BartonPlace Approved by City, To Begin Construction

BartonPlace, a planned 270-unit condo project behind Austin Java on Barton Springs Road, received final city council approval yesterday.

According to the developers, the project has taken deposits on approximately 80 of their units with a combined value of $40 million. With decent pre-sales, the project has been able to secure financing for the project from IBC Bank in Austin -- clearing the biggest hurdle to a new project and setting them up to begin construction in the next 30 days. The project is being developed behind Austin Java on Barton Springs road.

BartonPlace Barton Place Condo Project Austin Barton Springs

The project includes one, two, and three bedroom units starting at $263,000 for 683 feet. With a prime location close to downtown and next to Barton Springs pool and park, the project will is in a great location and well priced. As we have seen with many of the downtown projects, the lower the price, the higher the demand. Projects like 360 with many units under $400K have sold very quickly.

The following story from the Austin Business Journal includes additional details:

Construction should begin within 30 days on BartonPlace, which has already generated $40 million in presales.The development team has signed a private agreement with the Zilker Neighborhood Association limiting the development of the portion of the property that fronts Barton Springs Road in order to preserve the local businesses that make up Austin's "Restaurant Row." The developers are also pledging a $500,000 cash contribution for a local nonprofit to provide affordable housing in the area, and will be aim to meet a 3-star green building standard.

Another Condo Project in Trouble

Last April, developers announced a 4-story, 27 unit development on Barton Springs just east of Lamar adjacent to the train tracks, McDonalds, and Peter Pan Mini Golf. With pricing starting at $1,000,000, are original reaction was that "the project is a very odd combination of location and pricing that suggests a lack of experience in residential development." At the high end, the units were priced at $900 / SF making this the most expensive development in Austin.

155 Barton Springs South Austin Condo Project

Today we learned that ground-breaking for 1155 Barton Springs has in fact been delayed. With tough times in the credit markets, it is getting tougher to sell even the best conceived projects, While strong projects are finding success South of the river, they are succeeding by combining prime locations with prices far below those of the large downtown high-rises. 1155 Barton Springs attempted to combine ultra-luxury with a low-rise "B" grade location -- a tough sell in this market. While the views are great, top dollar projects need to be perfect, which is not the case with 1155 Barton Springs. While the project is delayed and not canceled, it is clear that the developers have a tough road ahead.

Here are additional details from the Statesman:

Groundbreaking has been delayed for the condo project called 1155 Barton Springs, which is destined to replace the long-vacant Treehouse restaurant and nightclub at Dawson and Barton Springs Road.Developers Elisabeth and Steffen Waltz and their partners had hoped to start construction on the project by the end of 2007. But yesterday, Elisabeth Waltz wrote in an email:“These times seem to call for a measured approach. It may take us a few more months to start construction; we will start when we have 50% or more of the residences sold. (Personally, having been a real estate broker for many years, I would prefer all of them pre-sold).”In addition, she said all floor plans are “custom-designed to reflect the buyers’ input and lifestyle. The reservations currently in place are the result of close cooperation between buyers, our office and the architects. This takes a bit longer that selecting a pre-designed unit but seems to really please the owners.”And having happy owners is especially important when they’ll be shelling out anywhere from $1 million to $4.3 million for the 27 units, which will range in size from 1,670 square feet to 4,500 square feet.And although it’s located next to a railroad track, the Waltzes have said the building’s concrete and sound-proofing insulation will minimize noise from the railroad. Waltz said in her email that, although she originally wanted the Treehouse building demolished as soon as possible, it actually has “proven useful.”” It gives me the opportunity to show the view from the first floor and also listen to the trains go by. Everyone is amazed on how little impact the train will have, if any. It moves very, very slowly in anticipation of the upcoming 90-degree turn across the lake.”

New: Austonian Listings Added to

The Austonian is one of the most luxurious and desirable downtown projects currently under development. With an unusually secretive sales process, details on pricing and sales have been hard to come by.

Over the last few weeks, many new details have become public as the project has begun to list a small number of unsold units on the Austin Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Starting today, we have added these listings to the AustinTowers Listings page. The new Austonian Listings can be found here.

The 4 listied units (as well as a fifth on the Gottesman Residential site) show a broad range of prices for units, with the highest prices rightfully reserved for the units on the highest floors. The prices for listed units range from $559,000 to $1,855,000 for units ranging from 1,221 to 3,129 square feet. What the units have in common is that they are in an exclusive building with super-high-end finish out, appliances, and building amenities.

One of the most interesting details to emerge is the variance in pricing on a per square foot basis from unit to unit. For the five listed units, price per square foot varies from $458 / Square Foot to a whopping $830 / Square Foot for Unit 41Q, a 2,235 square foot 2 bedroom unit on the 41st floor.

The following new renderings provide an interesting glimpse into the the planned Austonian interiors:

Austonian Austin Condo Bathroom Rendering

Austonian Condo Media Room Rendering

Austonian Condo Kitchen Rendering

Austonian Dining Room Rendering

Austonian Condo Bedroom Rendering

Visit the new Austonian Listings and listings for more than a dozen other projects on the Listings page here.

New 70-story Condo Tower Planned for Brazos Street

T. Stacy & Associates, the developer of the bold 501 Congress multi-use project, announced a even bigger plan for the prime 5th and Congress site and a new lot that he now controls on Brazos and 5th.

The new project -- which will cover 1.5 prime downtown blocks - will include an 800 foot hotel and condo tower that will likely be 70 stories tall. By far the tallest building in Austin, the building would rise more than 120 feet taller than the 56-story Austonian, currently the tallest planned downtown building. As part of the project, a smaller office building will be built at 501 Congress. The proposed office tower would likely rise 30-stories above Congress avenue.

We'll publish renderings and additional details as they become available.

Here is the summary from the Austin Business Journal:

"More than three years after Austin developer Tom Stacy and a Chicago partner company purchased the building at 501 Congress Ave. and unveiled plans for a dramatic multiuse tower on the site, the deal has grown much larger, incorporating one-and-a-half city blocks, two soaring towers and an estimated $500 million investment.Stacy's company, T. Stacy & Associates Inc., and Walton Street Capital now plan a 500,000-square-foot office and retail tower at 501 Congress that would be slightly taller than the 26-story Bank of America Center building the partnership owns at 515 Congress next door. The group is also plotting a hotel and condo tower at the corner of Brazos and Fifth streets that would rise more than 800 feet, making it by far the tallest building in Austin and the sixth-tallest in Texas.Stacy and Walton Street had initially proposed a 700-foot-tall tower at 501 Congress -- with a hotel, condos, office and other uses -- that would have been the tallest in Austin. But when the group finalized the purchase late last year of the Littlefield Garage just east of 501 Congress fronting Fifth Street, plans were reworked."

New Renderings of AMOA Museum Tower

As we have reported, the Austin Museum of Art this week announced a new project which would combine an 40,000 square foot museum facility with an adjacent 425,000 feet of commercial office space in a new 465,000 square foot project on the AMOA-owned site

Today, AMOA unveiled a rendering and site plan of for their new multi-purpose development across from Republic Square Park. The rendering of the new tower and museum shows the project as envisioned by AMOA's world renown architecture firm, Pelli Clark Pelli:

AMOA Rendering Austin Museum of Art Tower Pelli Clarke Pelli

The museum also released the following site plan:

AMOA Austin Museum of Art Building Site Plan

The new museum and 30-story office tower will likely break ground in 2009 and open in 2011.

18-Story Westin to be Built in Warehouse District

Reviving long dormant plans, a San Antonio firm now plans a 300-room Westin Hotel on the site of the former Bitter End Restaurant and a parking lot at West Third and Colorado Streets.

The 18-Story hotel will be designed by Lake|Flato Architects, one of Texas' most unique and prominent architectural firms and the winner of the American Institute of Architect's (AIA) prestigious National Firm Award in 2004. Lake|Flato is based in San Antonio and has completed many central Texas projects including the Hotel San Jose on South Congress Avenue. Apparently, Lake|Flato won a national competition to design the new "3rd & Colorado" hotel and has committed to create an original Austin-focused hotel project.

The hotel will include a ground-floor lobby and street-front restaurant. There will be a bar and pool on the 3rd floor overlooking Third Street and the warehouse district. The project will seek green-building certification.

While downtown condo development has slowed, the downtown building boom has not. This is the second major project to be announced in the last week. With the momentum of the emerging second street district, it is likely that additional projects will continue to be announced to take advantage of his strong emerging downtown district.

While hotels may not be of much use to Austinites who actually live here, they play an important role in the downtown economy. Conventions and tourism are important economic engines for the city, and the number of downtown hotel rooms continues to limit the size of conventions that can be held in the City. In addition, hotel's dramatically increase the round-the-clock downtown population, providing a strong economic base for restaurants, nightlife, and bars.

Unlike the Marriott, which does not even seem to be designed by an architect, this project seems to be making a real effort to create a building that will add to downtown Austin environment.

Here are additional details from the Statesman:

A 300-room Westin Hotel is planned for downtown Austin’s Warehouse District, as a San Antonio development firm goes ahead with long-delayed plans.The 18-story hotel will replace the former Bitter End Restaurant and parking lot at West Third and Colorado streets, said John Beauchamp, vice president of acquisitions and development for Hixon Properties of San Antonio.Hixon, which bought the land several years ago, is teaming up with Hines, a Houston-based developer, on the project. Hines also is the developer of another new downtown project, a 30-story office tower to be built at West Fourth and Guadalupe streets. That project will include the new home of the Austin Museum of Arts.

Now Official, New AMOA Tower Details Emerge

As predicted, the Austin Museum of Art today announced new plans for their prime downtown lot. With the official announcement, additional details of the project emerged:

- Rather than building a single tower with a ground-floor museum, the project will include a free-standing 40,000 square foot museum and a separate 425,000 square foot 30-story office tower on the current lot at West Fourth & Guadalupe. The 40,000 museum project is much smaller than a previously planned 140,000 square foot facility but will more than double the museums current downtown space.

- Both projects will be designed by world-renowned architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli. The firm, known for projects such as the Petronas Towers, was started by Cesar Pelli who also served as the Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. Pelli Clarke Pelli was also the architect of record for the now dormant 5th & Congress multi-use project.

- The museum building will cost $23 million

- 14 developers submitted proposals to partner with AMOA on development of the site

- Both buildings will break ground in 2009 for completion in 2011

- The project will likely further extend the bustling 2nd-street district by providing additional ground-floor retail and cultural facilities adjacent to AMLI and diagonally across the street from Block 21. The Museum will likely face Republic Park.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

Museum officials said the design of their new building is in a preliminary stage. However, they say they hope to include 10,000 square feet of galleries, 2,900 square feet of education and activity rooms, outdoor space for public sculpture and a front entrance opening to Republic Square. The design would also incorporate a possible future expansion, chiefly adding more stories to what is likely to be a two- or three-story museum.Ground is expected to be broken in 2009 with completion of both buildings projected for 2011.At 40,000 square feet, the proposed new museum would more than double the museum's existing space at 823 Congress Ave., where it rents the first floor of an office building. The museum, which has a $4.3 million annual budget, also has the historical 12-acre Laguna Gloria site in West Austin, which includes a restored 1916 villa that hosts small exhibitions and studio buildings for the museum's art school. The museum has a small permanent collection but mostly features traveling exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and photography.

New AMOA Tower Soon to be Announced

Between Republic Park on fourth street and the new AMLI tower on third street sits a run-down parking lot with a tumultuous history. For many years, the lot has been owned by the Austin Museum of Art (AMOA), a local art institution split between a storefront location on Congress Avenue and a mansion near 35th street and Mount Bonnell.

Over the years, AMOA has worked hard to build a permanent home on the downtown lot that has become one of the most choice central Austin parcels. First, they proposed a free-standing museum which was scratched after the technology bust of the late 1990's scuttled a $65 million capital campaign. In a second iteration, the museum partnered with local developer Tom Stacy in 2006 to build a museum & condo tower on the lot. The building was proposed as a 30-story condo tower to be designed by world-renowned Pelli Clarke Pelli architects. Sometime last year, likely after the summer credit crunch, that deal fell apart.

Now, in a third and hopefully final project, rumors suggest that AMOA is close to announcing a new project which would combine an 40,000 square foot museum facility with an adjacent 425,000 feet of commercial office space in a new 465,000 square foot project on the AMOA-owned site. This would be the first new downtown office project since the 33-story 525,000 square foot Frost Bank Tower was completed in 2004.

As Austin's downtown core develops, the best scenario is a natural balance of retail, residential, commercial, cultural institutions and hotels. With the condo boom of the last two years, the quantity of residential and retail space downtown has grown substantially. While the addition of downtown commercial capacity takes a bold investor, new downtown office space is a good thing for the city. When Cousins Properties announced plans for the speculative development of the Frost Bank Tower at the height of the tech bust, everyone thought they were crazy. Just a few years later, the sale of the project set a new texas record.

The best news about the AMOA tower is that it will finally create a major downtown art museum. With the adjacent Ballet and the new Austin City Limits venue on Block 21, there is new hope that this corner of downtown will also become a new cultural center for the city.

Here is the summary from today's Austin Business Journal:

Sources say AMOA is close to inking a deal with Hines Interests LP of Houston to develop the downtown block south of Republic Square Park owned by the museum.The towering project would likely feature about 400,000 square feet of office space, with about 80,000 square feet of that set aside for the museum's new digs. It's unclear whether or not the project would include a residential component as a previous incarnation did. But, if realized, it would be the first new office property in downtown Austin in four years since the opening of the Frost Bank Tower.AMOA, which has a total of 35 employees, has been housed on the ground floor of 823 Congress since 1995.

Statesman Article: Why Live Downtown?

The Statesman ran an interesting feature today on the downtown Austin condo market. It looked at many of the intangible benefits of downtown living. It makes the obvious point that downtown living is not for everyone, but that a vibrant urban core enhances the life of everyone.

The article summarizes the importance of the current wave of downtown development:

"As more people move downtown, the mushrooming rooftops will attract more retail, restaurants and amenities, and those in turn attract more people," Warshaw says. "This creates a feedback loop that will drive interest for many years, particularly when the city continues to invest in cultural and recreational amenities like Town Lake Park, a new central library and the new performing arts center."

With Austin noted for being a growing mecca for the so-called creative class, "the more options people have in terms of housing, the more successful you're going to be in attracting and retaining" top creative talent, Kelsey says. "It's a main component of what Austin's trying to do."

While the link lasts, the article can be found here

Forbes: Austin to Lead Nation in Economic Growth

There are a few factors that drive real estate prices higher in a normal market. At the top of the list are the performance of the local economy, job growth, and population growth.

While all of this is true in a normal market: today's real estate market is anything but normal. As many fewer people can now obtain loans -- some legitimately and some not -- and as borrowers with loans greater than $417K must now pay much higher interest rates due to market liquidity problems, the national real estate market remains highly stressed. Despite these problems, the Austin market seems to be performing quite well relative to just about everywhere else.

One reason for Austin's relative market strength is that the city skipped the boom that boosted many other national markets. As the national real estate market soared, Austin struggled to recover from the tech bust with its painful job losses and significant outbound migration. A recent report by Forbes points to another source of strength: in their opinion, Austin is expected to have strongest economic growth over the next few years of any of the top-100 metropolitan areas.

The bottom-line is that Austin's economy is expected to grow by 32% over the next five years. Not only is Austin booming, but it's growth rate is nearly 50% higher than #2 ranked Fort Myers, Florida. While economic growth is just one magic factor driving real estate prices, Austin's population is also expected to grow by an equally amazing 15%. While we all know that population growth is a double-edged sword: it's one of the strongest reasons to advocate development of a dense urban core. Over the long run, these factors provide a solid foundation for real estate price appreciation if and when the market does return to normal.

Here is a summary from the Forbes article:

To compile our list, we looked at all of the country's 363 metropolitan areas, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau has a geographic region with a "core urban area" of at least 50,000 people. Because many small metro areas are high growth--and because we wanted to show growth in large cities as well--we split the group into two classes: the largest 100 metro areas (with at least 528,000 people) and everyone else. We use projections run for us by Moody's to show growth in GMP between 2007-2012.

Of course, if one looks at economic growth in the country's largest 100 metros, the usual suspects jump to the top of the list. With an estimated 32% GMP growth from 2007-2012, Austin, Texas, is the winner for big metros. Atlanta, Seattle, Orlando, Houston and San Jose, Calif., also appear high on the list. What do they all have in common? They're tech hubs with proximity to universities and a healthy increase in population. Austin's population, for example, is expected to increase by nearly 15% by 2012, according to Moody's forecasts.

The full article and rankings can be found here.