — the parking garage — is slated for early 2012. Officials said in 2008 they would invest half a billion in the development. One building will be 500,000 square feet and slightly taller than the 26-story Bank of America building, they said at the time. The other was slated for a hotel and condo tower rising more than 800 feet, plus 1,000-car garage, previous reports said."

We reported extensively on the original project when it was first announced. Although the details are likely to change dramatically between the first proposal and anything built today, the original plans called for a 925,000 square feet mixed use building which would be the largest downtown Austin project at nearly twice the square feet of the Frost Bank Tower. The project (rendering below) was to be designed by the world-famous architecture firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli, who also designed the Petronas Towers, once the tallest buildings in the world, and the Museum of Modern Art and Museum Tower in New York City.

Original Rendering of 5th & Congress

The original plans called for the project to include 100,000 square feet of retail on the first three floors, 250 room luxury hotel and up to 350 "affordably priced" apartments and condominiums. While many of the details were still up in the air at the time the project was shelved, the project continued to grow in scale after its original proposal. The plans also included a 12-story parking garage one block away. The original building would have soared 110 feet above the Austonian to be the tallest building in Austin and was to include condos on the highest floors.

Will see what similarities exist between the original proposal and whatever new plans evolve for this very important downtown site.

Exclusive: March Condo Sales Fall, Prices Increase

After a super strong February, downtown Austin condo sales fell 28% in March from the prior year period. Last month, we asked whether strong February sales was a trend or an anomaly. With the data in, it seems that the market has not strengthened from last year. For the first quarter, 33 units were sold -- one more than during the same period in 2010.

We've updated the AustinTowers | urbanspace Downtown Austin Condo Market Index for March, 2011. During the month, sales decreased 28% fro the prior year period with 13 units recorded vs. 18 during March, 2010 and 14 in February of this year. Pricing was up 3% over 2010 with $/SF at $325 which is, however, $27 higher than the 12-month rolling average.

Avg. Price
Avg SF
Avg Year
% Ask












March was, however, a strong month for 360 sales. 5 of the 13 units sold were in 360 and they sold at an average of $359 / square foot. Two units sold in Brazos Place and Austin City Lofts. The remaining units were in the Shore, Plaza Lofts, Nokonah, and Milago. The most expensive unit transacted was a 2,747 square foot 2/2 in Austin City Lofts which sold for $1.08 million. Four units sold for more than $500K during the month and 2 units (both in Brazos Place) sold for less than $200K. For the first time in recent memory, all of the units sold were in buildings that were built or converted to condos in the last 10 years.

As usual, private sales -- which are not reflected in the MLS data -- continued to close at Spring, Four Seasons, the W, and the Austonian. January and February are typically slow months -- we'll watch closely as March results provide a clearer picture of the direction of the downtown Austin condo market -- and see if the acceleration is more than a one month trend.

See the full index here.

Exclusive: Building-by-Building Sales Analysis

We've received a few requests for detailed sales statistics by building. In response, we have re-run the 2010 MLS sales numbers to provide a more detailed picture of sales for all of the major condo projects -- at least all the projects that had at least two completed sales on MLS.

The statistics include the average price, price per square foot, size, sales price as a percentage of the asking price, and the average days on market. In addition, we've provided the sales statistics for the least expensive and most expensive unit sold in each project.

In 360, for example, 38 units sold on MLS in 2010 for an average price of $375,779 and an average $/SF of $378. Interestingly enough, the most expensive unit was a penthouse that sold for $1.45 million for 2,022 square feet or $717 / square foot. It's unusual to see such a high $/sf spread in a single project.

Here are the full building-by-building statistics for the top downtown Austin Condo projects:

360 Condominiums
38 units sold in 2010

Average Unit
Avg $: $375,779
$ / SF: $378
Avg SF: 960
% Ask: 96.9%
ADOM: 115

Least Expensive Unit
Min $ $240,000
SF 744
$/SF $323

Most Expensive Unit
Max $ $1,450,000
SF 2,022
$/SF $717

Austin City Lofts Amd
7 units sold in 2010

Average Unit
Avg $: $674,643
$ / SF: $373
Avg SF: 1,813
% Ask: 94.4%
ADOM: 100

Least Expensive Unit
Min $ $410,000
SF 1,482
$/SF $277

Most Expensive Unit
Max $ $1,050,000
SF 2,997
$/SF $350

Much more data after the jump!