New Hotel Planned for Congress Ave!

For those who are counting, this is the fifth new downtown Austin tower announced in the last two weeks. Today's newly announced project is a 15-story boutique hotel with 60-70 rooms. It will be constructed on Congress Avenue between fourth and fifth streets across from the Frost Bank Tower.

The new hotel will be located at 416 Congress and will integrate the existing 1893 Congress Avenue facade
Congress Avenue Austin Boutique Hotel

The boutique hotel will integrate the 1893 Romanesque facade into a new 15-story tower to be designed by prominent Austin architect Dick Clark. The building will be 52,000 square feet and will not require any building variances for construction. The small size results from the small lot -- the average floor plate will be just 3,500 square feet or 50 by 70 feet.

Austin has a number of successful boutique hotels such as the Hotel San Jose on South Congress. 416 Congress will be the first downtown boutique hotel and an important development for Congress Avenue. Earlier this year, plans were cancelled for an unpopular Mariott mega hotel on Second and Congress.

The 416 Congress hotel is expected to open in 2012

Two More Austin Condo Skyscrapers Announced!!!

This has been a crazy week. First, the developers of 360 announced plans to develop two new downtown towers. Then, rumors surfaced that the Aquaterra project may be revived as a rental tower. Today, Constructive Ventures announced plans to build 425 new condos in two 400-500 foot towers on an Austin Energy site just West of 360 downtown. Together, these announcements may herald the beginning of a new downtown condo building boom.

The new project by the developers of Spring would include 425 condo units and 15,000 square feet of retail in two point towers on a 1.7 acre site adjacent to 360 and the decommissioned Green Water Treatment Plant downtown. The project would cost $220 million and construction would begin in 2013.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The City Council is set to vote today to authorize the city manager to sign a development agreement with a partnership of Constructive Ventures and Trammell Crow Co. to buy the tract for $14.5 million.

The community benefits from the project would include contributions for public art and $2.7 million for the city's affordable housing fund, the largest proposed payment from a developer for a project to date, said Rodney Gonzales, deputy director of the city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office.

"This is a really good chance for the city to convert an underutilized piece of downtown property into one that generates property and sales taxes for the city and brings forth a substantial contribution for the affordable housing trust fund," Gonzales said.

In 2008, the city chose a partnership of Trammell Crow, Constructive Ventures and USAA Real Estate Co. over four other teams to redevelop the Austin Energy site and the nearby 6-acre water treatment plant at West Cesar Chavez and San Antonio streets with a hotel, apartments, office and retail space.

Those projects are part of the city's grand plan to transform downtown's southwestern edge, including the former Seaholm Power Plant, into a lively, densely developed district. A new central library is also planned along Cesar Chavez.

The city is still negotiating a development agreement and purchase price on the Green site, Gonzales said.

The agreement says the soonest that Constructive Ventures could purchase the Austin Energy property is March 2013. The city must first relocate the control center, from which the entire Austin Energy electric grid is managed year-round.

Larry Warshaw, a principal with Constructive Ventures, said the condominium buildings would be so-called point towers — slender buildings on a wider base like the Spring condominium high-rise, of which he was a co-developer — and would soar between 400 and 500 feet.

"Financing will be the most likely factor dictating a start date," he said

Hilton Condo Owners Sue Over Quality Problems

Seven condo owners in the City-owned Hilton Hotel and 99 unit 5 Fifty Five condo project are suing the city-backed non-profit developer for noise problems and water leakage damage.

The impacted units are located under a catering kitchen that is reportedly loud and susceptible to water leaks into the units below.

According to the Statesman:

The condo owners are suing Austin Convention Enterprises. Tony Ciccone, the lawyer representing three of them, said the problems caught his clients by surprise because they were not allowed to tour sections of the building before their purchases and did not know that hotel plans included putting a banquet kitchen above residences.

Five of the condo owners suing the city say that chronic leaks from the kitchen, plus the noise from a service elevator and heavy carts thunking across the kitchen's tile floors at night, have made their units uninhabitable.

According to court filings, Linda Cartwright bought a unit in August 2006 and soon discovered water leaking in through her smoke alarm. A year later, Cartwright "returned from vacation to find her ceiling open and water openly running onto the floor of her unit," causing severe damage, the lawsuit says.

Gary and Rhonda Golden allege in their lawsuit that leaks and noise have ruined their two units, on the eighth and ninth floors.

The city has acknowledged some of the problems.

"Based on prior investigations ... it is obvious that the kitchen is causing the leaks" into condo units, according to a Jan. 8 letter from Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza to the condominium owners association.

