Shhhh! New Congress Tower Planned

According to city records, the owners of three vacant historic buildings on Congress Avenue between 9th and 10th street are planning to build a 16-story, 88,000 square foot office tower on the site. If successful, the project would commence construction in 2011 and open by Summer 2012.

According to a statement by Tucker Lynch, a representative of the site owners, in the Austin Business journal, “The owners told us to keep it as quiet as possible,” Lynch said. “We are just doing our feasibility. If it is not feasible, we won’t build.”

According to the Austin Business Journal, "Plans call for eight floors of office space, atop six floors of parking and one basement parking level, plus street retail. According to architecture drawings by Dallas-based HKS, the building will have a glass facade and a terraced set back at the 11th floor. The proposed building bumps right up to the height limit imposed in the Capitol View Corridor. The owner is applying for central urban redevelopment designation, or CURE, which exempts development from some building codes and permits greater heights for the sake of economic benefit. The site is currently zone for “Central Business District,” which allows for 88,000 square feet of development at the site and Lynch said his client is not seeking a density bonus."

The project is one of numerous towers currently in the works. Other projects include:

- A 15-story boutique hotel at 416 Congress Avenue
- Two 40-story Towers by Constructive Ventures on an Austin Energy Site near 2nd and San Antonio
- A 250 unit 28-story condo tower and an adjacent 16-story office tower on the 1.2 acre site bounded by Fifth, Sixth, San Antonio and Nueces streets by Novare, the developer of 360.
- A 15-story office tower with ground floor retail is being proposed for the north east corner of West Cesar Chavez Street and Lamar Boulevard by Capital City Partners

1155 Barton Springs Condo Project Files for Bankruptcy

In April of 2008, 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, our 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.

This week, the project, 1155 Barton Springs, filed for bankruptcy. According to the Austin Business Journal, "PPT Development is seeking Chapter 11 protection, filed at the end of May, claiming its assets and debts each range from $1 million to $10 million, according to records that did not include a complete list of creditors. The company’s largest creditor is San Antonio-based Overland Partners, the lead architect on the project, which is owed about $1 million, according to court records. Despite the setback, PPT Development LP principal Steffen Waltz said the $40 million development called 1155 Barton Springs is merely in hibernation, not dead."

155 Barton Springs South Austin Condo Project

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 any market. While the views are great, top dollar projects need to be perfect, which is not the case with 1155 Barton Springs.

According to the Austin Business Journal, "the 1155 Barton Springs project has been in the works under various names, including The Milan, since at least 2005. In April 2007, developers announced plans to break ground by that year’s end, with tenants moving in by mid-2009. There would be two portions of the project, they said, with one building on the north side of the property on the corner of Barton Springs and Dawson roads and three buildings toward the southern side. The 24 residential units, ranging from 1,600 to 6,200 square feet, would list for $1 million to $6 million each, according to the announcement."

Austonian, Four Seasons Prepare to Open

In downtown Austin, there are two classes of new condo projects. There are upscale projects like 360, Austin City Lofts, Milago, and the Nokonah. About a dozen of these projects have been completed over the decade and almost all are sold out at this point. Only Spring still has new units left to sell. These projects have sold well featuring mostly 1-2 bedroom units priced under $600K.

The second category includes the three super high-end projects now under development: the Austonian, the Four Seasons, and the W Hotel and Residences. These projects typically start around $600K and feature many units priced over $1 million. This is a new market for Austin, and the timing of construction has been difficult for the developers. All three projects are believed to be 40% - 60% sold at this point in time.

This month, two of these projects -- the Austonian and the Four Seasons -- will open and welcome their first residents. The W is scheduled to open in December. Between the three buildings, 501 new high-end units will hit the market this year:

- The Austonian begins welcoming residents next week. The 56-story, $250 million, 188-unit luxury condo tower is the tallest residential building west of the Mississippi.

- The Michael Graves-designed Four Seasons Residences opens later this month. The 32-story project features 148 units and a 32nd floor sundeck, fitness center, party room, catering kitchen, and resident library. The project also includes valet parking, a 24-hour concierge, in-room dining, housekeeping, and daily linen service through the hotel.

- The W will open in December. The $295 million 36-story project will include 252 hotel rooms, 165 condos, 35,000 square feet of office, retail and restaurant space and a new theater to host Austin City Limits on Second Street.

For these projects, the next few months will be essential. With many units yet to sell, developers are hoping that potential-residents will appear now that the projects are ready for occupancy. With the economy and real estate markets improving, sales activity has been picking up at all three projects. While developers have not announced any public discounts, this should be a good time to negotiate, especially for buyers who are willing to consider any of the three projects.

The Future of Downtown Austin: A Visual Tour of the Downtown Austin Plan

This evening, the City of Austin hosted a town hall meeting to review the Downtown Austin Plan -- the draft master plan for downtown Austin.

The purpose of the plan is to create a vision -- and policy framework -- for a vibrant downtown that becomes the region's core for work, play, shopping, and living. The 90-page plan and 93-slide summary presentation (they are fascinating -- get them here) include hundreds of ideas to improve downtown Austin. The ideas range from zoning and historical protections to transit solutions to requirements for store glass transparency.

To provide a quick overview of the very rich content, we have assembled a visual walk through of some of the most interesting content:

(1) The core and waterfront district is red -- this is the area analyzed in the Downtown Austin Plan.

(2) Even without active regulation, emerging land use patterns have effectively segmented downtown activity. In this diagram, pink represents the core employment zone; blue is commercial, entertainment and convention; and orange is residential. The dotted areas are pedestrian priority zones and the diagonal hatches represent sites with development opportunities.

(3) This heat map shows likelihood of redevelopment. Pink means that the site is pending redevelopment, green means near-term development is possible, yellow means long-term redevelopment is possible. Red means that development is unlikely. There are 62 properties > 1/4 block that can be redeveloped. These sites total 48 acres.

The Visual Tour Continues Here: