Taco Cabana redevelopment on South Lamar enters third proposal

The Taco Cabana redevelopment, known as 211 Lamar, is upping its ante: betting on a nine story, 175-unit building, instead of a 135-unit, five story building as last envisioned by the developer.

This is the third public proposal for the site by the developer, which is a partnership between Post Investment Group of Los Angeles and Ascension Development of Dallas (pdf).

The new plan incorporates about 10,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, designed to take advantage of the curbside views of the lake, the Austin Business Journal reported earlier this month, including information that some space would be dedicated to the upcoming bicycle-sharing program, and three levels of hidden underground parking.


The Business Journal, which reported on the new plan Feb. 1, states that the developer wants to make it a condo project, instead of apartments. A Feb. 22 story in the Statesman refers to them only as apartments.

The plans for this site have changed quite a bit in the past 24 months, and now look to be a fallback from an initial plan that lacked financing. Initially, the developer planned a $40 million six-story hotel, with 12 condominiums on the hotel's top floors, with units priced in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, but said if it couldn't secure financing, it would go for apartments.

It is easier for builders to secure lending for rental units, versus condominium or hotel projects. However, many of the apartment complexes being built in and around the core of Austin are designed in such a way that at a later date, they can be converted into for-sale units.

Will Cureton, who was with CLB Partners when it was (formerly) developing the 7Rio project downtown and knows the Austin market, is the founder of Ascension, which makes up half of this developer team, so it’s safe to say there’s been a lot of thought put into this current, third, design/use.

We think the project would succeed as condos, a hotel, or apartments, all of which are experiencing unprecedented demand in Austin and will continue to.

This new plan is contingent on an up-zoning that will provide greater height scheduled for the Planning Commission March 12 and the City Council on March 28.

With some tongue-in-cheek fun, it’s worth pointing out that both recent newspaper stories are insinuating that the developer is holding a number of trees hostage in order to get the up-zoning approved.

The Statesman says that in “exchange” for zoning, the developer will be “saving some mature trees on site.” Meanwhile, the ABJ says: “The revised design also would preserve several stately trees along Riverside Drive, which would be removed if the rezoning is rejected.”

(We’re not even going to ask if those are Heritage Trees.)

Cypress Getting Ready to add to LakeShore Pearl along Lady Bird Lake

Rendering of Lakeshore Apartments courtesy of Big Red Dog

As the Lakeshore Pearl apartment construction wraps up on the south shore line next to Riverside Drive, Cypress Development is prepping the next phase of the Lakeshore PUD development.

The Lakeshore PUD is next door to, but distinctly separate from the SouthShore development, in case you’re confused.

Lakeshore overhead

The next phase of Lakeshore will be a 285,000-square-foot, 282-unit apartment complex, which includes five levels of parking the building will wrap. The site does have one heritage tree, which will be incorporated in the building design.

LakeShore Plot area

The Lakeshore development has been a slow burn, being announced just before the recession, stalling like other projects and changing hands with a number of civil engineering firms, before getting off the ground with Big Red Dog.

Some time ago, Lakeshore PUD development kicked off with construction began on the Lakeshore Pearl, a $20-$30 million project planned for 230 units along Elmont Drive off East Riverside, which is opening now with rents ranging from $800 to $2,300. We’ll expect a comparable rental cost for this development.


If anything, this development shows that Cypress is certainly keeping the pedal down on Austin multifamily development. In addition to the Lakeshore Pearl, there’s:

  • The University Park Apartments at the Concordia University site, next to St. David’s and I-35 downtown. Its 302 units, average rent of $1,529 a month, with a projected summer 2013 opening.
  • The Corazon TOD development on E. Fifth, next to the train station, which is 262 units with average rents of $1,500 a month. The project would include 13,300 square feet of retail-restaurant space.
  • The Lamar and Manchaca Apartments, which is 318 units, average rent of $1,350 a month, along with 11,700 square feet of retail. Cypress hopes to break ground in March.

Not to mention in 2011, City Council approved (pdf) a 707,414-square-foot mixed-use Cypress development at the 16.24-acre site of the vacant Cinemark Movie Theater adjacent to Barton Creek Square Mall.

It is a relief that Cypress is moving ahead with the Riverside development, even as City Council delays adopting the East Riverside Corridor Zoning Plan, apparently because the fast-food lobby is making a stink about drive-thru’s being barred in the plan. Hopefully, City Council makes good on plans to adopt the Riverside Plan this March 7 and put that silliness behind it.

IBC Bank Tower (Block 51) Set For March Groundbreaking After Delay


In June 2012, Endeavor gave us the first look at the IBC Bank building planned on Block 51 across the street north from the new federal courthouse, which is slated for 13 stories and 195,000 square feet of office (and a little restaurant) space.

When they did, the Statesman reported developers planned to break ground possibly by Christmas last year, which has come and went without fanfare at the site and as development has rolled steadily along in other sites around downtown.

While it’s probably safe to say the project is certifiably delayed, it is like a smoking volcano and certainly not dormant. Last month, the smoke started rising when the developer filed an application to occupy the right-of-way and remove existing power poles along 500 block of San Antonio Street and the alley; and bury telecommunication lines. That application indicates we should see some activity starting in March, and construction lasting through June 2014. (This crane placement diagram was also submitted)

Other clues hint that up to last month the developer and the city were still working on an approved traffic control plan and an erosion plan for site construction. However, just a week ago, a site plan correction presumably resolving these issues with the City was approved.

In one of the documents filed with the City, an engineer writes simply: “The saga continues.”

We’re glad to see this saga is having a happy ending.

Austin Towers, for one, couldn't be more excited for this project to get off the ground, and at the least for this dangerous building on the corner to be demolished.

500 block now

This rendering of the new of the building from the southeast, compared to what is there now, is simply gorgeous and Endeavor gets a hat tip for exceeding what it means to provide realistic renderings of a project that gets the community excited. For anyone who pines for the “old days” before downtown’s redevelopment, we submit this as Exhibit A for why development makes downtown Austin a better place.

Point of view from the Plaza Lofts

It’s also great to see a project making the maximum use of the height limit available to it in the Capitol View Corridor, which translates into maximum property tax revenue to subsidize the suburbs pay into the general fund for parks and police. Look at these elevation drawings and not how the building literally butts up to the height cap.

IBC Bank

Development spurring across water from City Hall

The paved no man’s land that occupied the sprawling parking lot next to the former Chamber of Commerce building on the south shore across from downtown Austin is no more.

The Austin Business Journal provides a first look at renderings for the $68 million, 300-unit StreetLights at Barton Springs apartment building taking some of the space and under construction now. Adjacent to the site, AustinTowers has learned the Hyatt Town Lake is removing a substantial amount of surface parking, and instead building a seven-story parking garage and amenities behind the Sherry Matthews building.

At 19 stories, the apartment project will eclipse the Hyatt hotel by about 25 feet. (For reference sake, the Chamber building is seven stories).

This residential project is next iteration of the Aquaterra condominium project, which fell victim to the lending withdraw of the 2008 recession, re-envisioned as apartments. Dallas-based StreetLights Residential is developing the Barton Springs project and the skeleton should start rising in a few months, with completion in late summer next year.

Streetlight vs AqT

The new project is of similar scope to the former Aquaterra vision, both at about 200 Feet, and like 7 Rio – another condo project that died and was reborn as apartments – local architect Brett Rhode is the designer of both buildings. Aquaterra’s first seven floors were parking garage, and its unknown if that carried through in the current design.

Next door at the Hyatt, the hotel owners are building a parking garage, that will also house a 25,000-square-foot ballroom and meeting space. Parking has always been a complete zoo there, and this will hopefully make the area much more inviting for people accessing the boat rentals on the shore, or the hotel proper.

Adding additional amenities to the Hyatt could have something to do with the fact that they were one of two authorized helicopter pads for ferrying people from the Circuit of Americas to downtown, but it could just be a play for more event attendance, given the slew of Austin events these days.

Hyatt Garage

This new development will surely be a game changer for the area, in terms of drawing more foot traffic and retail investment into that are, especially with the RunTex site being redeveloped on the other side of the lot, next to First Street.

It is easy to see, with this happening, a rapid transformation of the entire south shore of the river. Glory is the day that Hooters lot becomes something of community value. (Finger's crossed!!!)

One small point of concern: Anyone who has driven through the labyrinth of cross streets – Riverside, Barton Springs, South First and South Congress – during rush hour surely has felt a sincere frustration at the amount of traffic and high-concentration of intersection lights.

I hope that our city leaders have a plan to accommodate the additional amount of bike, pedestrian and car traffic that will be flowing into this very tiny area.

As it relates to that, though, this new apartment building could have a healthy portion of tenants who work downtown, and therefore might opt to own a bike, but no car, especially when Car2Go stocks a depot a few feet away at the City of Austin administrative tower.

Streetlight at Barton

It’s Alive! Revamped Condo at 1155 Barton Springs In Works

After a court battle with the City of Austin, a battle of wills with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association and Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the condo project at 1155 Barton Springs is officially back (sort of).

Earlier this month, site plans were submitted showing that a 65-unit condo development is being planned on the derelict site on the south side of busy Barton Springs adjacent to the railroad, McDonalds, and Peter Pan mini golf.

It’s inconclusive, but it appears that the original developer still owns the land and is involved, but that Dallas-based Carleton Development is breathing life back into the project. The project’s original website, 1155BartonSprings.com, never expired, but the site has no information at present and says it is being updated.

The 1155 Barton Springs project has been in the works under various names, including The Milan, since at least 2005. In April 2007, PPT Development announced plans to break ground by that year’s end, with tenants moving in by mid-2009.

Those 2007 plans were grander, it appears, than the current incarnation, and proposed just 24 residential units, ranging from 1,600 to 6,200 square feet, that would list for $1 million to $6 million each.

Original model for 2007 proposal:


Everything screeched to a halt though, after the developer got cross with the city over zoning after complaints from the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association. A deal between the city and developer was later reached, which capped on how tall the building could be. Bad news kept coming the project when, in 2010, it entered bankruptcy.

It is unclear right now whether the architecture of this project is going to change significantly from what initially was shown, but it is probably a safe bet so.

Original rendering:

1155 before

Overland Partners, the original architect out of San Antonio isn’t to be found on the current site plan paperwork. (Although, the project is still listed “on the boards” on the architect’s website.)

Interestingly, Stansberry Engineering Co. remains the civil engineer for the former and current proposals. Stansberry is in the obvious good graces with the city, as the lead engineering firm on the Barton Springs Pool Master Plan­.

Austin-based Co’Design has been retained as the landscape architect, where as the original landscape designer was reported to be Peter Walker & Partners of Berkeley, Calif.

That this project is being rejuvenated is something to be celebrated. The land occupies the long-vacant Treehouse restaurant and nightclub, which looks scary and hideous. The land is already developed, and not contributing any way to the community. A revamped project proposal gives it its first chance in a long time to do just that.

Increasing the number of units – which assumes smaller, more affordable units – compared to multi-million-dollar ones is a smart market bet. Market demand means urban dwellers will gladly pay a healthy six-figure sum to have access to the trails and Barton Springs Pool – not to mention things like Whole Foods and soon Trader Joe’s, now easily accessible via the Pfluger bike & pedestrian bridge, which was absent in 2007.


Money, Power, Views, and the Proposed Austin Hotel

Proposed Austin Hotel on Congress Ave.

Austin City Council this week is expected to hold a public hearing on the planned boutique hotel, located at 800-804 Congress Ave, which “pit some of the city’s biggest landowners against each other,” as the Austin Business Journal put it.

The applicant, developer David Kahn, is proposing a mixed-use mid-rise hotel that will include office space, restaurants, meeting space and live music. The site is the current home of the Hickory Street restaurant and a three-story historic building. The developer intends to keep the historic facade and construct a new 30-story building behind it.

The developer wants to reduce what is called a “step back.” On Congress Ave, buildings must create a “step back” 60 feet at about nine stories. Like so:

step back example
stepback example

However, the developer wants to build a building like this:

Hotel request graphic
Austin Hotel CURE request

A host of powerful people are opposing allowing this to happen.

The Austin Chronicle published an in-depth story about it just this month, where Kahn, said "I really think that it's all about our office building. If we were not building an office building, One American Center [Sixth & Congress] would not be spending money to protest this."

Austin Hotel Comparison

Height comparison of proposed hotel vs One American Center & the Austonian (source: SkyscraperPage.com)

60 foot view

Yellow box shows how Austin Hotel’s proposal would relate to Congress Ave. The site is not in a state-protected Capitol View Corridor.

Council should approve the project design. Here’s why:

1) According to city staff, the developer’s request is in line with the Downtown Austin Plan, which city council adopted unanimously, after years of public input and refining, in 2011. The Downtown Austin Plan, in fact, states that 60 feet is greater than necessary to protect the character and view of the Capitol corridor on Congress Avenue. If the downtown community want to spend years developing plans, then when they are adopted – unanimously by city council – the community should abide by them.

2) For council to enforce a 60-foot step back flies in the face on consistent precedent. Whether or not you want them to in this case, the facts are that four properties have requested a reduction of 60 feet to 40 feet on Congress Avenue and they have all been granted by city council. Adding 10 additional feet, the height of a basketball goal, is not realistically going to impair the view or experience for anyone living in, working in, or admiring downtown.

3) This section of Congress Avenue is a veritable ghost town on weekends, bogged down by blighted buildings at 9th Street and void of many pedestrian-friendly amenities for locals or the countless annual tourists visiting the Capitol. Adding a vibrant, high-quality and diverse development will boost not just the block, not just the area, not just Congress Avenue, but all of Downtown Austin.

4) All downtown office tenants and residents risk having a once-immaculate view blocked by new developments. It’s a bummer, but it is the price we all pay for living in the fastest growing city in the country, going on three years straight. The holistic downtown community would rather see additional development, bringing tourists, businesses, and residents into downtown, reducing sprawl, protecting the aquifer, and generating tax revenue. People choose to live in downtown and to relocate their office from the ‘burbs there because it is alive. To stifle that life in this case is short-sighted, because it reduces the quality of downtown Austin for future generations.

Apartment Building “Eleven” Making Fast Progress on I-35

Anyone driving on I-35, past downtown Austin, has surely noticed the progress construction crews are making on the 257-unit apartment complex, called Eleven, across from the Capitol on the east side of the highway.

With all of the apartment construction happening in Austin’s urban core, Eleven hasn’t garnered the same media attention as the downtown high-rise construction. Eleven will be a 3-story and 4-story buildings offering studio, loft, 1 and 2 bedroom units, plus parking. The community will occupy about three acres at the intersection of I-35 and East 11th Street, at the proper address of 811 E. 11 St.


The average unit size will be 793 square feet and the project is participating in the Austin energy green building Program. Phoenix-based Alliance Residential Co. will be the operating company.

According to the Spartan website, pre-leasing begins this year. For such a visible project, the development has a complexing and somewhat hidden cyber presence. I suppose the development really markets itself by virtue of its location, but here’s the backstory as to perhaps why its not that well-known.

Site plans for a four-story, 267,000-square-foot multi-family project – known as FMF Robertson Hill (SP-2011-0182C) — were submitted to the city back in 2011 for the same location. The applicant and site owner was BB&T, one of the largest financial services holding companies in the U.S.

(You’re thinking: “Robertson Hill? That’s the rental building next door, right?” Well, yes, once upon a time. But now AMLI has it, and has dubbed it AMLI Eastside. )

Eleven site plan

So, the site plan is approved in December 2011, then nothing happens until … drum roll … Magic Johnson saves the day!

In May 2012, Magic Johnson’s Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds – which also helped financed the W Austin – puts out a press release that it is teaming with Austin’s Forestar Group on the project and kicking off construction in 30 days. The new team also added another building to house a leasing office, fitness center, business center, community club room.

Which leads to a bonus if you ever enjoyed a glass of wine nearby at Uncorked and thought to yourself, “This is nice, but I’d really like to enjoy this view in a swimsuit."

Magic Johnson did too (not really) and Eleven includes a rooftop deck that will include a resort-style swimming pool, outdoor living area, grilling area and courtyard with bocce ball, chess and a yoga area.

There Might Be More To The Capitol Complex Kaibash That Meets The Eye

A lot of Austin enthusiasts and a visionaries let out a collective moan this past week when, at the start of the Texas Legislative Session, lawmakers froze plans to redevelop the Capitol Complex from a glut of blighted surface parking lots and garage structures into an integral part of the emerging world-class, vibrant capital of the Texas Republic, including the  $146.5 million Waller Creek Redevelopment already underway.

Capitol Complex

The proposal to redevelop the complex began being crafted by the Texas Facilities Commission staff under the direction of then-new Executive Director Terry Keel in 2009.

Keel himself is a Republican, and was member from House District 47 (Austin) from 1997 until 2007. 

The kill switch on Capitol Complex redevelopment was publicly thrown by Sen. John Whitmire, Democrat-Houston, who said: “We ought to have totally off-limits the Capitol complex” and that he “cannot imagine, as I’ve heard, they want to allow the private sector to build condos on Capitol grounds. It’s just … our children, grandchildren, are going to think somebody really lost their mind.”

(Note: Lest there be any confusion, at no time were condos proposed on the Capitol Grounds, read the 2011 report here and the 2012 report here.)

texas state capitol facilities plan

Sadly, KUT is reporting that Whitmore wants to “give lawmakers time to permanently stop projects in the pipeline.”

This includes the proposed Planetarium. Sigh.

When the news broke, Whitmore was the mouthpiece, but since several other lawmakers have talked to the press in support of his comments.

So admittedly, it is not just Whitmore who took issue here. As far back as November, Keel’s plan was catching flak from the State Sunset Commission.

Here’s where it gets really interesting: Which two politically-opposed state lawmakers each chaired criminal justice committees in opposite sides of the statehouse over part of the last decade?

Keel and Whitmore.

As an elected Republican, Keel chaired the criminal jurisprudence committee in the House, while Democrat Sen. Whitmore chaired the Senate’s criminal justice committee. If the vitriol being passed between parties these days is any guide, Keel and Sen. Whitmore are probably not golfing buddies.

It would certainly be a great injustice to the State of Texas, the countless visitors to the State Capitol, and residents of Central Texas if personal grievances from the past are, in part, the cause for Whitmore’s public attack on Keel’s plans for higher and better use (economically and civically) of the myriad blocks of parking surrounding the State Capitol.

Travis County pulling the trigger on downtown Austin development

Just before Christmas, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Travis County has more than $1 billion of development planned in downtown.

According to the Statesman: “The spending is guided by a master plan looking out to 2035 that calls for keeping some county offices downtown and expanding the space for them as services increase to meet population growth.”


Above: Travis County owned block

Two months ago, the county closed on its most recent purchase of $7.25 million for a quarter-acre parking lot on the NW corner of 11th and San Antonio streets. The deal, which appears to have been pitched to the county by local firm D2000 as a turn-key lease with an option to buy, before the County decided to outright buy the land, will house a new 127,000 sq. ft. office building for the Travis County district attorney and county attorney prosecutors.

The county also issued bonds in 2010 to buy a building at 700 Lavaca St., which has private business tenants and will be converted into an admin headquarters.

The most well-known county project, of course, is a $200-$300 million courthouse on the land south of Republic Square Park purchased from the Austin Museum of Art at the end of 2010 for $21.75 million. Mind you, this isn't a case of the government salvaging an eyesore, like the Feds did with the Intel Shell next door. In fact, the county had to out-bid private developers for the land and eliminated a very attractive piece of land unencumbered from the capitol view corridor from private development, even though one of the ideas floated by the county is a public-private deal that includes a 72-story skyscraper.

It should be said that according to the last line in the Statesman article, the voters would like a say in whether the project moves forward. I feel less than confident the public would approve the plan, which would possibly mean the lot will come back to the seller’s block.

News about $1 billion in development downtown sounds like a good thing, but I think we should clarify that $1 billion in bond, or tax, funded construction that will result in a negligible long-term neighborhood benefits is different than $1 billion in private development with streetscape promenades, retail, sidewalk cafés and restaurants. (Read: Vibrant, fun places that also are sales tax generators.)

Government development on prime downtown land, mainly near Republic Park, also removes it from the property tax generators. (Civics lesson: Private development downtown significantly boosts property and sales tax revenue, which subsidizes city services for the ‘burbs.)

Will any of this change as the make-up of the commissioner’s court changes? Judge Sam Biscoe has certainly been a major pusher of the projects and he is leaving the bench to be replaced by either Gonzalo Barrientos, Sarah Eckhardt, or Andy Brown.

At least one county commissioner – returning Gerald Daugherty who represents the west and Oak Hill – thinks the new development would be better suited on the county’s North Campus along Airport Boulevard.

Take note here, everyone. It’s not often (or really ever) that Commissioner Daugherty – one of those who helped slay the 2000 light rail election by a hair – has many fans among those who live in downtown, but this might be one of them.

As a parting thought, consider that the Texas Attorney General, of all people, has been a thorn in the county’s side when it comes to its downtown dealings, too. According to the ABJ “county officials were ‘surprised by the amount of push back’ from Abbott when the county issued $65 million in bonds in 2010 to buy the 700 Lavaca Street building.”

Dayton firm taking a big stake in South Austin

In Austin, we are used to a small share of local landowners controlling a lot of the urban real estate, and increasingly, equity firms based on the coast making buys.

Now a mid-western player, Dayton, Ohio’s Connor Group, is making an aggressive play.

“We love the SoCo submarket,” the Connor Group’s managing partner Larry Connor said in a news release. “When we decided to come to Austin, we had a few specific places where we wanted to be. And the South Congress area was right at the top of that list.”

Above: The Crescent Apartments on Riverside

The Connor Group (which owns and operates more than $1.4 billion in assets) just closed on a $33.5 million purchase of the Crescent, a 169-unit apartment building, next door to Dominican Joe on Riverside and Congress.

In 2008, the five-story Crescent was developed by Riverside Resources, which is now developing The Whitley.

Last August, the Dayton company announced it had purchased the 253-unit apartment and retail building Cityview at SoCo, formerly known as “Camden South Congress,” and before that the “Alexan on Congress Avenue.” (At one point in time in the 1990s, the Austin Business Journal picked the property as "Best Multifamily Project" at its Annual Commercial Real Estate Awards ceremony, according to the civil engineer).

Above: Cityview at Soco

Outside of 78704, the Connor Group also bought the 290-unit River Oaks apartments on Brodie Lane for $34.6 million this past December.

“We love Austin,” Connor told the Dayton Business Journal. “In fact, we loved it for a long time before we even bought our first property there. We wanted to take our time and make sure we had a plan in place to grow in the market.”

No doubt this is a smart play in the short-term, given the incredible demand for urban living in Austin, but also in the long term.

It’s easy to forget, but folks are already thinking about how to remake the South Shore of Riverside, known as the South Shore Central waterfront district. It encompasses a total of 88 acres from South First Street to just east of a 19-acre tract at South Congress Avenue and Barton Springs Road that's owned by the American-Statesman. According to the Austin Business Journal, the South Shore could see $500 million in new development in the next two decades.

Consider this: Cox Media, which owns the Statesman, also owns the Dayton Daily News, and has very strong ties to Dayton. It is not totally inconceivable that Larry Connor, presumably one of Dayton’s mega-rich and powerful, has some upper crust connections to Cox. For example, Doug Franklin – the president of Cox Media– was the publisher of the Dayton Daily News up until 2008.

Could the Connor Group be the mystery bidder on the Statesman property? Admittedly, it’s far-fetched, but not inconceivable... buyers are circling.

South Shore potential

South Shore Residences Opening in 2013, Retail Center Getting Underway

Anyone who has driven out towards the airport, past the AMLI South Shore apartments on East Riverside, must notice the massive piece of development prepping not far away.

That’s where Grayco Partners has started on its 20-acre South Shore development, where three residential developments, totaling 506 units for rent and sale are being built, with a project opening this coming spring.

Located just two miles from downtown Austin, more details are coming online now regarding the massive retail portion of the development, which will take up 700 feet of frontage along Riverside Drive. Not only is this important to making additional residential development along Riverside as success, but has the potential to serve portions of downtown as well. (More on that in a sec.)

The retail center is scheduled to begin construction this coming year, and a site plan was filed this month for a 46,000 square foot shopping district, encompassing five retail buildings. To make way, the existing 54,000-square-foot strip mall is being torn down.

Above: rendering of the South Shore shopping area

In addition, three more urban residential properties are approved and planned for future development. When finished, we could see a development that includes 8-story residential buildings, bringing the total to 1,200 multi-family units for rent and for sale, and more than 65,000 square feet of office and retail.
There is a lot planned for East Riverside, which you can read about in a recent post, but details on the planned retail component are important because it also serves downtown Austin, and has potential to serve Rainey Street development, in particular.


With the Sutton Towers and Skyhouse planned in Rainey Street, in addition to the current residences there, there is a strong demand for access to shops, but limited access to that neighborhood. The easiest option is jumping onto I-35, or the access road, but during the increasingly long rush hours, it’s almost not worth it.
However, when the Austin boardwalk completes in 2014, it will end on the eastern side right on the backyard of the South Shore development and retail center. That means Rainey Street residents – assuming it’s not 105 degrees – will be able to bike or walk onto the Lady Bird Lake trail, cross over at I-35, and jump on the board walk to access this shopping center.

Move Over South Lamar, East Riverside Is The Next Big Thing In Austin Multifamily

The RiverView Austin Apartments, clad with a mix of local brick, stucco, and metal panels, are starting to take shape, and provide a bit of a premonition of what we might see along the much of the E. Riverside strip someday.

The 280,000-square-foot, 302-unit RiverView sits on four acres at I-35 and E. Riverside, on the south shore of the water near downtown. The development has four buildings ranging from five to 11 stories. The initial announcement for the project said it will come online this spring.

When completed, the development will have taken the equivalent of almost 80 acres in a typical single family 'tract style' model of development, but accomplished the same density on a four-acre site.

This is a good thing, and City Hall has actually had gears turning for a long time to reshape East Riverside.

The city is preparing to rezone approximately 1,000 acres near East Riverside Drive, as part of implementing the East Riverside Corridor (ERC) Master Plan, adopted by Council in 2010.


The plan calls for four hubs, centered on transit, which could eventually have buildings as tall as 10 to 14 stories in some locations in exchange for the provision of community benefits. The density scales down to three stories as development gets closer to single-family neighborhoods.

One-page overviews of the proposed hubs -- Lakeshore, Pleasant Valley, Montopolis and Gateway -- are available to view.  

Because the East Riverside area is just few minutes from downtown Austin, change is already underway in the area. In addition to the RiverView project, the Lakeshore and South Shore planned unit developments, which will transform about 70 acres along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake east of I-35, are underway. Meanwhile the AMLI South Shore project opened in 2011, and music club Emo’s gave the area a boost when it relocated there last year.

That whole area will also become much more accessible to downtown without a car after Austin’s boardwalk project is completed, since right now the only way to cross I-35 is actually on Riverside, which is not very fun safe attractive on a bike or on foot.

That the city is stepping in to heavily regulate future development on E. Riverside might be irksome for some developers, but I am firmly in the camp that the city really has one shot to make that an incredible place. Without that heavy hand, I fear would happen is a hodgepodge of vanilla development from out-of-town financiers focused on turning a profit and not quality development.

Side note: City voters also approved East Riverside transportation study in 2010 to look at transportation improvements to take place over the coming decade. When those improvements actually happen is anyone’s guess, since they would have to compete with other communities around Austin for funding.

UPDATE: 3eleven Picture Becoming Clear

On the heels of the news that construction of the 3eleven apartments are underway, some more details are now showing up on cpexecutive.com:

• LEED certified
• Residences coming online this October.
• 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail
• 463 parking spaces on floors 1 through 7
• 41,000 square feet of office space on floors 8 and 9
• residences on floors 10 through 35
• Austin’s highest swimming pool
• Catering kitchen
• Residential units will range from 448-square-foot studios to three-bedrooms of more than 2,000 square feet.
• The top five floors will house 35 penthouse units, including three-bedrooms
• Stainless-steel appliances, granite and quartz countertops, solar window shades, hardwood flooring, floor-to-ceiling windows, and 8-foot entry and interior doors.
• designed by HKS Architects, of Dallas
• constructed by Harvey-Cleary Builders, of Houston

13 Months After Ominous Heritage Tree Vote, Endeavor Breaks Ground On Bowie Street Project

Back in August, AustinTowers updated you on the new specs for Endeavor’s Bowie Street project, called 3eleven, and said construction would begin soon.

Now it seems construction is indeed underway, according to a recent report in the Austin American-Statesman. The construction timeline is about 24 months.


The project’s fate, in 2011, was in question after the Austin Planning Commission voted 5-4 to protect a 70-year-old Pecan tree on site that had thrived while sprouting from asphalt. (The vote was a great showcase of the ideological and political forces at play in Austin. Former Planning Commission Chair Dave Sullivan also showcased why he had become such a well-respected arbitrator in Austin.)

What’s notable is that despite the handwringing in real estate and pundit groups regarding the issue, market forces (read: the high potential to make a buck) compelled the developers to forge ahead with a remarkably similar project to the one it pitched initially by moving the tree.


Wedged between the Spring Condos and the Monarch apartments, the initially proposed tower was an office-residential high rise reaching 400 feet high, and that matches the current project breaking ground now, which will have 36 stories with 359 luxury apartments, 42,000 square feet of office space and about 3,400 square feet of retail space.

YNN reports: Crews are going to put the tree somewhere on the east side of the property along Shoal Creek “but moving it will be an expensive, three-month process.”

Michael Lynd, a San Antonio developer who partnered with Endeavor on the project and secured financing told the San Antonio Business Journal the project will be “one of the finest luxury residential rental buildings in all of downtown Austin” and the paper reported the high-rise will have a rooftop garden/dog park on the 10th floor; a sky deck, club room and fitness facility on the 31st floor and a pool on the 36th floor.


So, regardless of what barriers must be overcome in Downtown Austin to develop – whether those barriers are for better or for worse – this project seemingly negates many arguments that Austin’s development policies are scarring away marquee projects. At the end of the day, that could provide the cover for policy makers to make more stringent policy, and enforce it.

As real estate sage Charles Heimsath – who must be the most quoted man in the American-Statesman’s history – told the paper: demand for apartments downtown is “extraordinary” with 97 percent occupied, fetching rents that are more than twice the city average.

New Downtown Austin Federal Courthouse Opens, Exorcises Ghost of Intel Shell

There’s some well-received news this month that Austin’s new Federal courthouse at 5th Street and San Antonio has completed construction and is open for business.


A quick tour around the building Sunday night yielded no clues that for the past few years the site has been under heavy construction - certainly neighboring 360 Condos are relieved - and Sunday it was well-lit and inviting with a handful of people strolling around in the nice weather.

KUT has a nice slideshow posted on its Flickr account of the exterior and interior of the seven-story, $123-million building design by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, out of Atlanta, and constructed by our own White Construction, officed in Bee Caves.

What’s exciting for the rest of us not in the legal system is a nice area on the east site of the courthouse populated with benches that will flow well into Republic Square Park. I’m excited about this project lending a daily injection of energy and excitement to the park, and envision clients, lawyers and clerks all enjoying the open space to eat lunch and talk shop.

Maybe a hotdog and coffee vendor will set up shop in the park? Every time I watch Law & Order, the characters share a bite and broker a plea.

For the uninitiated: That site used to be a albatross on downtown, infamously known as the Intel shell, after Intel planted a flag downtown with a $124-million chip design center, but then had second thoughts, leaving only a four-story steel shell and concrete decks. The Feds bought the property from Intel in January 2004 for $8.89 million, and White Construction signed a deal to start preconstruction. In 2006, we got out first look at the design. The Intel Shell bit the dust, literally, in 2007 when it was destroyed, and in 2009 federal stimulus dollars shifted the project into overdrive… then wha-la!

What remains to be seen is what becomes of the former federal courthouse on W. 8th St. That one was built all the way back in 1935, after U.S. Congressman J. P. Buchanan introduced an appropriations measure for $415,000 and well-known Austin architect Charles H. Page drafted up the design. The Art Deco building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is certainly not going to be destroyed. No one seems to know what will be in store for the building, but I certainly hope it doesn’t languish in disuse.

There had been some chatter about a U.S. Patent office taking up residence there, but the local effort to land it was bested by Dallas’s earlier this year.

Maybe with plans stalled for the UT headquarters construction, just a block south of the old courthouse, some clever and well-connected minds will get together to figure out how those historic buildings could be incorporated into a future development, with some more density. That old courthouse is only four stories, ya know. (Nudge, nudge clever and well-connected minds: the GSA's South Central Texas Service Center is the one you should contact to get the ball rolling.)

47-Story "Planetarium" Tower Proposed Near Capital

A new development partnership is proposing a 47-story condo tower, science museum, and planetarium for a site just north of the Capital. The site, which is not limited by capital view corridor restrictions, is owned by the State and part of a program to develop under-developed state-owned lots. The project is a proposal and had not been reviewed or accepted by the State committees evaluating use of the land.

According to the developers, "A state-of-the-art science and technology museum, with the largest planetarium in Texas, will be the newest addition to Austin’s Museum District.

Planned to be built on State land across the street from the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art, the proposed 157,000 square foot facility will include the largest planetarium in Texas, a full-spectrum interactive science museum, and a technology center showcasing Texas innovations and ingenuity. The development of a science complex at this location will solidify a Museum District for Austin, increasing visitation to the surrounding museums and adding a tourist destination just blocks from the State Capitol and the University of Texas at Austin Campus.

Rendering of the Proposed Planetarium Tower
Austin Planetarium Tower Proposal 47 Stories

Rendering of the Proposed Science Museum & Planetarium
Austin Planetarium and Science Museum

In a joint effort, the Austin Planetarium, a nonprofit with the goal of building a world-class science and technology museum in Austin, and KUD International, a private sector development firm, have submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Texas Facilities Commission for a ground lease on the property located at North Congress Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. This innovative public-private partnership will create a development that also includes a 47-story residential tower, restaurants, a gift store, retail space and over 1000 underground parking spaces, meeting the mixed-use and high-density vision of the State of Texas for that location. “This partnership is the opportunity we have been working very long and hard to achieve,” states Executive Director Torvald Hessel, “by attracting a major international development firm, we have shown that, as a grassroots organization, we can do this."

The total cost of the development is estimated at $240 million, which includes $95 million for the science and technology museum. So far, funding for a third of the museum’s cost has been identified, thus offering confidence to bring in additional donors and investors. The development will attract over 600,000 annual visitors and will create more than 650 full and part-time jobs to the area, over $10 million in tax revenue over 10 years, ground rents for the State, and $60 million in annual economic impact. Furthermore, through its presence in the Capital City, it will serve as point of pride for the City and the State alike.

The Planetarium will continue its fundraising activities while the State considers the proposal for the site. If the proposal is accepted by the State, it is expected that the process will take approximately a year and that construction will begin shortly after an agreement is finalized.

Prime Downtown Statesman Site for Sale?

While the newspaper industry continues to struggle, the Austin American Statesman has a very valuable asset: the land under it's offices and printing facility. The Statesman building sits on one of the most valuable downtown real estate parcels: 18.9 acres of lakefront land on South Congress Avenue across from downtown. The site also boasts a great view of the bats that live under the Congress Avenue bridge.

Now the Statesman's parent company is considering multiple unsolicited offers for the site which experts believe could be worth $50 - $80 million. For the Statesman, it is probably not necessary or cost effective to print newspapers on one of the most expensive pieces of land in the City. They currently must pay roughly $1 million in property taxes each year based on the site's current $39.8 million valuation.

The Statesman building was constructed in 1980. It houses the bulk of the newspaper's 500+ employees as well as the printing plant and packaging facilities. The 330,000 square foot building s surrounded by 500+ parking spaces for employees and visitors. Without any public parking or ground-floor retail, the current Statesman site in one of the reasons that the prime south congress shopping and dining areas are so disconnected from downtown.

The Statesman Site (Source: Statesman)

The Statesman has said that they would relocate the paper within Austin if the downtown land was sold to developers. Development of the site, however would have challenges as the parcel would face numerous height and setback restrictions. In addition, South Austin neighborhoods have been strong opponents of high-rise development on the south shore of the lake. But the site does offer great benefits for dense development and the opportunity to serve as a pedestrian gateway connecting South Austin to the heart of downtown.

Two More 50-Story Towers Proposed

It's starting to feel like 2007 again. It's been five years since good economic times resulted in a wave of development that resulted in projects such as the Austonian, Four Seasons Residences, the Monarch, and Spring. In 2007, it seems that a new project was announced every couple of weeks. That's exactly what is happening right now.

Last week's big announcement was that two fifty story tourers could rise in the warehouse district. According to the statesman, The Sutton Co. wants to build the project on about two acres it has under contract bounded by Rainey and Driskill streets and East Avenue. The development would continue the transformation of a part of downtown where a new nightlife scene has emerged with the addition of numerous bars and restaurants. Together, the towers could have as many as 800 to 1,000 apartment and condominium units, along with hotel rooms in the first tower to break ground, said Mac Pike, a principal — along with Wally Scott — in the Sutton Co. The first tower, which Pike estimated would cost $75 million to $100 million to build, is at least a year to 18 months from breaking ground and would require a number of city approvals, he said.

It's key to note that financing has not been secured for the very ambitious project In addition, the project would require approval from the city's Historic Landmark Commission to knock down the houses on the site. It would also likely require additional special exemptions to build a project that tall on the Rainey street site. The developer does have a strong track record in the City "having converted older buildings into the Brazos Lofts in 1999, the Avenue Lofts in 2000 and, later, co-developing the Plaza Lofts, a new condo high-rise built in the early 2000s."

Two Towers Proposed for the Rainey Street Neighborhood

New Development Near 6th & Lamar

Add this to the very long list of planned projects downtown: "A new crop of development is about to sprout up on the western edge of downtown, bringing with it a proposed 493,000 square feet of office space, 70,000 square feet of retail and 370 apartments," the Austin Business Journal reports. The project includes the redevelopment of the KASE-KVET offices and 7th & Lamar near Book People shown below.


30-Story Office Tour to Rise in Warehouse District

When it comes to downtown Austin, almost everyone loves the Warehouse district. It's historic, iconic, and full of life. Its small scale is a nice counterbalance to the surrounding towers. The area, though much smaller than it used to be, is widely known and a common entertainment destination for residents and visitors.

So it will be mixed emotions that downtown dwellers will greet yesterday's news of a new 30-story shiny glass office tour planned for one of the key warehouse district blocks. The tower, which will certainly block many Austonian northwest views, will contain 18 stories of fancy offices on top of 12 stories of above-ground parking. The building is being developed by Cousins Properties which also developed the Frost Bank Tower just a couple of blocks away. Fortunately, the new building will not sport the same giant nose hair trimmer crown.

The building -- currently named "Colorado and Third" -- is planned for a parking lot site that was previously supposed to become a hotel. The lot, located on 3rd and Congress, is at a prime intersection connecting the warehouse district to the Second Street District.

The 30-Story "Colorado & Third" Project
Cousins Properties Colorado and Third Tower Austin

There is no doubt that the expansion of downtown Austin office inventory is essential to bringing more people downtown and to increase downtown destiny. According to the Statesman, "Cousins has filed for a zoning change with the city to build a tower with more square footage than current zoning would allow. Hendricks is presenting Cousins’ plans to brief the Downtown Commission on the project this afternoon. The commission is an advisory board that makes recommendations to the City Council on downtown policies and projects. Hendricks said two key factors are driving Cousins’ decision to add more office supply downtown, where office rents and occupancies are on the rise. About 80 percent of the leases for first-class office space downtown will come up for renewal between 2012 and 2016. In addition, the downtown office market is becoming increasingly diversified, with a growing number of technology companies choosing to locate in the central business district, pushing up the demand for space."

The project would include 6,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.

The Coming Transformation of South Lamar

So many areas of the City seem to be changing so fast. In addition to Seaholm, Green, and the Waller Creek area, multiple developers have proposed ambitious projects for the South Lamar corridor. South Austin development is clearly controversial, and a flood of new proposed apartments and retail will likely see considerable opposition.

According to the Austin Business Journal, "Six apartment projects are currently being planned or are under construction, adding nearly 1,700 apartments in the next few years. Areas where apartment complexes being planned include Sterzing Street and Barton Springs Road; 1717 Toomey Road; South Lamar Boulevard and Juliet Street; South Lamar Boulevard and Treadwell Street; 1219 S. Lamar Blvd.; 1500 S. Lamar Blvd., currently under construction."

In addition, developers have announced plans to redevelop the strip mall that houses the Alamo Drafthouse and Highball into a more-dense multiple use project.

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture Rendering of South Lamar Plaza

Michael Hsu Office of Architecture Rendering of South Lamar Plaza

dwg. | urban landscape architecture Rendering of South Lamar Plaza

Furthermore, the Statesman reports that "two prime properties just south of Lady Bird Lake are on the market, including a parcel where developers planned to build luxury condominiums priced as high as $6 million.

The recession halted plans for the condo project that was to be built on Barton Springs Road just east of South Lamar Boulevard. The site housed the trendy Mackedrick's Treehouse restaurant and nightclub in the late 1970s and subsequently other venues, but the angular glass building has sat vacant on the 1.5-acre tract for a quarter-century.

Now, that land and the adjacent Park Terrace Apartments, a 65-unit complex that was built in 1962 and renovated in 2001, are being offered for sale. Brokerage firm ARA Central Texas is billing the parcel as "an unparalleled development opportunity" to own about 4 acres with unobstructed downtown views."

Previously, the treehouse restaurant and nightclub site were to house 1155 Barton Springs, a super high-end low-rise condo project adjacent to Peter Pan golf and the train tracks. The 27 units were originally priced at $1 - $6 million in a project that was often shown as a poster child of condo boom excess.

While there is strong demand for South Austin housing -- south Austin rents are among the highest in the City, often as high as downtown rents -- the south Austin neighborhoods remain many of the City's most iconic and resistant to change. Many people fear that further development and gentrification will damage the charm that makes the area so popular and eclectic. We will continue to track these developments as they proceed.

Aquatic Center, Water Slides, Lazy River Planned Downtown!

There are many downtown proposals that I look at and say: who thinks that is a good idea? And there a few that look interesting and that I hope work out well. The new downtown park proposal for Lamar Beach looks so crazy awesome that all I can say is that I would like for it to be done now.

If this gets built, it will transform downtown daytime fun with a beautiful mix of architecture, pools, water slides, diving boards, lazy rivers, ballparks, running trails, lakes, and natural landscaping. The renderings below tell the full story.

(image credit dwg. | urban landscape architecture)
Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

(image credit Runa Workshop)
Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

(image credit Runa Workshop)
Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center Water Slides

Lamar Beach Austin Acquatic Center

According to the Austin Business Journal, "More details have been obtained about the YMCA’s proposed public-private partnership for the Lamar Beach park area currently made up of the Town Lake Animal Center and ball fields north of Cesar Chavez between MoPac Expressway and Lamar Boulevard.

A team of architects, designers and engineers mostly from the Austin area worked with the YMCA and the city to come up with the concept of a sustainable multi-purpose park.

The YMCA is committed to raise $10 million to $15 million in capital for the project, estimated to cost $38 million to $42 million, said James Finck, president and CEO of the YMCA.

He said they hope to include $25 million to $30 million in funding for the project on the city’s 2012 bond initiative. . .

The aquatic center will be open to the public and operated by the YMCA.

The 29-lane, 70-meter pool should be welcome news for swim teams that have trouble finding space to meet.

“We can’t keep up with demand,” Finck said. He said the YMCA will continue using its indoor pools.

Additionally, there will be a recreational pool with water slides and a lazy river.

Plans for the surrounding facility include offices, a multipurpose room, retail and a cafe.

Also planned for the 35-acre site is a bio-filtration pond, a boardwalk, a trail that runs along the roof of the aquatics facilities building, a multipurpose field that could host concerts and events, bike lockers and restroom facilities. The current roadways will be connected along the north and more parking will be added."

New 23-Story Rainey Street Apartment Tower to Rise, Block Neighboring Views

Novare, the developer of 360 and the firm behind the recent acquisition of the downtown post office site, has announced plans for another downtown Austin apartment project.

The new 23-story tower will rise in the rapidly transforming Rainey Street neighborhood on a long-narrow site directly east of Milago and north of Legacy on Town Lake. The new project is likely to extensively block the views of residents in both units -- especially residents on the East side of Milago.

The project, to be named SkyHouse Austin, will be enormous, adding 320 apartments to the Rainey Street district. The development will also contain ground floor retail and restaurant space. The project will be designed by Atlanta-based Smallwood Reynolds Stewart Stewart Associations Inc.

Hopefully, the project will bring much-needed public-parking to the increasingly popular bar and restaurant district. Rainey street is one of the few corners of downtown that doesn't have a surplus of parking.

Starwood "Hotel 1" Concept Proposed for Warehouse District

It's been a long time since a new building was announced downtown. Today, Starwood announced plans to build a new 17-story concept hotel called Hotel 1 (Hotel One? One? 1? Hotel1?) on the southwest corner of 5th and Colorado across Colorado from Kenichi.

The new eco-luxury concept will feature 250 - 275 rooms and will be developed by Woodbine, the Dallas hotel developer that built the Hyatt Lost Pines just outside Austin and the Hyatt Hill Country and Westin Las Cantera in San Antonio.

The 210+ foot building will require a zoning change to allow for additional density. In the past, the City has council has typically approved these requests for non-lake front downtown properties in an effort to drive additional downtown density. The warehouse district, however, is an important low-rise neighborhood that will likely require a more careful review of the project.

The new project is one of the first Hotel 1 hotels to be developed in what will become a new Starwood franchise (Starwood operates W, Westin, Sheraton, Aloft, St. Regis, and a few other brands). Previous Hotel 1 projects have been announced for Washington DC, Seattle, and other markets. Recent reports, however, suggest that these other projects may now be on hold.

While every hotel will likely be uniquely designed, renderings of the planned 11-story Washington DC Hotel 1 provide hints of how they may develop the 5th and Colorado site:

Renderings of the Washington DC Hotel 1
Hotel One Rendering

This is the first hotel project to be announced in downtown Austin in two years. During that time, a number of major hotel projects have been put on hold including the much dreaded Congress Avenue Marriott (originally proposed as three hotels), the 290 room Hotel Van Zandt and a planned Westin in the warehouse district.

Project Updates: Spring, Four Seasons, 360

In spite of the difficult economy, the major downtown Austin condo projects continue to move toward completion. Lots of news updates this week:

- Tomorrow, Spring will celebrate its topping off. The 42-story building on 3rd and Bowie just east of Lamar has reached the top and is on track for completion in July. The 246 unit tower will be the first project delivered in 2009. According to the developers, an impressive 55% of units have already been pre-sold. With units starting around $300k, Spring is the most affordable downtown skyscraper currently under construction.

- 360, which was completed last year, has now officially sold 99% of its 430 units, making the project effectively sold out.

- The Four Seasons released a very detailed update of current sales and downtown market conditions including the news that they have now pre-sold nearly 50% of units:

"As we enter 2009, Four Seasons Residences Austin is nearly 50% sold. Understandably, the last quarter of 2008 was slow, but sales activity in 2009 has picked up considerably. In the last week we signed a new contract for a 2,700 square foot residence and have a number of additional contracts in process. We continue to see an influx of interest from people who love Austin and are exploring the opportunity to live at Four Seasons. . .

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W Hotel & Residences . . . . & Offices?

According to the developers, plans for Block 21 -- the large second street development featuring the W Hotel & Residences -- have been revised to include 35,000 feet of office space. Assuming that the size of the project remains the same, office space will account for about 3.5% of the planned one million square foot multi-use project. This is the first new office space to be added downtown in a few years

The project update also included the following new facts:

- The W Hotel & Condo plans remain unchanged.

- So far, 44% of condo units are accounted for -- a number virtually unchanged from the 45% under contract as of 12/1/09. According to the developers, sales have practically stopped since the beginning of the economic crisis in November. With delivery 2 years out, the developers believe they have plenty of time to sell the remaining units.

- The project is proceeding on schedule: the first floor should be poured within the next few weeks

- The size of the Austin City Limits theater may be increased from 2,200 to 2,500 square feet

The $295 million project, to be located directly behind City Hall, will be an important retail and entertainment anchor to the blossoming 2nd Street district.

Block 21 Rendering
Block 21 Renderings Austin W Hotel & Residences

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The Downtown Austin Condo Rumor Mill

Over the last year, there has been an amazing flow of rumors about the major downtown Austin condo projects. Most of these rumors have been false. In particular, both the Austonian and W have been plagued with gossip that the projects were facing cancellation. Even in the last month, when construction patterns changed during the normal building process, rumors again started that the project would not be completed.

We've carefully researched these rumors -- including meeting with one of the Austonian developers --and are very comfortable that they are not true. The source of the rumors, for the most part, have been innocent assumptions by people who have been made hyper sensitive by the current crisis. With the housing market struggling, observers take any change as a sign of impending disaster.

The problem has become so acute that the Austonian today announced plans to move an office trailer and remove a crane -- both part of normal operations. The announcement was made to avoid another round of false rumors.

Here is a summary from the Austin Business Journal:

Developers of The Austonian are again warding off rumors of changes to the luxury condo’s plans as the construction team prepares to remove its trailers and a crane.

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Austonian Profiled in Architectural Record

An article published in Architectural Record, the leading national trade publication for architects, provides an extensive profile of the Austonian.

The article reveals new details about the projects green features including it's "Chilled water HVAC" and rainwater collection system. It also talks about the project's high-end touch screen controls for lighting, security, media, and climate which are included with every unit.

Here is the full story:

At 680 feet tall, the Austonian, designed by Houston-based firm Ziegler Cooper Architects, will be the tallest building in Austin when it’s completed in 2010.

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Important New Downtown Development Site

With the large number of downtown building projects under construction, planned, or pending, there are not too many open lots awaiting development. Now, an important new site is about to hit the market just a block from the prime 6th & Congress intersection.

The Texas General Land Office is selling it’s now-vacant prototypical 50s building, formerly the Texas Comptrollers office, to raise money for the State’s Permanent School Fund.

The site is located in a prime downtown location on 6th and Colorado street. Free of Capital View Corridor restrictions, the site will most likely be developed as condos, commercial office space, or as a hotel.

According to the Austin Business Journal:

A major downtown tower could soon replace the vacant 1950s building at the corner of Sixth and Colorado streets.

The Texas General Land Office confirms it’s working with CB Richard Ellis Inc. to put the 76,000-square-foot Starr Building and adjacent garage up for sale. A deal has not been signed, but the GLO hopes to contract with CBRE to put the property on the market in the next month.

The GLO acquired the four-story building in 2005 on behalf of the state’s Permanent School Fund for just over $4 million. That same year the building’s last tenant, the Texas Comptroller’s Office, moved out and the property has been unoccupied since.

The GLO staff has determined the best use for the property would be to demolish the building and build a new structure on the site, Press Secretary Jim Suydam says. The GLO will evaluate the purchase proposals it receives and likely choose the one that nets the most money for the school fund. The Permanent School Fund’s board would have to approve the sales agreement.

Moscow. Dubai. Austin? Star Luxe to Build "Real Estate Collectors' Dream" in Austin

In a surprise move, Constellation Property Group (CPG) of Australia has added a new ultra-high-end project to it’s $200 million condo development. With 18 units starting at 4,000 square feet and priced well above $1 million, Star Luxe is the second phase of CPG’s development just East of I-35. The first phase, Star Riverside, will feature 64 units overlooking the lake and starting at $600k. To follow are Revolution Riverside, the likely third phase, which will feature units priced at $400K - $700K and a fourth and final building which may be a hotel. Star Luxe is planned for completion in 2010.

For Star Luxe, the developers are shooting for the stratosphere. According to Eugene Marchese, President of both CPG and it’s design firm, "Sotheby's is handling the sales," he says. "They've already gone out and tested the project with their international offices and we're getting good responses from as far away as Moscow and Dubai." As reported in the Statesman, “The musically inspired units will have curved walls to evoke the shape of a guitar. Each unit will have a balcony of about 600 square feet — larger than some of downtown's lowest-priced condos. Owners will be driven from the airport in the building's "signature fleet," where they will be received by a white-gloved valet and waited on by 24-hour concierge service.”

While I could write lots about this project, nothing conveys how bold this project is better than the press release:

Award-winning Australian developers Constellation Property Group (CPG), acclaimed for such projects as the Bondi Beach “Icebergs” and the recent sensation STELLA in San Diego, have announced their newest project Star Luxe, a limited collection of opulent, one-of-a-kind penthouse residences. Selecting Austin as their next point of U.S. discovery, the developers will once again collaborate with architects Marchese + Partners International (MPI), who were inspired by the imagination of Texas’s capital while designing the project on Lady Bird Lake. Eugene Marchese, President of CPG and MPI says, “Star Luxe will be one of the most exceptional structures the world has seen. The size and design of each residence will make these customizable homes a true ‘real estate collectors’ dream.”

Inspired by Austin’s immersion in art, music, and architecture, Star Luxe will deliver three grand designs: ‘The Guitar’, shaped by the instrument’s exquisite lines, ‘The Salazar’, fashioned after an imagined artist within the Art Nouveau movement, and ‘The International’, modeled after Marchese’s signature ultra-modern designs and premium technology. Star Luxe supersedes any previous definitions of luxurious real estate with these lakefront penthouses situated alongside Austin’s lively Hike and Bike Trail. The project’s immersion in art, music, and architecture seems to keep in line with Austin’s anti-gentrification slogan of keeping the city ‘weird’.

Star Luxe’s approach to servicing its residents is to free them from everyday concerns. Residents will feel immediately settled upon entry with their “Demands List” previously arranged, instructing the 24-hour concierge of their ‘re-stocking’ requirements such as preferred groceries, clothing, beverages, reading materials, toiletries, and even a 5-course meal. Additional desires such as private trainers, nutritionists, personal shoppers, maids, and even the latest movies and music accessible from sophisticated in-home technology will all be arranged as well. Each unit at Star Luxe includes a safe room with comprehensive surveillance, secure garage spaces, wine storage, water filtration system, and exclusive Italian kitchens with Gagganeau appliances. “Collapsible” glass walls will be a central feature of each residence, blurring the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. The palatial 4,000 square foot penthouses with their massive balconies allow owners to enjoy the feeling of a lakefront private home with urban style living conveniences.

Star Luxe residents will take advantage of the property’s four acres which includes a private spa, outdoor pool with BBQ, private cinema, pet exercise area and a lush Zen garden. Marchese explains, “Star Luxe owners will want for nothing; this will be their place to experience privacy, inspiration, and sumptuousness like never before defined.”

Star Riverside

Major SoCo Infill Project Announced: New Hotel & Retail to Emerge

Over the last year, commercial brokers have been shopping one of the largest remaining south Congress parcels -- a full block across from Vespaio -- to a variety of potential commercial tenants.

Today, developers announced that the prime site will be developed with a 90-room boutique hotel, ground-floor retail and restaurants, a plaza with the Hey Cupcake Airstream trailer, and 350 spots of underground parking (a first for the neighborhood). The property is owned by the adjacent church and currently used for parking. One early requirement of the development was to provide ample Sunday parking for the Church. This may be one of the reasons that the developers plan to include 350 spots for a 90-room hotel and It is this requirement which supposedly made condo and rental development difficult on the site.

Dick Clark South Congress Hotel

The project is being developed by a team led by Bill Gurasich, a founder of GSD&M and co-owner of the Mansion on Judges Hill, a beautiful boutique hotel on MLK bvld between Lamar and Guadalupe. The project will be designed by Dick Clark, a well-established Texas contemporary architect who also designed the nearby “04” retail, restaurant (Mars), and condo project.

The developers are planning to include two “major” restaurants. Work is expected to begin in 2009 with the project to be completed in 2010.

While development in the heart of the South Congress ecosystem is always sensitive -- it’s truly one of the City’s great assets -- the existing weed-ridden block today serves mostly to break the flow of pedestrian traffic. A small hotel, underground parking, and extensive retails and restaurant are about as good a use of the block as can be expected. And Dick Clark is one of the few architects who has proven that he can successfully integrate new development into the South Congress streetscape.

A Radical New Plan for Zilker Park Residences

Last November, developers announced plans for 74 units to be developed on the eastern edge of Zilker Park on Barton Springs Road. With units starting at $300K and topping out near $1.3 million, the 3 building project was to sit on the border of the park with direct access to the hike and bike trails. Over the last few weeks, as listings were pulled from the MLS, it became clear that a change was in the works.

Today, the developers announced a radically different plan for the site with revised plans that include a reduction from 74 to 40 larger units, the addition of a hotel, and an expansion of the site through the purchase of an adjacent restaurant (formerly Wanfu Tool).

Here are the key details on the new project:

- 40 units ranging in size from a 1,515 square foot one bedroom to the largest 3,241 square foot unit.

- Prices range from $659,000, one of the highest starting prices of any project in Austin, to $1.4 million. According to the developers, about 1/3 of prospective buyers are contracting for multiple units, the highest priced of which has been near $3 million for 6,700 square feet.

- The project will include three 5-story condo buildings and a fourth building will house the newly-announced 65-room boutique hotel

- Although the project has not received construction financing, work is expected to begin in March with the first residents moving in as early as March of 2010. No clear timeline has been disclosed for construction of the hotel.

- As expected, access to the adjacent park is the top selling point and key differentiator for the project.

- 16 of the 40 units, or 40%, or have been sold (or are pending) with deposits of 10-15%.

- According to the developers, most of the buyers are empty-nesters and many are paying in cash.

- A sales center will open in the former restaurant building as soon as November.

The repositioning of Zilker Park Residences shows that while the market is tough, well-positioned boutique projects can be successful. With 40% of units accounted for, ZIlker Park Residences is off to a strong start. The up-market repositioning of the project based on early sales shows that demand remains for high-end downtown housing is real, and this bodes well for other projects currently under development. In addition, it also shows that demand for boutique hotel rooms remains strong. No doubt, this will be the toughest hotel room to book during the Austin City Limits Festival.

ZIlker Park Residences

Here is a summary of the project from the Austin American Statesman:

Developer John Wooley has added a boutique hotel to his proposed condominium project on Barton Springs Road bordering Zilker Park. He also has a new financial partner — the real estate development firm of Fort Worth billionaire Ed Bass.

Original plans for the project, announced in November, had 74 condominium units at the eastern edge of the park. The new design includes 40 condominiums and a 65-room boutique hotel whose operator Wooley said he's not ready to disclose.

Wooley also has purchased the former Wanfu Too restaurant site on Barton Springs Road, expanding the size of the project to just less than two acres.

His partners in the project are his brother, Jeff Wooley, and Sands Harris, a Harvard-educated architect and veteran developer of condo and mixed-use projects, including five such projects in the 72-acre master-planned Victory development in Dallas.

Fineline Diversified Development, Bass' development and investment arm, is a new equity partner. Bass was the equity partner in La Frontera, the 330-acre master-planned commercial development in Round Rock . . .

Prices are expected to range from $659,000 for a one-bedroom unit with 1,515 square feet to $1.4 million for a unit with 3,241 square feet. However, Wooley said about a third of prospective buyers are contracting for combined units, and the highest priced of those is in the $3 million range, for a unit with 6,700 square feet.

All will have balconies and screened porches.

Wooley said he decided to go with fewer but larger units based on the response to his initial marketing efforts.

Most potential buyers "are empty-nesters or people who soon will be," he said. "A lot of them have pretty large families, and when their children and grandchildren come home, they don't want to be in a loft or a one-bedroom."

Wooley said he has signed or pending contracts for 16 units, with buyers paying deposits of 10 or 15 percent.

Wooley said most of the buyers "are clearly planning on not having a mortgage," and thus won't be affected by the credit crunch that is limiting the availability of home loans.

Boecker said the project was appealing for several reasons, including the involvement of Sands and John Wooley, and the location near Austin's most prized park.

Development Update: The other 13 Buildings Rising Downtown

Austin Towers focuses on downtown Austin condo development, tracking the top projects currently under construction in the downtown area. As any observer can tell, there are many other downtown projects currently under construction downtown. Whether hotels, dorms, garages, or retail, all of these projects will change the face of downtown Austin

Here is a run-down of other important projects (information provided by City of Austin) which are currently under construction downtown:

Austin Market District, South Block Ph. II
The so-called Austin Market District is a four block zone spanning from 5th street to sixth street on Lamar. This project, on the Southeast corner of fifth and Lamar, involves construction on the garage portion of this second phase of an existing project. When completed, the 2nd phase will add a seven-story parking garage, 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space and 10,000 sq. ft. expansion to Pure Austin Fitness.

Hotel Van Zandt
The site has been cleared and San Diego-based JMI Realty will start construction late this year on a hotel project on Lady Bird Lake. The hotel, which will have 307 rooms, will be operated by San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels.
Start Construction: November 2008
Austin Hotel Van Zandt

Gables Park Plaza
Construction has started on this primarily residential project (294 apartments and 185 condominiums), along with 22,000 s.f. of retail and 11,000 s.f. of office and a 5,000 s.f. restaurant.
Completion: Early 2010

Gables Park Plaza Austin

La Vista on Lavaca
Construction started in 2007 on this mixed-use building which will have a first floor restaurant, a 3-floor Executive Business Center, and 31 condos (700 s.f. to 2,000 s.f.) on the top floors. Construction, however, has recently stalled without explanation.
Completion: April 2009

La Vista On Lavaca Austin Condos

The Ashton
MetLife Inc.'s Dallas office has teamed with The Hanover Company of Houston to build a 36-story tower on the half block lot just west of the 100 Congress. The project (formerly named Altavida) will include 258 rental units and a 5-level parking garage and ground floor lobby, visitor parking and retail space. Five levels of below-grade parking will connect to the existing 100 Congress garage.
Completion: Spring 2009

The Ashton Austin Altavida Downtown Rental

The project is a apartment development consisting of 169 multifamily units near Congress and Riverside in the South Congress area.
Completion: Late 2008

Crescent Austin Rental

300 Lamar Boulevard South
Phoenix Property is building a 5-story, 137-unit apartment project with ground floor retail and restaurants, on the site formerly occupied by Binswanger Glass Co.
Completion: Early 2009

The Presidio at Judges Hill
Dallas-based Stonehill-PRM Realty is developing a 45-unit condo on the southwest corner of Martin Luther King Blvd. and West Avenue. Pricing starts at $235,000 with 45 units ranging from 689 to 1915 square feet.* Expected completion date of the model is mid-September with an expected completion date of November 2008. The project is being designed by Allan Nutt Architects, who also designed Piazza Navona in West Campus.
Completion: December 2008

Presidio at Judges Hill Austin

Legacy @ Town Lake
Legacy Partners is constructing a 31-story luxury high-rise residential building, with 187 apartments and 9 live / work lofts at ground level. The site is across the street from the Milago condominium project, at the corner of Rainey and Cummings Streets, adjacent to the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail.
Completion: October 2008 (first units), complete Feb. ‘09

Legacy on Town Lake Austin Rental

La Vista de Guadalupe
La Vista de Guadalupe, a 22-unit multifamily development, is going up at 813 E. Eighth St., just east of downtown. The development will have apartments from one to three bedrooms in two buildings, with rents from $300 to $725 per month, targeting a mix of incomes. Each unit will have nine-foot ceilings and full appliances, with designs that maximize energy efficiency. The development aims to provide
housing for residents who are finding it difficult to stay in the East Austin area because of dramatic increases in rents, aiming at families below the median income. La Vista de Guadalupe is owned by Guadalupe Family Community LP. Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp., a nonprofit that focuses on neighborhood revitalization and preservation, will serve as the developer and
property manager.

Super COOP
Alan Robison This is a 7-story, 178 unit multifamily / co-op development.

21 Rio
This is a 16-story, 117 unit private UT housing project with some first floor retail.


The Quarters
John McKinnerney This is a 100-unit multifamily project with ground floor retail.

In addition, AustinTowers continues to report on the following downtown condo projects, all of which are actively under construction or recently completed:

Barton Place
Bridges on the Park
Four Seasons Residences
The Shore
W Hotel & Residences

Inside 360: The Amenities Deck

When it comes to downtown Austin condos, the biggest news of 2008 is the recent opening of 360. With the opening, residents have begun to occupy the 430 sold-out units in the 44-story condo tower.

In many ways, the heart do the 360 project is the 9th floor amenity deck: the social center of 360 where residents go to swim, exercise, watch movies, play pool, socialize, or simply lunge among the palm trees near the outdoor fireplace. Located above the garage and below the residences, the Amenity Deck provides both indoor and outdoor entertainment for 360’s residents.

The images below provide an inside look at life in the 360 tower:

It's Back: 800 West Applies for Height Variance

Last September, Fortis Development proposed a 250-foot, 200-unit, 25-story tower on 8th street and West Avenue near downtown. Since the area is currently zoned for buildings no taller than 60 feet, the project required a zoning variance or zoning change.

This week, the developers continued to press their case to the ciry for the zoning change, proving that the project is very much alive. As part of the process, the architects have presented four design options for the city to evaluate. all design have public parks in the back facing shoal creek. In the future, a trail will run alongside the creek connecting the building directly to the hike and bike trails and Ladybird Lake.

As we have reported, this decision may be a tough one for the city council: they need to decide on the boundaries of Austin's high-rise downtown. In the projects favor, it is within two blocks of the Nokonah at 9th and Lamar, CLB's proposed 33-story super tower on 7th and Rio Grande, and another project on 6th and West. As the developer points out, it is one of very few downtown blocks free of capital view corridor restrictions.

Here are the details on the proposed project:

- 200 condos in a single 25-story tower
- Lot size is 1.2 Acres
- Proposed building size is 25 stories totalling 130,605 square feet
- The project would include 143 parking spaces
- Planned amenities include a sun deck, gardens, and public trails connecting the building to the Shpal Creek greenbelt

Here are additional details from the Austin Chronicle:

Another test of council will concerning building heights in western Downtown: The zoning case for 800 West Ave., a 1.2-acre Shoal Creek-front site at the corner of Eighth Street, returned to council for a final vote at press time. Last fall, Cypress Real Estate Advisors sought an upgrade to Central Business District zoning to build a 250-foot condo tower, to be designed by Muñoz + Albin Architec­ture and Planning. (The contested 33-story 7Rio condo tower, at nearby Seventh and Rio Grande – now on hold – won CBD from council last year.) When 800 West Ave. came before council in November, members instead approved, on first reading, Downtown Mixed Use Condi­tional Over­lay zoning, which limits height to 120 feet. But according to unhappy project neighbor Ben Procter, retiring Council Member Betty Dunkerley then encouraged a developer-friendly "pass" on height-limiting compatibility standards triggered by nearby residences – a perk of CBD, not DMU. Definitive development guidelines for this peri­pheral urban district, rich in historic homes, are due later this year in the Downtown Austin Plan.

Trammell Crow to Develop 6 Acre Downtown Site

Today, the City of Austin offically selected Trammell Crow, Constructive Ventures, and USAA toredevelop the six acre Green Water Treatment Plant site into a dense multi-use extention of downtown. As part of the deal, the development team will pay the city $57.9 million for the right to develeop the prime site.

With the developer selected -- Trammell Crow proposed the most dense and ambitious plan for the site -- downtown Austin is now set for it’s most radical transformation in decades. With the redevelopment of the Green Site, as many as five high-rise buildings - some as tall as 40-stories -- will be added to the Austin skyline. In addition, a new retail district will connect the 2nd street district to the Seaholm development, creating a vibrant new downtown region which will draw many more residents, workers, and visitor downtown for shopping, dining, and entertainment.

As previously reported, the Trammell Crow proposal includes the following components:

- A 350,000-square-foot hotel and a 250-unit senior assisted living facility in addition to condos, apartments, offices and retail space.

- Five public squares could accommodate as many as 2,700 people.

- 5,200 new parking spaces

- The proposal includes an Austin Car Share program, bicycle bays, and electric refueling stations

- Restoration of the downtown street grid which will ease congestion and streamlie the flow of traffic into downtown

- The proposal offers to make 25 percent of its rental units affordable--defined at 80 percent of the city's median family income--and offered to make a donation to the city's affordable housing fund for every condo it sells, estimating that total donations could reach $2.5 million.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The Austin City Council on Wednesday unanimously chose Trammell Crow and its partners Constructive Ventures and USAA for the single biggest development project ever to take place downtown.The group beat four other development teams to win the right to negotiate with the city to buy and transform five isolated blocks of city-owned land bounded loosely by the Seaholm Power Plant and San Antonio, Fourth and Cesar Chavez streets into a residential, commercial and cultural hub.But a city official familiar with the proposals said the Trammell Crow team offered to pay $57.9 million for the six acres appraised at $55.5 million. The official requested anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak about the unsigned deal.Of the five teams, Trammell Crow proposed the biggest and tallest buildings, the most uses and the most parking for the current sites of the Green Water Treatment Plant and Austin Energy Control Center.Two weeks ago, members of the city staff announced that they had determined that the Trammell Crow plan was the best deal for the city.Their decision was based largely on financial information the city has refused to release, including: the proposed sales price for the land, sales and property tax projections, the financial backing of the developers, and the amount of public money needed to achieve the developers' plans. City officials say the information won't be released until the city has signed a deal with the selected developer, a process that could take more than a year.

Star Riverside Begins Construction

Star Riverside, a four building condo complex on Riverside Drive just east of I-35, has officially commenced construction on the first 2 buildings. In this first phase, two 6-story lake front buildings will contain 64 large mostly 3/3 units ranging from 1,500 to more than 2,500 square feet with prices starting at $600k. The first two buildings are expected to be completed by Summer, 2009. A second phase will add 9 and 12-story towers with units as small as 600SF and starting around $350K.

Star Riverside Austin Condo Rendering CPG

Star Riversideis being developed by Constellation Property Group on the 4 acre former site of the Wellesley Inn & Suites just East of I-35. Constellation, an Australian firm which has developed some very cool modern projects (examples), has targeted a small number of cities in the U.S. for new projects. Austin is one of their targets, and Star Riverside is the first new project to break ground.

The first phase of the project features a relatively small number (64) of large units (1,500 - 2,500) in two buildings that sit as close as the rules allow to the lake. With prices starting at $600K, or about $400 / SF, the projects are mid-priced for downtown condo units. While the architecture is interesting and the projects looks to be modern, tasteful, and well-conceived, it remain to be seen whether this price point will succeed East of I-35 and South of the lake. Pluses include direct access to the hike and bike trails, a private dock (non-motorized water craft only on Lady Bird lake) and a planned swimming pool for residents.

In addition, Star Riverside is one of the first projects to transform the shores of Riverside drive on the south side of Ladybird lake. Constellation, and four other developers, are planning to build more than 2,000 luxury condo and apartment units near the shores of Ladybird lake. With close access to downtown, the South Congress entertainment district, the lake, and the hike and bike trails, the location is highly desirable yet less expensive (theoretically) than the city core. As part of thee projects, the Hike and Bike trail is likely to be expanded to fill long missing gaps between Congress Avenue and I-35 and with Star Riverside, the trail will be extended East of I-35.

Star Riverside was scaled back from 364 units to 201 units after the City planning commission denied the developers request for an impervious cover variance. Constellation had attempted to get a variance by building green roofs that were fully landscaped. The planning commission, however, has been very strict when it comes to variances for new buildings on the shores of Lady Bird lake.

The full and updated Star Riverside Profile can be found here. And below, here are additional images and renderings of the Star Riverside project:

City Staff Recommends Trammell Crow Proposal for Green Water Treatment Site

This week the city staff recommended Trammell Crow's proposal for redevelopment of the Green Water Treatment plant tract in downtown Austin. Trammell Crow and it's partner Constructive Ventures, which has been involved in the development of Spring and BartonPlace, proposed the most ambitious plan for the site with the tallest buildings, the most parking, and the biggest diversity of uses.

While the staff’s recommendation is not biding, it is a strong endorsement for the project and makes Trammwll Crow the clear front runner for this important project. Here are some details of their proposal:

- The Trammell Crow proposal calls for a 350,000-square-foot hotel and a 250-unit senior assisted living facility in addition to condos, apartments, offices and retail space.

- Five public squares could accommodate as many as 2,700 people.

- The proposal includes 5,200 parking spaces

- The proposal includes an Austin Car Share program, bicycle bays, and electric refueling stations

- The proposal offers to make 25 percent of its rental units affordable--defined at 80 percent of the city's median family income--and offered to make a donation to the city's affordable housing fund for every condo it sells, estimating that total donations could reach $2.5 million.

Here are renderings from the Trammell Crow Proposal:

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.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

After sorting through five partnerships' proposals for developing the Green Water Treatment Plant site, city staff members on Thursday recommended Austin go with Trammell Crow, which proposed the biggest and tallest buildings with the most uses.Staff members ranked Stratus Properties second, followed by Forest City, Catellus and Simmons Vedder.The site is five city-owned blocks roughly bounded by the Seaholm Power Plant and San Antonio, Fourth and Cesar Chavez streets.The recommendation is based largely on financial information the city has declined to release. The information won't be released until the city has signed a deal with the selected developer, a process that could take more than a year after the City Council makes a choice June 18.The staff recommendation is not binding."We now have a couple weeks as a council to continue to get a bit of public feedback while, more importantly, drilling down through the staff analysis, asking questions of staff and ultimately coming up with our decision in two weeks," Mayor Will Wynn said.

New: W Austin Residences Listings

Earlier this month, the developers of the W Hotel & Residences announced successful funding of the project and immediately broke ground on the 165 condo unit and luxury hotel project. 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.

For the first time, actual listings are now available on the MLS, and as always, we have added the W to our Condo Listing Page.

As of the beginning of the month, just more than half, 85 of the 165 units, are under contract with nonrefundable 10% deposits. Amazingly, 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 three listings on the market today (many more are being sold directly) range in price from $617,500 for a large 1,149 square foot 1 bedroom / 1 bath unit to $2.875 million for a 3,932 SF 3 bedroom / 3 bath unit.

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.

Here are renderings of the planned interiors:

W Austin Condo Interior Rendering

The W Residences Listings can be found here.

360 Retail, Lance Armstrong Bike Store to Open

According to the Statesman, four new businesses will move into retail spaces on the ground floor of the nearly complete 360 project on 4th and Nueces:

* Blue Café Bar Lounge will open in an 1,100-square-foot space in June. The European-influenced shop will feature coffee drinks, lunch items, desserts and wine among other items.

* Lora Reynolds Gallery will move from its current space on West Avenue to an 1,800-square-foot space at 360 in the fall. The gallery, which opened in 2004, features nationally and internationally recognized artists. It organizes six to eight shows annually, and has promoted gallery artists through a number of platforms including published catalogs and placement in public and private collections.

* Mulberry is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Michael Polombo and designer Michael Hsu. The shop slated to open in July will feature a variety of light cuisine in a neighborhood restaurant and wine bar format.

* Royal Blue Grocery will open its second location at 360. The compact urban market's first location is in Austin's Second Street District. The 1,900-square-foot store -- a hybrid of sorts between a convenience store and gourmet grocery -- will welcome its first customers in August.

With these tenants, 7,909 square feet remain unrented, the highlight of which is a 3,300-square-foot restaurant space overlooking Shoal Creek.

Just a block away - on Nueces between 4th and 5th-- Lance Armstrong's new bike store / coffee house / commuter hub is also opening. The store, named Mellow Johnny's, is certain to be a major downtown destination. According to Austin 360:

Besides road bikes, Mellow Johnny's will sell commuter bikes, mountain bikes, triathlon bikes, fixed-gear bikes, low-riders, cruiser-style bikes and even hand-made "art bikes" that look as good hanging on a wall as they do rolling down the street. Stock will also include gear by Giro, Nike and Oakley.Showers and a locker room will allow commuters who don't have facilities at their offices to ride downtown, store their bikes at the shop, bathe and catch a ride on a pedicab or walk the rest of the way to work.The building covers 18,000 square feet on a main floor and basement level and will have garage doors that roll open at one end. The site has served as a distribution center for Pearl beer, a paint company, a steel manufacturing facility and a resource center for the homeless. Demolition work began in June, and construction inside the shop started two weeks ago. Armstrong and his partners are leasing the property from an undisclosed owner.

Lance Armstong's Mellow Johnny's Store is one block north of 360

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.

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."

Arthouse Announces Striking Downtown Expansion Plan

Arthouse, a downtown contemporary art museum located on Congress and 7th, today announced plans to remodel and expand their downtown galleries and educational facilities. According to Arthouse, "The plans -- developed by Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis, New York-based architects, the Board’s Building Committee and Staff -- will triple total space from 7,000 sq. ft. to 20,830 sq.ft."

Arthouse (formerly the Texas Fine Arts Association) was founded in 1911, and for more than ninety years it has advocated for the support of contemporary art in Texas, organizing exhibitions and presenting them in Austin and statewide. From its home, the Jones Center in downtown Austin, Arthouse pursues its mission: to promote the growth and appreciation of contemporary art and artists in Texas. The museum is well respected for its innovative exhibits and programs.

With the $6.6 million renovation and expansion, the project will “recycle” the current building which in the 1920’s was the Queen Theater, a key part of the Queen/Paramount/State theater “block,” and in the 1950’s became a Lerner Shops department store. Three new galleries, two artists’ studios, a 90-seat community/screening room, and a 5,500 sq. ft. rooftop space with a 33 foot x 17 foot movie screen will be added.

The highlight of the Arthouse project is the innovative architecture of the renovated structure. The striking building features randomly placed green translucent bricks, a modern awning reminiscent of the building's department store past, large glass windows including live projections on the upper floor, and a dramatic rooftop deck with an open air movie theater. The main space on the second floor also doubles as a large screening room.

Arthouse Museum Renovation Rendering Remodel Downtown New Building Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis

New Arthouse Building Austin Museum

Arthouse Movie Screening New Building

The Arthouse project follows Austin Museum of Arts recent announcement of a new 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. Together, these projects mark an exciting expansion of downtown arts options. With regular events, gallery openings, and now rooftop movies, these venues will continue to thrive as cornerstones of the emerging downtown cultural scene.

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 AustinTowers.net

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 AustinTowers.net 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.

W Austin Condo Update

The W Hotel & Residences continues to make progress. They are now actively selling units ad have completed nearly 200 meetings for the 206 planned units in the 36 story tower. Supposedly, they have taken firm reservations for somewhere between 20-35% of the units.

The W is offering 19 different floor plans ranging in size from 644 to 3,779 square feet. They have launched a new website which includes all of the floor plans: http://www.block21residences.com/plans.asp. The project is located in the heart of the second street district directly behind city hall. The modern W brand is popular and should fare well with a young, affluent audience.

Here is a new image of a model of the planned building:

Future Downtown Austin Skyline

Every now and then, someone takes all of the fancy models of new condo projects, shrinks them to their proportional size, and lines them up in there approximate position in the sky. While not perfect, this latest attempt is up-to-date with most of the recently announced projects. When shown this way, it is amazing to think that the skyline in 2010 will essentially be all new.

Here is the image:

Future Downtown Austin Skyline

The most interesting downtown housing: Population 3 (including a dog!)

While lots has been written about the many large-scale downtown high rise condo projects under way, there i another downtown living trend worthy of note. Over the last five years, a number of the older, historic buildings on Congress avenue have been converted into very large single family residences. At least four buildings have been - or are in the process of being - converted.

Here are pictures of one of the projects - a roughly 6,500 square foot "house" between 8th and ninth on the East side of Congress Ave. I have toured one of these projects and the amazing thing is the complexity of the engineering. To build these -- and to support the weight of a pool on the roof -- requires the construction of a complex steel structure to support the loads of the house.

Here are a few pictures of the project:

Click the link below to see many more great pictures!


Monarch Condos?

The Monarch — billed as the city's first luxury rental high rise tower — is now very far along in the construction process. Developer ZOM Austin is constructing what was supposed to be a 27 story rental project on 5th just East of Lamar with 297 rental apartments and 8,500 square feet of ground floor retail.

The confusing part of the project is it's website which now bills the project as the Monarch Condominiums and refers to the upcoming opening of the project's "sales center". It's hard to find any interpretation other than that the project will be largely, if not entirely, converted from a rental to a condo project. There is not currently any websites promoting rentals at the Monarch.

Current sales of downtown Austin condo units are reported to be quite strong. While rental rates are rising, the market for very expensive downtown rental units is very very small. Given hat the Monarch will beat many of the other planned projects to the market, the switch is probably a smart decision. What remains to be seen, is what percentage of the building will be rental and which units will be condos. If anyone has additional information, send us a note!

New York Times Article: Protecting the Hill Country

The New York Times published an interesting analysis of the development pressures on the hill country surrounding Austin. The hill country is one of Austin's greatest assets and has historically been protected from development by the difficulty of providing a reliable water supply across the rural region. Recently, however, new water infrastructure has changed the equation, adding to development pressures in the hill country.

Thousands of new people will come to Austin this year. One of the nice benefits of downtown development is that it takes pressure off development west of the city. A single large downtown building can provide enough housing to displace a 400 acre suburban development. Plus, as downtown residents either work downtown or drive in a reverse commute, they reduce the traffic pressure on highly congested roads.

Here is a quote from the article:

The Hill Country, an area that extends about 150 miles west of Austin, is quickly becoming suburban. With its rolling hills, lakes and rivers, it is attracting Texans eager to escape city life, and out-of-state buyers who can buy more acreage for less, real estate agents say, than they might pay in other states.“People want to live out in the country,” said Charles Gilliland, a research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University in College Station.Water, once so difficult to find, is, at least for now, not a problem because of new water lines. Thousands of new homes are planned, and last year the Real Estate Center reported that land prices had reached as high as $25,000 an acre. In certain areas, the prices have ballooned even further.Ranchers and farmers, enticed by multimillion-dollar payouts, retirement or the lack of heirs, are selling thousands of acres of their large properties to developers eager to put up homes and strip malls. Other landowners, threatened with rising property taxes, see no option but to sell some of the land they have held in their families for many decades.The beauty of the Hill Country may also be its undoing. The crush of new people is likely to put more cars on county roads, pollute creeks and streams and eventually drain underground water supplies, according to the Save Our Springs Alliance in Austin.In an environmentally sensitive area like the Hill Country, which sends water downstream to Austin, the stakes are particularly high. And the concerns have led to efforts — like those of the Lowenthals’ group — to curb development.

360 Sales Update

According to a source who recently visited the 360 sales center, the 44-story 430 unit is selling well and should sell out soon -- many months ahead of its scheduled completion date. With 430 units, 360 is the largest of the current crop of developments, so a sell out would be a strong sign for the market.

The news is that 360 has sold approximately 378 of the planned 430 units. With 52 units remaining, 88% of units have been sold. Supposedly, most of the remaining units face East with the cheapest remaining 1 bedroom selling for $283K and the cheapest remaining 2 bedroom listed at $406,000. There are still 14 floor plans to choose from.

While sales are strong, the other side of the coin is that the first 75% of units supposedly sold in the first three weeks in he market in March. In the following 3.5 month, they have sold just another 13%. But, there is lots of time left to sell the remaining 52 units.

360 is unique in that it is well positioned, very tall, early to market, and attractively priced. It still remains to be seen how well the more expensive downtown projects will fare.

Spring Breaks Ground

Another downtown Austin condo building has begun it's unstoppable climb to the sky. Over the last few weeks, construction has begun on the Spring condo development in the Austin Market District, just south of Whole Foods. The $70 million project will be 42-stories high. The 260-unit project at 3rd & Bowie will have units starting in the low $200s.

Here are some new notes on the project from the staff:

Spring is designed by Foad Rafii, a Vancouver architect, using design principles that maximize the amount of usable space on each floor. Panoramic views of the city, wall-to-wall glass and concrete "point towers," so called because a plate - the footprint of one floor - is limited to 6,800 square feet. Compare this to Austin, where many of our recent residential buildings are thick and squat and use land inefficiently. Plans call for ground-level retail and 248 units, priced from $235,000 (600 SF) to $950,000 (1,720 SF), with only four to eight units per floor. This will be a stunning piece of architecture, and it will help accommodate the need for urban living space in the heart of Austin.Larry Warshaw, who is developing the project along with Perry Lorenz, Robert Barnstone and Diana Zuniga. Lorenz and Barnstone were partners in the Nokonah condominiums on North Lamar Boulevard and West Ninth Street. Robert Barnstone also served on the Austin City Council from 1988 to 1990. Warshaw and Lorenz co-developed the Pedernales Lofts condominiums on East Sixth Street. Zuniga, a well-known broker, also is a principal in the partnership that sold the land.

And of course, AT has a full profile. And here is a picture:

Dpring Condos Downtown Austin

Downtown Marriott: 31 floors, 1,000+ Rooms

New plans were announced today for the most controversial project in downtown Austin: the 1,000+ room $250 million Marriott superplex on 2nd and Congress. The project, best known for displacing La Manitas, has been reconfigured to include higher-end brand hotels and fewer, taller "buildings". As far as we can tell, the 31-story project still does not include any ground floor retail. While the project has an opportunity to extend the thriving 2nd street district towards the convention center and the new 21c Austin Condos and Museum, Marriott seems more interested in developing another large, generic, building on a prime downtown lot.

Here's a summary from today's Statesman:

White Lodging, which would develop, own and operate the hotels under a long-term agreement with Marriott International, still plans a 1,000-room project, but the new plans have two towers instead of three.New plans call for a 31-story tower along Brazos Street with 850 guest rooms and an 11-story hotel along Congress Avenue with 150 rooms.The larger Marriott will be a convention center hotel, and the smaller one will be a J.W. Marriott, the chain's upscale brand. White Lodging hopes to break ground in early 2008 and open the hotels in 2010. . . Initial plans called for a 26-story Marriott convention center hotel with 650 rooms; an 11-story upscale Renaissance Hotel with 200 rooms; and a 15-story Springhill Suites with 150 rooms.

If this project had an interesting architect, ground floor retail, and a way to incorporate Las Manitas it might be a positive addition to downtown. While the 1,000 rooms will provide an important boost to the convention center and the Austin economy, the planned project is uninspiring and potentially disruptive to a prime pedestrian corridor on one of the most important downtown blocks.

East Avenue: $750M Development Near Downtown

A lot of money is being spent on downtown development -- more than $2 billion in condo projects alone at last count. And while it is technically outside of downtown, it seems another $750 million mixed use development is about to break ground. The project will develop 2.75 million square feet across 22 prime central acres near downtown Austin.

The project, East Avenue, will be on the former campus of Concordia University just North of the University of Texas on the West side of I-35. The goal is a new mixed-use "downtown" with residential, commercial, retail, parks, and a hotel. Here is the summary from the Austin Business Journal:

With a three to five-year build-out timeframe, the project will eventually include 1,450 residential units, 600,000 square feet of office space, 325,000 square feet of retail and a 250-room luxury hotel. Pocket parks, public spaces and an interconnected network of walkways will also be included in the layout of East Avenue, which developer Andy Sarwal hopes will become an entertainment and shopping hub, providing a dense, urban-living alternative to downtown.

As we have asked before, how many downtowns does one city need? It's hard to tell what is happening: the optimistic view is that responsible developers are working hard to create model mini-communities that represent a new sort of urbanism. I hope this is true -- and that Austin is becoming a leader in a new sort of urban or quasi-urban growth. Clearly, it's too early to know how these projects will fare --- my sense with all of these (the Domain, The Triangle, etc.) is that they don't really become interesting until after a few phases of development when they reach a scale that provides a critical mass for people to live, work, shop, and have fun. So far, only the Domain seems on track to reach this objective.

The following images, courtesy of East Avenue, show the site and renderings of the new neighborhood:

New 31-Story Rental Tower Breaks Ground

While this site focuses on condo development, today's announcement of a new rental project demonstrates the breadth of downtown development. The project -- Legacy@Town Lake -- is a 31-story, 187 unit rental project in the Rainey Street district near the Milago off Town Lake.

According to the developer, rents are expected to range from $1,330 to $6,930 (average rent will be $2,298) for units that range in size from 659 square feet to 2,876 square feet. I'm not sure how many people are looking for a $7K / month for a 2,900SF rental unit, but I am very curious to find out.

Here is the summary from the Statesman:

Construction has started on Legacy@Town Lake, a 31-story luxury apartment tower that is the latest high-rise to break ground amid downtown Austin's residential building boom. . . Legacy Partners Residential Development Inc., based in Foster City, Calif., is building the 187-unit project at Rainey and Cummings streets. . . Construction has started on Legacy@Town Lake, a 31-story luxury apartment tower that is the latest high-rise to break ground amid downtown Austin's residential building boom. Legacy Partners Residential Development Inc., based in Foster City, Calif., is building the 187-unit project at Rainey and Cummings streets. . . Legacy@Town Lake is due to open in September 2008, said Spencer Stuart Jr., a senior vice president and partner. . . The project will include a 265-car garage. . . Other apartment projects under construction downtown include AMLI Residential Properties Trust's 18-story, 232-unit complex on Second Street between Guadalupe and San Antonio streets, and Phoenix Property Co.'s complex at the former Goodwill site near West Fifth Street and North Lamar Boulevard. In addition, several condominium towers are under way, with scores more planned in and around downtown.

How does it look? Needless to say, the rental projects in Austin are rarely as architecturally interesting as the major condo projects. This project is no exception. In fact, it almost looks as if the garage is falling over.

Town Lake Condo Projects Fuel Opposition

A new group, "savetownlake.org" has been formed and has initiated legal action against the city to fight variances for a variety of condo projects on the banks of Town Lake. Essentially, they want to make sure that the city does not grant variances to allow new projects to build closer to the lake than current ordinances allow. Here is the summary from the Statesman:

An Austin citizens group has asked a judge to temporarily stop the city from granting exceptions to an ordinance that limits development along Town Lake in the latest battle over dense development in and near downtown. The outcome could have ramifications for future development along the lake, where developers have proposed more than 1 million square feet of residential projects. Some of those projects are seeking exceptions to an ordinance that restricts how close developers can build to the shore and how tall the buildings can be. SaveTownLake.org contends that a 1999 rewrite of the city's waterfront development rules omitted key provisions, including height limits and the right of citizens to appeal when variances are granted. . . .SaveTownLake's specific target is a proposed three-tower condominium project that CWS Capital Partners LLC plans on Riverside Drive east of Congress. The developers want a variance to build part of the project closer to the lake than the existing ordinance allows.

It's hard to argue against protecting the banks of the lake . . . .as downtown becomes more and more dense, the urban experience will be greatly enhanced by the park-like experience of Town Lake. The issue, however, is more complex. A number of projects -- especially those East of I-35 on the south shore, have proposed trading variances for extension of the hike and bike trail and permanent easements providing public access to the shore. For example, Star Riverside. This is clearly in the city's best interest.

Nokonah Analysis: Part II

Two months ago, Austin Towers initiated a comprehensive unit-by-unit analysis of appreciation in the Nokonah. The Nokonah, A luxury high-rise project completed in 2002, was one of the first successful projects that helped to ignite the current condo boom in downtown Austin. The 11-story project is located at 9th and Lamar just north of Whole Foods and on the western border of downtown. When the Nokonah was built, the real estate market in Austin was stalling as the regional economy slowed. It was not clear how well the new project would do. Five years later we know the answer: the project sold out and the buyers have seen significant appreciation in the value of their units.

As we mentioned in Part I of our analysis, In order to better understand condo values in the downtown market, we've begun a comprensive analysis of public tax records (tax records are available online through the Travis Central Appraisal District) to better understand downtown condo market values and how they have changed over the last five years. This analysis, which tracks every unit in the Nokonah, shows appraisal value and $ / SF by floor, apartment size, # of bedrooms, and year. The data is fascinating and will be a useful tool for anyone looking to purchase a downtown condo (Register for the full report).

In part two, we've further examined the tax data and have come up with some interesting results: Read More...

Changes to the Capital View Corridor

The Capital View Corridor is a unique Austin phenomenon. As part of the downtown master plan, the city has set aside a number of corridors where development is severely restricted. The corridor essentially requires all buildings to be short so that they don't block views of the capital from a number of predetermined angles. With 30 such corridors, the result severely limits downtown growth (read our previous posting on this)

In order to increase downtown density, a city council advisory board is recommending changes to the corridors. Here is the summary of today's news from the Statesman:

Of the 30 city views of the Capitol evaluated by an Austin City Council advisory board, a dozen are being recommended for change.The Downtown Commission characterizes the changes as mostly technical in nature, accommodating the reality of already restricted views because of development or other obstructions. . . In fact, enacting any recommendations in the report would require approval by the City Council or the Legislature, depending on which corridor it is. . . Boyt noted that the commission is proposing to keep 18 view corridors intact and that of the dozen with recommended changes, only three are substantive: deleting or modifying a view corridor that includes Wooldridge Park to allow for redevelopment of nearby lots; adjusting the northern boundary of a view corridor from the MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) bridge, a change that might allow taller developments along West Fifth and Sixth streets; and realigning the view from Interstate 35 between East Seventh and 10th streets, to remove three blocks where the view is obstructed by buildings and where the view is perpendicular to traffic on I-35.

Given the broad scope of the corridors and their effect on downtown development (do we really need 30 corridors to provide views of the capital), the significant changes proposed to two corridors seems quite reasonable. The challenges to getting these through the council and, if needed, the legislature, may be significant.

Question: What are condo buyers interested in? Answer: 360.

The growth of the site has been amazing over the last three months - we're now averaging nearly 1,000 visitors per month -- it's great to see so much interest in downtown high rise condo development.

On our home page, there is about 40 links. Interestingly enough, the link that gets the most click is not the blog or the project navigator or the condo project rankings. It's the link for the profile of Novare's 360 development. With 430 units across 44-floors, it's the biggest downtown project so far. With units starting at $190K, it's also the most reasonable. According to the developer, 75% of the units were under contract by the end of March, just 3 weeks after they went on the market.

The Austin condo market is so new that it is very hard to predict what will happen over the next few years. It's good to see that tall, well-designed, affordable projects in good locations are drawing so much interest and demand --- it bodes well for vibrant and dense urban core.

How many downtowns does one city need?

A very unusual $1.5 billion development was announced today -- it is a 681 acre multi-use development with a movie and music theme that is being proposed on empty land east of the city, near the new Texas 130 highway. The project includes a 50,000 SF soundstage and recording studio, a 70,000 seat outdoor amphitheater, and production facilities for movie, TV, and video game makers. It is being pitched as a master planned community for the creative class. The project will also include about 8,500 housing units -- mostly single family houses.

The developers claim they are trying to create an alternative downtown. But unlike the Domain, which may have as many as 85,000 residents in a dense multi-use neighborhood, this project seems to be very low density. It's more like Riverplace or Circle C than downtown with an average of just 4 households per acre. The amphitheater is a nice idea: Austin is lacking such a large scale venue. But it may be hard to fill 70,000 seats in a metropolitan area of just over a million for anything other than a UT football game. The bottom-line is that this is an ambitious project that seems unique. It's not a new downtown and it's not the focus of this site, but it will be interesting to see if it gets built. $1.5 billion is a big investment for any city, it's an amazing sum for East Austin.

Huge Downtown Plot Available for Development

Thirteen prime acres in the Rainey street neighborhood - the district between Red River and I-35 south of Cesar Chavez - are for sale in one of the largest downtown real estate offerings ever. The owners who assembled 20+ individual parcels including a large section along the lake are hoping that a master developer will purchase the land for dense multi-use development.

This would make sense as there are already multiple projects under way in the area including the Hotel Van Zandt. Shore Condos, the Mexican American Cultural Center, and the recently completed Milago condominiums. The area was recently rezoned for dense development and is a prime location for residential and hotel development. Additional retail, commercial, and entertainment projects would extend the traditional downtown boundaries and accelerate the shifting center of gravity further to the south.

The land is particularly attractive because the entire Rainey Street neighborhood is outside of existing Capital View Corridors that limit development. With the new zoning, it is a prime area for tall and dense new construction. However, a number of single family house owners continue to hold on to their parcels and may fight future requests for variances, which may add risk to the purchase and for any buyer who is looking to create a larger "master planned" district in the mold of the successful 2nd street district to the West.

Planning Commission Denies Riverside Variances

Ever since the Hyatt hotel was built on the south shore of Town Lake, neighborhood groups have mobilized to limit development south of the lake. This week, in a marathon planning commission that lasted until 2:30AM, the commission recommended that the city counsel deny variances for two high profile "South Lake" projects. Read More...

Affordable Housing Task Force

Over the last year, a city-sponsored Affordable Housing Incentives Task Force has been discussing ways to encourage the development of afordable housing units as part of large scale development projects. The city wants more affordable downtown units, but State law doesn't allow the city to place affordability requirements on new developments. The purpose of the task force is to create incentives that make it attractive for developers to include these units.

Last week, the Task Force delivered its recommendations to the Austin City Council, Planning Commission and the Community Development Commission. After seven months of work and twenty meetings, the task force reached consensus on incentive policies to encourage developers to provide affordable housing.

Like most policies, there is a carrot and a stick. The carrot provides for expedited review, fee waivers, and zoning variances that allow for greater height or density if affordable units are included. The stick is a fee -- as much as $10 per SF -- that applies to project area in excess of standard zoning density requirements when variances are granted for projects that do not include affordable units. As the City Council has already been applying similar rules in some zoning discussions, the incentives seem likely to be put into effect.

A Second Downtown?

This week, Endeavor Real Estate announced ambitious plans for the second phase of the Domain: the new mini-city rising off Mopac just north of 183. Between now and 2015, Endeavor plans to build 50, yes FIFTY, new buildings with heights ranging from 2-26 stories (as tall as 310 feet). When complete, The Domain will form a second Austin "downtown" with as many as 82,000 residents and 50,000 daytime workers. To put these numbers in context, Mayor Will Wynn has working hard towards a big goal: getting 25,000 people to live in the real downtown by 2015, the same timeframe. Read More...

Seaholm Details Revealed

More details emerged today on one of the most important downtown projects: the redevelopment of the Seaholm power plant site between Lamar and the second street district and just north of the river. Seaholm is a 7.8 acre site, the main feature of which is the 136,000 historic art deco decommissioned power plant. The redevelopment project will add a 22-story hotel and condo project featuring 80 condo units atop a 160 room hotel. While the initial phase of the project will open in 2008, the Seaholm Plaza Hotel is not expected to open until 2010.


Beyond Residential: Other Downtown Projects

While the focus of AustinTowers is downtown high-rise residential development, there are a number of non-residential projects that will also help reshape downtown over the next few years. Here are a few:

W Hotel - The new W Hotel will anchor the $225 million "Block 21" project in the heart of the second street district. If it is like other W's, the upscale design-themed hotel's bar and lobby will likely prove to be a popular nightspot. Block 21 will also include 200 high-end condos, a Willie-Nelson owned nightclub, a new Austin Children's museum, new studios for the Austin City Limits TV program, and 50,000 square feet of street-level retail. The project is expected to be completed in 2009.


Is this the Future Austin Skyline?

With more than a dozen high-rise projects currently in the planning or construction phases, Austin's skyline will change fast. This composite image (source unknown) provides a sense of the scale of the different projects. Note that the Congress Condos has been renamed the Austonian and is currently planned at 55 stories -- about the height of the Tom Stacy project at 5th and Congress. The Frost Bank Building, sometimes referred to as the world's largest nose hair trimmer, will no longer dominate the Austin skyline.

Future Austin Skyline