The Hilton was developed by the City through a $110 million1998 bond issue. The convention center hotel was a key part of the City's strategy to strengthen the convention and tourism industries with a large anchor hotel. Such a hotel is required to lure larger events to the city. According to the City, the hotel has been a financial success, paying off its debt obligations at an accelerated rate.

The city owns 74.41 percent of the space inside the building while Condo owners collectively own 22.68 percent of the space. The remaining 2.91 percent is commercial space owned by Neches Street Partners. So far, the majority of complaints are related to the small number of units directly under the kitchen. It is not clear whether the units on upper floors suffer from similar construction issues. The complex ownership structure has made it difficult to address the issues by moving the kitchen.

The Hilton is not the first project to be sued by its condo owners. Last year, Sabine owners sued the developer for a variety of problems including noise and safety issues. The litigation was resolved when the developer agreed to make significant repairs and enhancements to resolve the issues.

360 Developer Planning Two New Austin Buildings!

Novare, the developer of 360, has announced preliminary plans for two new towers to rise one block west of the downtown post office. The new plans call for construction of 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.

The new project, to be called Ovation, replaces earlier plans for a larger 400-unit condo development on the same site. Novare's 360 was one of the largest and most successful downtown projects, selling out 430 units with strong pre-sales and minimal discounting.

One of the things that made 360 so successful was its combination of competitive pricing -- most units were $200K to $500K -- and design: it was desirable tall glass building on a great downtown site. In previous statements, Novare has implied that it plans to follow a similar mode for future downtown condo developments such as Ovation -- aiming to build desirable projects with entry-level pricing.

Since the completion of 360, Novare has flirted with development plans for the site as well as for an adjacent site that currently houses the downtown post office. Novare is currently working on plans to redevelop the post office in another location, allowing the company to purchase the prime and underutilized land and to develop that site as well.

According to the Statesman, the new "residential tower, called Ovation, is for 250 units with ground-level commercial space" and "the office tower would include a restaurant, bank and a parking garage with 567 spaces." In addition to the condo building, the plans call for "a 153,634-square-foot office building, a 5,000-square-foot "high-turnover" restaurant, 14,000 square feet of specialty retail and a 4,000-square-foot drive-through bank."

Novare has been clear that development plans were revised to better adjust to a changing local market and a changing financing market. It is the latter that has delayed the project and which continues to be an obstacle for its completion. However, as markets return to normal, the company is increasingly confident that it will be able to line up the support required to proceed.

Seaholm Development Update

More than 2 years ago, the city approved a master plan for the redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant site on Cesar Chavez near Lamar. The $117.2 million project, a partnership between the city and Southwest Strategies, is supposed to result in a 22-story hotel, 60 condo units, and 180,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

More than a decade in the works, the original plan was for the new project to begin construction in 2009 and to open in 2011 with the 150,000-square-foot decommissioned power plant as the centerpiece of the 7.8-acre property. Needless to say, the project is delayed.

While the project remains active, a variety of obstacles have prevented development from moving forward. In particular, the City is in prolonged negotiations with Union Pacific over development of portions of the lot which the railroad controls. Apparently, the company is concerned about dense development in the area immediately surrounding active railway lines. With a dramatic increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the tracks, the company is appropriately concerned about safety.

The second issue hindering construction is the slow development of a city-funded 315-space parking garage on an awkward corner of the site. The City, which already allocated $3.8 million for the project, must find a way to fit a large number of spaces into a small irregular site without building high. Since the site is within the Capital View Corridor, the height of the garage is limited to 40 feet.

Once these obstacles are overcome, the lot can be split and the private development of the site may proceed. For the private developers, however, there is another major obstacle: they have not raised the necessary funding to begin the project. In this tough environment -- and with two major proposed office buildings sucking up potential tenants -- financing will be no easy task.

Despite the obstacles, Seaholm remains one of the most desirable and important downtown development projects. While the economy and the difficult commercial financing environment pose serious challenges for any project, Seaholm has a high probability of completion once the obstacles have been resolved and the financing environment improves.

With offices, extensive retail, and more than 3 acres of open space, Seaholm will further shift the heart of downtown to the west once it is completed. While downtown life used to center around 6th street between Congress and red river, the warehouse district, 2nd street district, and Whole Foods have shifted the balance. With Seaholm, the downtown action will increasingly be centered between Congress, Lamar, 5th, and Town Lake.

The most dramatic part of the project is the redevelopment of the Seaholm facility itself. When complete, the historic art deco structure will include nearly 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants.