The Big Roundup: Our Austin Condo Market Update

Tonight, as the lucky future owners of 430 condo units at the 360 celebrate, the building has come alive with a 44-story vertical line culminating in a lit tower that is now the tallest structure in downtown Austin.

With a waiting list of 215 units, a list equal to 50% of the actual units in the building, the 360 has been an amazing success. Novare, the developer, hit the perfect combination of early timing, a great location, and an affordably-priced units.

With a major project completed, and a long list of people waiting for affordable downtown housing, it's a good time to take stock of other activity downtown:

- With their success with 360, Novare Group is on track for their next two towers -- Block 51 & 52 -- on the site of the downtown post office and an adjacent block on 5th street just North of Republic Square. These projects will add an amazing 900 condo units in 37 and 40 floor towers which should be completed by 2012. In fact construction will begin on the 37-floor tower in as little as 60 days. Novare is looking to repeat the model for 360 with a large number of affordably-priced units. However, with increases in downtown construction costs, the new Novare projects will inevitably be more expensive than the units in 360.

- The W Hotel & Residences, Four Seasons Residences, and Austonian -- all luxury projects -- are all proceeding quite well with construction as is the upscale Spring tower next to Whole Foods.

- The 34-story 7Rio Tower (AKA "CLB Unnamed" and "7th & Rio Grande" -- this is the first time we've heard this name) has bee so quiet that we had assumed it was dead (we moved it to "Pending" many months ago). According to the developers, they are still hoping to move forward and are aiming for a ground-breaking in Fall of 2009.

- 1115 Barton Springs, which have also labeled pending, is 30% slowed and slowly moving towards the 50% mark at which point they hope to begin construction. A smaller project with very expensive units, this project may have a difficult time getting built.

- Work has been suspended at La Vista on Lavaca at 1701 Lavaca St. for unknown reasons but is supposedly set to resume soon.

- According to the Statesman, groundbreaking on The Park, an office/condominium project at 801 Barton Springs Road, has been postponed to late 2009 for zoning reasons.

- The city is moving forward with the development of Seaholm and the Green Water Treament Plant - projects which will add a large number of affordable downtown units.

Shore, 360 Open to Residents

Over the last five years, Austin has experienced an unprecedented condo building boom. With many projects underway, the first two in the current wave are nearing completion.

This week, the 44-story 360 is throwing a massive party to celebrate the building's opening. Soon after the party, the first units will open. Over the next few months, the sold out project will be fully completed and all 430 units will be occupied. In addition to selling all units, the project's waiting list remains long. Like most projects, 360 is being completed sequentially starting from the bottom and working towards the top. As the building grows taller, work begins on the interiors of the lower floors. With it's opening, 360 becomes the tallest building in Austin - surpassing the height of the Frost Bank Tower by 50 feet.

In addition, The 23-floor Shore on Davis Street in the southeast quadrant is also nearing completion. Over the last few weeks, residents have begun to move in.

With the completion of 360 and the Shore, there will be as many as 1,000 new residents living in 622 new downtown condo units. While many additional condo projects are planned -- both of these projects are essentially sold out. If you are looking for a new downtown condo unit, at this point you will likely have to wait until the next round of units hits the market in 2009. That said, there are at least 2 listings on MLS for units in the Shore and likely a few more that will hit the market soon.

The Next Big Downtown Change: 5 Proposals for Green Water Treatment Site Revealed

This week, five proposals were released for the redevelopment of the sweeping Green Water Treatment Plant site between Seaholm and the Second Street District.

Nestled between Whole Foods, Ladybird Lake, Seaholm, Austin Music Hall, and the 2nd Street District is the City's oldest sewage treatment plant - the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant - which began purifying water from Ladybird lake in 1925. The plant covers 6 acres across 4 city blocks. In addition to using a key tract of land to process water using 1920's technology, the plant also serves to disrupt the natural grid of the city -- it stops second street at its west end and blocks Nueces and Rio Grande from reaching Cesar Chavez.

The Green site offers an incredible development opportunity. With four downtown blocks, it is a huge chunk of land. The location is perfect -- it is on the lake and adjacent to both the hot second street district and the future Seaholm multi-use development. The site is free of Capital View Corridor restrictions, although portions of the site close to the lake are limited to 45 feet in height.

The plant, which is located between Cesar Chavez and Third streets between Seaholm and San Antonio is about to be decommissioned to make way for a new development. This week, the city released basic details on five proposals for redevelopment of the site. Once complete, the new development will likely add retail, housing, and office space while filling in the missing streets on the city grid.

Here are sample renderings from each of the proposals. It's an amazing set, they provide a vision of an important new urban district near the center of downtown Austin:






No matter who wins, here are some of the changes that are likely in store for the site when construction begins in 2010 or 2011:

- About 1,000 new apartments and condominiums including many affordably-priced units. While there are many condo and apartment projects currently under construction - and a few that have been cancelled -- demand remains very strong for central, affordable units. All proposals would include more than 100 units priced to be affordable for a family earning approximately $57,000.

- Multiple high-rise towers with downtown retail and restaurant space which will expand the thriving 2nd Street District.

- Lots of office space -- an important part of the downtown mix that has been largely ignored by the current building boom.

- The various proposals include many interesting elements such as a large downtown H-E-B., a movie theater, a major bookstore, a senior assisted-living center, a waterfront park, large hotels

Here is a summary of the individual proposals from the Statesman:

The proposals made by Catellus Development, Forest City, Simmons Vedder Partners, Stratus Properties, Trammell Crow and their respective partners have some things in common. But each also has elements unique to its plan. "Each one of the five has something that is different from the others, that's distinct to that proposal," Council Member Brewster McCracken said. "It's really amazing."

Trammell Crow and partners Constructive Ventures and USAA Real Estate Co. propose the biggest and tallest buildings with the most parking. Their plan also includes the most diverse uses, with space for a 350,000-square-foot hotel and a 250-unit senior assisted living facility in addition to condos, apartments, offices and retail businesses. Five public gathering spaces could accommodate as many as 2,700 people.

Stratus Properties' proposal includes a two-story H-E-B grocery store, with H.E. Butt Grocery Co. serving as a limited partner in the project.

"We think H-E-B being a full-service grocery store is something everybody can afford, it helps every one of those retailers in the area and it makes residential more viable," said the team's attorney, Steve Drenner.

A movie theater and bookstore would also help drive more traffic to the Second Street retail district.

Stratus and partner AMLI Residential are proposing the largest number of rental units, which they say would let them offer housing in a greater range of prices, and they plan to offer medical office space not found downtown. Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, a partnership of Canyon Capital Realty Advisors and Magic Johnson Enterprises, is also a part of this team.

Simmons Vedder proposes a waterfront art park and four bridges over Shoal Creek, including two for pedestrians only.

This team, which includes Cotera + Reed Architects and Bury + Partners Engineering Solutions, also proposes to essentially turn the buildings into power plants by installing solar panels in the skins of its towers. It plans to use water collected from the condensation of air conditioners to flush the toilets.

Catellus Development has proposed a primarily residential project with 500,000 square feet of office space and nearly 200,000 square feet of retail. But the company is also offering to collaborate with city leaders and the community to develop a final master plan for the property that could differ significantly from its initial proposal.

"We're going to present something we think is really neat, dynamic, progressive and all of that, but with that said, if we are selected we're going to say, 'Let's go out and spend time and hear from the city what they really want and hear from stakeholders what they really want,' " Catellus President Greg Weaver said.

Forest City, which is partnering with Novare Group and Andrews Urban, emphasizes public spaces with a grand plaza at Second and Nueces streets complete with a fountain and transplanted moon tower. A grand staircase inspired by the Spanish Steps in Rome would connect the plaza to the trail along Shoal Creek, which would run from the Austin Energy site north of Third Street to Lady Bird Lake.

Financing in Hand, W Austin Hotel & Condos to Begin Construction on Monday

Stratus Properties announced that it closed financing for the massive $295 million Block 21 hotel-retail-condo project behind City Hall on Friday. Not wasting anytime, they plan to begin construction on the 36-story project on Monday.

No project has been subject to more speculation than the W Hotel & Residences. Over the last few months, rumors have swarmed that the project might not materialize. Despite strong pre-sales, it seemed that the large project might not be able to raise the financing required to break ground.

However, the developers have pulled it off. With groundbreaking in site, the Block 21 project will likely become the heart of downtown. Located on 2nd street directly behind City Hall, Block 21 fills an important street-front retail gap between the two AMLI projects. As Seaholm and the redeveloped Green Water Plant grow to become a vibrant corridor between Congress and Lamar just North of Ladybird Lake, the 2nd street district and Block 21 will be in the center of the action.

Once the W Hotel is completed in 2010 and the Condos completed in 2011, the project will also contain the 2,480-capacity venue for "Austin City Limits" as well as other restaurants, bars, and retail.

Owners of W Austin Residences will have full use of all the hotel's facilities as well as access to 24-hour room service, daily housekeeping service and concierge services, and a spa in the building. Whatever, Whenever service provides the closets thing to a personal butler: call them to shop for groceries, take a dog for a walk, fix a flat tire, of pick-up take out on your behalf.

With today's announcement, additional project details were revealed:

- The project will include 165 units, down from the originally planned 196 units. The change is reported to be the result of the combination of some units into larger condos.

- Just more than half, 85 of the 165 units, are under contract with nonrefundable 10% deposits.

- The average price of sold units is an amazingly high $1.1 million with prices ranging from the high $400,000s to more than $3 million.

- The project will have a significant economic impact, creating more than 1,000 jobs during construction and hundreds of new jobs when the project opens. The project is expected to provide the City with approximately $35 million in incremental taxes once it opens.

- It will take 30 months to build the hotel, for an expected fall 2010 completion, and 36 months for the last condominium to be finished, by about May 2011.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

With financing in place, construction is finally ready to begin Monday on a high-profile downtown development with a 36-story W hotel, condominiums and a new "Austin City Limits" venue.Joint-venture partner Stratus Properties Inc. closed Friday on financing for its Block 21 project, which will cost $295 million, up from an earlier estimate of $260 million.The higher costs are related to 70,000 square feet being added to the original project and a "modest increase" in building costs, Stratus chairman and CEO Beau Armstrong said.The financing paves the way for crews to arrive Monday to start excavation work for three levels of underground parking, Armstrong said. The entire project is expected to be completed in three years. . .But Armstrong said the "sheer magnitude of the project" and a highly challenging lending market altered the timetable. The city had the right to repurchase the property if Stratus didn't start construction by April 15 but gave Stratus an extension, he said."It's a tough time to borrow money now, no matter who you are," Armstrong said. And though, typically, construction loans aren't the hardest part of a deal to land, "because of the turmoil in the credit markets, it became a more difficult proposition," he said.Armstrong said that it also took time to get the necessary building and other permits from the city but that those are now in hand.

With Strong Sales, BartonPlace Construction Begins

Amid continuing market uncertainty, BartonPlace today announced that they have officially broken ground. With more than $45 million in earnest money on non-refundable contracts, BartonPlace is the latest project to confirm the strong market for well-conceived and affordable downtown housing.

BartonPlace, a 270 unit condo project on Barton Springs Road, 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. With construction underway, the project is expected to be ready for occupancy in late 2009.

Bartonplace Austin Condo Peojwct Barton Springs

Here is a summary from the Austin Business Journal:

A ceremonial groundbreaking was held today for the 270-unit BartonPlace condo project on Barton Springs Road.Constructive Ventures, the Austin-based group behind such developments as The Pedernales, 2124 and Saltillo Lofts, is developing BartonPlace in conjunction with local restaurateur Rick Engel. The project is going up near Engel's Austin Java restaurant on Barton Springs.Construction on the project designed by Dallas-based Boka Powell is expected to take 18 to 22 months.Perry Lorenz, one of the partners of Constructive Ventures, says the company has already collected $45 million in non-refundable earnest money contracts for units in the development."Our robust pre-construction sales show clearly that the condominium market in Austin remains very strong," says Lorenz. "The bottom line is that this is a great location in a solid market, and our team has the proven ability to deliver a unique, high-quality product here. BartonPlace will be a distinctively cool new Austin address."