Austonian Now Tallest Building in Austin

According to the Austonian, after 640 days of construction, tonight The Austonian will become the tallest structure in Austin at 571 feet. The next milestone comes in December when The Austonian's glass crown is installed. The 56-story building will reach 683 feet at that point making it the tallest residential building in the western United States. Amazingly -- for those who have looked up at the tower recently -- the building still has 112 feet to go. The picture below shows the pouring of the 51st floor. When completed, the tower will be 56 stories tall.

Austonian Austin Condo Construction

Austonian: Sweet Services for Visiting Guests

The Austonian is already the tallest building in Austin. It will have great views and a perfect location on second and Congress.While the project is somewhat pretentious, the Austonian team is working hard to differentiate the project through services. In their latest update, the project team has announced a unique catalog of services and amenities for hosting and entertaining guests.

First, formal dinners may be arranged in home or at the 55th-floor Austonian Club, which offers 360-degree views of downtown Austin, the Colorado River and the Texas Hill Country from the tallest building in the city. The Austonian Club has a private dining room for smaller affairs and a flexible space accommodating up to 200 people.

Rendering: The Austonian Club
Austonian Austin Condo Club

In addition, there are additional outdoor entertaining options on the 10th floor Lawn, including outdoor kitchens, swanky private cabanas with flat-screen televisions and in-pool lounging areas. Indoor entertainment-geared amenities on the 10th floor include a billiard and game room outfitted and a 12-seat screening room.

Rendering: Austonian Cabana & Pool
Austonian Austin Condo Pool and Cabana

One of the great things about high-end downtown projects is that many include rooms for overnight guests. This is huge: it allows residents to purchase smaller units but to still host guests when they need to. In the case of the Austonian, four guest suites on the 10th floor have feature custom bedding, Egyptian cotton sheets, a flat-panel television, a refrigerator and both wired and wireless Internet access. Four separate private terraces offer views of the city and nearby Lady Bird Lake. The guest suites, like the other residences of the building, are supported by a team of Austonian Assistants providing personal service 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Suites may be reserved in advance; the only fee is a per-suite cleaning fee.

I am sure there will be more to come as the building nears completion . . .

Austonian Construction Progress
Austonian Construction Photo

EXCLUSIVE: Downtown Condo Market Surges

Over the last 8 weeks, the downtown condo market has taken a dramatic positive turn. After 20 tough months, buyers have begun snapping up units at a surprisingly strong pace.

While the MLS data shows 11 units having sold during May -- 2 less than last year -- the real story is much more dramatic. Since May 1, bargain hunters have put more than 40 units under contract at the Shore and another 20 in the Brazos Place auction. In addition, pre-sale units continue to move at the W and Spring. In fact, inventory numbers have dropped over the last month. If this rate continues, there could be a shortage of mid-price inventory by the end of the year.

As for the May MLS data, which does not include the Brazos Place transactions and does not yet include the Shore contracts, there was a 1% year-over-year increase in price per square foot and a 31% decrease in average days on market.

One-Month Sales Report


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May sales represented a surprisingly broad set of transactions with sales in Austin City Lofts, the Brown Building, Cambridge Condos, Milago, the Nokonah, Railyard condos, and three units in 360. The average price per square foot for the May 360 units was $360 per square foot.

While the 1-month data is inevitably a small sample, our 12-month rolling index echoes the trend, showing the lowest Average Days on Market reading of the year.

See the full AustinTowers | urbanspace Downtown Condo Market Index -- including the monthly sales and inventory reports and the 12-month rolling index here.


The Worst Condo Project Ever?

Some condo projects are better than others. After reading a story in the New York Times, I can safely say that the worst condo project in the country is not in Austin.

For the bargain price of $1,300 per square foot, you could own a piece of the Sheffield57, a 50-story condo conversion project on the west side of manhattan. At more than $400m, the original building purchase (prior to conversion) is supposedly the most expensive residential building sale ever. With the completion partially complete, you could own a $7M unit with $6,000 in monthly taxes and fees in what may be the worst condo project in the country.

How bad can a condo project be? Here are some facts about the project:

- One of the developers is accused of siphoning off $50m in development funds for personal use

- In retaliation, another developer hit the first developer in the head with a metal ice bucket during "a rather intense business meeting". He was arrested and charged for harassment and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to community service.

- After 2 years of marketing, only 40% of it's 597 units have been sold

- The condo owners are suing the developers

- Rental tenants (who have lived in the building since before it was converted) are suing claiming improper eviction and failure to maintain the building

- The developers are suing each other

- Unpaid contractors have placed liens against the individual units.

- The State Attorney General has halted future sales in the building

- The developers are in default on $100 million in loans

- The lenders are preparing to foreclose on the developers

- The developers failed to pay $5.4 million in common charges for the hundreds of units that they still own

- Tenants have reported severe structural defects including collapsed ceilings, extensive water leaks and damage, and asbestos contamination

While no project is perfect, Sheffield57 offers an important lesson to condo buyers. Condo projects are not always completed as marketed. The track record of the developers, their ability to meet their commitments, and the ability to deliver a quality product will determine the final value of a condo unit. While most projects turn out well, it's important to complete due diligence on the developers and commercial lenders. However, like any other speculative project, condo developments come with speculative risks that are difficult to completely eliminate.

3 Dead in UT-Area Apartment Construction Accident

In a very sad accident, three men died after scaffolding collapsed on the 11th floor of 21 Rio, a 21-story rental apartment complex rising in the West Campus neighborhood near UT.

The three men were standing on the scaffolding when part of the platform collapsed. The luxury student apartment complex is scheduled to open later this month.

Episcopal Church to Develop Downtown Block

The Episcopal Church has purchased the downtown block bounded by Seventh, Eighth, Trinity and Neches streets for $9.5 million. The national church organization plans to spend an additional $40 million to create a new complex to house its national archives.

When completed, the building will be as tall as 5 stories with 70,000 square feet of archive space, a garage, some public spaces, and limited ground floor retail. Since the block is in a capital view corridor, development is limited to no more than 75-feet. Because of the capital view restrictions, it was never a prime candidate for high-rise or condo development.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The Episcopal Church has bought a block in downtown Austin where it plans to build a facility to house its national archives and provide space for meetings, exhibits, research and other purposes.

The church purchased the block, now a parking lot bounded by Seventh, Eighth, Trinity and Neches streets, from Jimmy Nassour, an Austin real estate attorney. The purchase price was $9.5 million, said Mark Duffy, director of the Archives of the Episcopal Church.

The church, which borrowed against its endowment to buy the land, plans to launch a capital campaign next year to raise money to repay that loan and pay for the new facility. The cost of the project, which is in the "very preliminary" planning stages, will be almost $40 million, Duffy said.

The building probably will be five stories, with up to 70,000 square feet and a garage with some public spaces. Duffy said the start of construction is at least two years away.

In addition to archives and meeting space, the building will be a place "for Episcopalians nationally to gather and to study, reflect on and feel proud of their heritage," Duffy said.

"The idea is to build something that will be a visible presence for the Episcopal Church in the community, as well as a place where church members and the public can explore issues of vital importance to the church today," Duffy said.

Austin Leads Nation in Job Growth - AGAIN!

This just in: Austin led the nation's big city job markets for the third month in a row. In fact, Austin was the ONLY large metropolitan area to add jobs between April 2008 and April 2009. With 3,400 new jobs, Austin employment grew at 0.4% during the period.

Since job growth is one of the strongest drivers of real estate values, it is a positive development for Austin's downtown condo market and for broader home sales and prices.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

By adding 3,400 jobs, Austin was not only ranked #1 but the only metropolitan area

The Austin area was the nation’s strongest big-city job market last month, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the 38 metro areas with a workforce of at least 750,000, Austin was the only one that gained jobs from April 2008 to April 2009, the bureau said. It was the third month in a row that Austin had earned that distinction.

Austin added 3,400 jobs in that period, a 0.4 percent gain, during that period.

Among other technology hubs, the Silicon Valley area lost jobs at a 4.4 percent annual rate in April. Portland, Ore., was down 4.7 percent, Seattle was down 3.4 percent and Raleigh, N.C., was down 3.3 percent.

Some smaller cities also racked up gains, including Midland, up 2.2 percent, and Odessa, up 2.9 percent.

The Ugly Side of Downtown Austin

The shooting of 8 people last Thursday night outside a downtown nightclub was an anomaly for Austin. The terrible incident at Spiros nightclub, however, brought to light the problems that come with the vibrant alcohol-driven nightlife on sixth street and the surrounding blocks.

After the incident, the Austin Police Department released an amazing set of statistics on Spiros nightclub:

- Since 2008, the police have responded to calls at Spiros 172 times
- Since November 2007, there have been 115 known thefts within 500 feet of the club
- During the same period, there have been 47 reported burglaries within 500 feet
- There have been 25 aggravated assaults in the immediate vicinity of the club
- There have been 7 assaults on a peace officer at the club
- APD reports 95 instances of possession of controlled substances, dangerous drugs, and marijuana

While Spiros may be one of the worst offenders -- the City is now trying to shut the club down -- it is an example of the ugly side of downtown. While the live music scene is one of the City's cultural crown jewels, the best clubs are joined by more problematic venues. As in New Orleans and San Diego and Nashville, the combination of music, youth, and alcohol means that nightlife and crime often go hand in hand. That said, it is worth noting that no major downtown condo projects are in the immediate vicinity of Spiros and the worst 6th street crime.