Downtown Building Boom Still Going Kaboom

Capitol Commons


Hold on to yer hats, because this downtown construction wave isn’t stopping.

Three new office/commercial development recently submitted plans for small to mid-rise projects downtown. Unlike the wave of preceding projects, which are practically abolishing the parking lots that are converted to stages during SXSW, all three of these are redevelopments of existing buildings.

Development inches closer to Judges Hill District

Back in the day, the northwest area of downtown Austin used to be (waaaay back) the hip spot for judges and attorneys to live. As such, it sort of remained an island, with a buffer of almost no development between it and the rest of downtown over the past half-a-century.

Those days may be ending, if there is money to be made, and a sign of that is a new eight-story office and retail center – called Capitol Commons – planned at northwest corner of 13th and San Antonio. The two small office buildings there now, along with the sidewalk, are going to be demolished in favor of a 50,000-square-foot office and retail project.

It’s unknown when ground will break, but it promises good views of the Capitol when it is finished.

Cirrus Logic scraps research building, switches to office strategy

Cirrus Logic has filed plans to move forward with a three-story, 36,000-square-foot building across from their current headquarters.

The existing site is currently developed with a single story building -- where Yoga Vida used to be -- and an asphalt parking lot, which will both be demolished and replaced with the proposed development, which will include building out to great Streets standards.

According to the proposal, the first floor will be parking, and the top two will be “office.” This is interesting, because Cirrus Logic initially wanted to have a 79,000-square-foot research facility there, but that got bogged down in zoning and permitting, and appears to have been snuffed out.

New office building next to county courthouse

The Texas Parent-Teacher Association is doing well. While that’s not newsworthy for readers of this blog, the fact that they plan to develop a 20,000-square-foot office building, in addition to a little restaurant space, downtown across from the current Travis County Courthouse is.

The project will go up right next to the parcel that Travis County recently purchased for more office space of its own.

It's hard to tell if the PTA is simply building out to accommodate additional staff, or if it is seeking to raise funds by building a new building and becoming the landlord for other office dwellers. The addition of resultant space in the site plan indicates the latter.

It’s an interesting play, and one we may see more off as various associations. They may have come to Austin decades ago to lobby lawmakers and have invested in downtown before it made financial sense, but now they can turn a buck and take advantage of the extraordinary demand for office space here.

North Lamar and South Lamar still in building boom 

Camden Lamar Heights

North Lamar development picks up at Triangle

It’s not just downtown that is building, cranes are also popping up on North Lamar, building luxury residential rentals near North Loop.

Two projects underway now just blocks from each other – the Triangle Tract 5 and Camden Lamar Heights – will add about 600 new residential units between the Triangle development and North Loop.

The Camden North Lamar project, on the northwest corner of North Loop and North Lamar, is a good example of redevelopment of industrial space in an urban core environment. To make room for the four-story mixed use development, about four single-story commercial/industrial buildings were wiped off the earth.

Camden crane

Camden old footprint

The Camden includes a six-level parking garage, and is expected to be completed in December of this year. 

Just a bit south, on the southern end of the Triangle, work is just getting underway on the Triangle Tract 5 mixed use building, which will add another 275 apartment units. The project will rise six stories, and have four layers of underground parking.

Triangle 5 crane

Triangle 5 elevations

The projects are not the only ones happening as part of the latest in a resurgence of the area, which includes a new rehabilitation hospital, which opened in 2012, and a mixed use affordable housing building, aimed at UT students.
 
South Lamar continues to increase density

Six apartment projects are currently being planned or are under construction, adding nearly 1,700 apartments in the next few years, in addition to the Alamo Drafthouse multiple use project. 

Now developers are planning another 350-unit building, south next door to the Saxon Pub. The project is the second phase of the Post South Lamar apartment building which opened in September 2012 and is 61 percent occupied

Check out previous Austin Towers coverage of the South Lamar boom here

Building Boom Near Mansion at Judges Hill


21 Pearl site


The Mansion at Judges Hill is going to starting to look like the Broken Spoke: flanked by development on both sides.

Dirt has started turning on a 141-unit development, dubbed 21 Pearl, will rise up west of the Mansion at Judges Hill, across from the Park West Residences condo development.

Meanwhile, another 118 units (plus about 3,500 square feet of retail) are planned east at 1901 Rio Grande in a project called Skyline Rio, in place of a budding food trailer park in a parking lot, and a two-story apartment building. (The project actually is on the 1901, 1903, 1905, and 1907 Rio Grande lots.)

The 21 Pearl project represents the entry of Lennar Corp., the third-largest U.S. home builder by sales, into rental housing, in a bid to capitalize on rising rents and growing demand for apartments. Skyline Rio is developed by the Austin-based Rolling Cash Equity Group, which bought the block in 2008 and originally planned a five-story building made up of 100 to 150 residential units and about 12,500 square feet of ground level retail space, along with two levels of underground parking.

LennarStudentHoustin-550
The 21 Pearl project bring 141 units and affordable housing


The property is located in the special zoning district covered by the University Neighborhood Overlay (“UNO”) guidelines which allow for both greater buildable height and density than would otherwise be permitted.

It is interesting that the developers are using an affordable housing discount on fees for these projects, since both should have access to credit and capital should be a no brainer.

Never the less, both projects seek to qualify for Austin’s S.M.A.R.T. (Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably-priced, Transit-oriented) housing deal.

The city exempts qualifying units from some development fees. To receive the exemptions, builders agree to build housing that is sold or rented to families with incomes below 80 percent of the area median income (under $39,900 for a family of four). The city also expedites approval of building permits for qualifying projects.

This could have been a tactic for the developments to be move-in ready in time for the 2014-2015 UT school year, versus any altruistic endeavor to maintain affordability in the core.

This in hindsight might have been a flawed strategy. Just down the street, developers are pursuing a fast-track permit at 17th & Guadalupe that they think they can have ready by the August move-in period for students.

Here’s the thing: demand for housing near the core is such that either of these developers could easily fill up their units with any amount of the young, well-off workforce migrating into Austin. It begs the question really, if housing near UT should even be considered “student housing” anymore, such as this project just north of the Mansion at Judges Hill was labeled. Back in the day, you could count on an apartment near UT to be filled with kiddos. But now, the area is catering to a demographic of young people craving urban living, sans the rising cost of being “downtown”.

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


prop_IBC_Bank_Plaza_LG_lg_1


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.

prop_Block51_Final_Rendering_LG_lg_1
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

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.

south-shore2
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.

south-shore

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.
 
 
 

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.

3eleven-apartments

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.

3eleven_311_bowie_site

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.

3eleven_bowie_west_elevation

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.

Update: 3eleven (311 Bowie Street)

3eleven_bowie

Last month the Statesman reported new details of the 3eleven apartment tower proposed by Endeavor. Above and below are the more recent elevation drawings of the building.

Endeavor’s original proposal to develop the site on the bank of Shoal Creek was shot down by City of Austin Planning Commission on the grounds that a pecan tree on the site should be protected. The Planning Commission was not against the project, per se, just that configuration. The project has evolved into a new design that permits the tree to be moved elsewhere on site. Now, it looks like the project is on track to begin construction soon.

Project Details:

Name = 3eleven
Address = 311 Bowie Street
Number of floors = 37 (26 residential floors)
Building height = 400 feet
Number of dwellings = 358 units
Retail space = 4,268 ft (ground floor)
Office space = 40,684 ft (7th & 8th floors)

The architect, HKS, was also the architect of the luxury Ashton Apartment tower. 3eleven is expected to be a similar luxury-style apartment building.

3eleven_bowie_west_elevation

A recent rendering of 3eleven by HKS Architects

Endeavor_3eleven

Approximate situation of the building between Spring Condos and the Monarch Apartments

3eleven_311_bowie_site

New Office Tower Planned for Downtown Block 51

After developing and selling out 360 -- one of the most successful downtown projects -- Novare Group announced in 2008 that they would build two new towers on Block 51 & 52. The prime downtown blocks, one the site of the downtown post office and the other on an adjacent block to the West of the post office, were to contain 900 condo units in two 37 and 40 floor towers which were to be completed by 2012. Needless to say, the real estate crisis and ensuing commercial credit crunch forced Novare to rethink their plans.

The Austin Downtown Post Office
Downtown Austin Post Office

Last week, an engineering firm filed paperwork indicated that Endeavor Real Estate Group now plans to develop a 195,000 square foot 14-story office tower and garage on the Block 51lot. The project no longer contains any condo units as originally planned. The new project is slated to use just the southern half of the lot, leaving options for future development of the remaining portion.

Originally, the development plans for Block 51 were to contain plans for a new downtown post office. This would allow demolition of the existing post office, freeing up a prime downtown site. The downtown post office is considered an urban disaster --- it wastes a prime downtown block with a low rise building surrounded by a parking lot.

According to the Statesman, "The office tower would include a restaurant, bank and a parking garage, according to plans on file with the city. Last May, Taylor Andrews, president of Andrews Urban, said Novare Group and IBC at that time were still working on a possible condo project on Block 51. However, Andrews, who is Novare’s Austin partner, said that plans for that project, and a condo tower and hotel Novare planned on the neighboring post office site, would depend on obtaining construction financing in the constrained lending environment."

New Hotel Planned for Congress Ave!

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

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

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

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

The 416 Congress hotel is expected to open in 2012

21c Austin: Condos Out, Apartments Possible

In December, the 21c team returned to Austin to comment on the Waller Creek plan and to discuss their future intentions for their prime Waller Creek site adjoining Red River and Cesar Chavez downtown.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history, the project was originally scoped as a 44-story condo and hotel project on third and Brazos street. In a surprise move, the developers abandoned the planned third and Brazos project in favor of a new multi-building complex to be located a few blocks East on Waller Creek.

The new project, also to be named 21c, was slated to include a 16-story hotel with 243 rooms which would be followed by a 49-story condo tower. The hotel was supposed to break ground in 2009 and the condo tower was supposed to break ground by 2010. Then, the project became a victim of the financing crisis that has scuttled most of the other unbuilt Austin projects.

Fortunately, the developers keep trying to make the project work. In December, the 21c provided a basic overview of their current but unfunded plans for the site. First, the condos have been eliminated. In the current environment, it is simply not possible to fund a new high-end condo project in downtown Austin. Instead, the developers are focusing on a 31-story 350 unit apartment tower near the corner of Red River and Cesar Chavez. Rents would start at $1.50 per square foot which would mean $1,000 / month for a 700 square foot unit or $1,500 for a 1,000 square foot unit if they are able to hit the low-end of the target range. The goal would be to make the building 70% 1 bedroom / 1 bath units. As many as 10% of the units for be designated as affordable units with controlled rents.

The second tower -- which is more precarious in the current environment -- would be a 12-story 200 room hotel, spa, and restaurant. The developers are hoping to put parking underground and include ground retail in the project. Although no specifics have been announced, the third tower could include condos if at some point it does get built.

Since the plan remains unfunded, the project is not likely to rise anytime soon. But the fact that the developers are actively working with the city and still try to line-up funding means that a 21c project may be yet to rise.

New 27-Story Condo/Office Project Announced!

For the first time in a very long time, a developer has announced plans to construct a new 27-story downtown condo and office tower. The developer is proposing to build a tower of up to 350 feet on the vacant lot between Whole Foods and Austin City Lofts. The announcement is a clear sign that the downtown market is stabilizing and expected to improve dramatically over the next few years.

The building is being proposed by Schlosser Development, a local firm with a significant track record in the 6th and Lamar neighborhood. Schlosser developed the Whole Foods headquarters, the Home Away headquarters across the street, the Officemax building just South of Whole Foods, and the REI / BookPeople building just to the North. This appears to be the company's first tower project.

As proposed, the new building would include:

- Street level retail and parking on the lower floors

- 16 stories of office space

- 90 condo units on the top seven floors

- A companion building on the 2.7 acre site would include three levels of commercial office space with parking and street-level retail. The smaller building allows full utilization of the site which is partially in a protected capital view corridor

Since zoning limits development on the site to 120 feet, a variance would be required to build the project as proposed. The tow buildings would comprise a whopping 600,000 square feet.

The announcement of such a large condo and office project is another sign of a downtown market resurgence. In this case, the developers may have been inspired by the recent leasing of 52,000 square feet of office space on a nearby project to HomeAway. There has been very little new office capacity added downtown over the 5 years: the last large scale office project to be constructed downtown was the Frost Bank Tower which was completed in 2004.

$200M Project Approved for South Shore of Ladybird Lake

The Austin City Council granted final approval for the $200 million Grayco Lakeshore development on the South sure of Ladybird Lake just east of I-35. In exchange for approving the development of the first four buildings, the Council required the developer to contribute $3.1 million to support affordable housing.

The massive project will include as many as 1,200 apartments and nearly 100,000 square feet of retail. Despite the financial crisis which has depressed development in Austin and across the country, Grayco has continued to aggressively push for development of the site. Under the revised plans, Grayco will replace a four building 520-unit apartment complex with as many as 1,200 new apartments.

The most notable element of this project is its scale: Grayco’s plan seems to be to create an entire district, a whole new neighborhood to attract residents to this emerging near-downtown market. While the final plans have not been released -- and the developers have hinted that the final proposal may be less urban -- the scale of the project is certain to remain large.

21c Austin: New Renderings Magically Appear

This week, it has been reported that the developers of 21c are coming back to Austin to provide an update on the status of the project. Apparently, the plans are now complete and they are ready to proceed with a third version of the project on a large site located at the intersection of Red River and Cesar Chavez streets.

The history of the 21c project is quite unique. The original 21c project was late to the game, announced just 2 months before the summer meltdown of U.S. credit markets. The project was originally scoped as a 44-story condo and hotel project on third and Brazos street. Although 21c had been actively marketing condo units through a sales office on 6th and Congress, the office was shut and shackled before the developers announced that they had abandoned the planned third and Brazos project in favor of a new multi-building complex to be located a few blocks East on Waller Creek.

The new project, also to be named 21c, was slated to include a 16-story hotel with 243 rooms which would be followed by a 49-story condo tower. The hotel was supposed to break ground in 2009 and the condo tower was supposed to break ground by 2010. Then, the project became a victim of the financing crisis that has scuttled most of the other unbuilt Austin projects.

21c Version One (3rd & Brazos)


21c Version Two (Red River & Cesar Chavez)
21c Condo Project Downtown Austin

And now, the website is showing a third version of the planned project:




According to the Statesman:

The developers of the proposed 21c Museum Hotel are coming to Austin next week to present an update on the stalled downtown project.

Developers Steve Poe and Craig Greenberg will be speaking to the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee at City Hall on Dec. 3.

The proposed project includes a hotel and condominiums at East Caesar Chavez and Red River streets. City leaders had hoped that the tax revenue from the project would kick-start plans to build a flood control tunnel along Waller Creek, helping spur redevelopment in the area.

Michael Bonadies, president and CEO of 21c Museum Hotels, said the project plans are complete, and they’re ready to move forward.

But there is still a major obstacle.

“We continue to work hard on sourcing construction financing in what has proved to be a difficult environment,” Bonadies said in an email. “However, we remain optimistic, encouraged by some of the feedback we have recently received, which leads us to believe that 2010 will bring a more favorable climate for construction financing.”


We'll see what they announce this week!

12-Floor "Capital Terrace" Development Proposed

A 12-story multi-use project near the Doubletree hotel on Lavaca and 14th street that was originally announced in 2008 is likely to rise next year. The developer, Palmco, is asking the city council on December 10 for a height variance to allow construction of the 163-foot tall building in an area zoned for construction of buildings as tall as 120 feet.

Palmco, the developer, is proposing that "Capital Terrace" will include apartments, offices, shops, five levels of parking, and a restaurant within just a few blocks of the Capitol. Two of the project's parking levels will be located underground. It would have 30 apartments designed for lobbyists and others with business at the Capitol, as well as five floors of office space.

While it is an unusually large project for the north end of downtown, the addition of extensive ground floor retail and restaurant space may help with the creation of a new walkable district. Today, there is minimal pedestrian traffic in this corner of downtown.

The site consists of four lots on just over one-fourth of a city block. There are four buildings on the site, but only one active lease. If they get the appropriate approvals, Palmco would start construction in the second quarter of 2010.


904 West: A New Condo Project to Rise on 9th & West

A new low-rise condo project is set to rise on 9th Street and West Avenue. The $8 million development is close to the Nokonah in a corner of downtown that has seen very little condo development.

904 West Avenue Condo Project Austin

The $8 million project will include 33-units, 9 of which are described as "work/live" units and 22 of which are purely residential. In addition, the two story project will offer underground parking and two commercial units. The project, which is named 904 West and located at 904 West Avenue, is scheduled for completion by this winter.

The building is trumping its green features including solar panels, tankless water heaters, and LEd lighting. Solar panels are unusual on high-rise condo projects because the roof area is such a small portion of the total square feet of the project. For a two-story development like 904 West, it is possible to harness enough solar energy to help reduce electrical bills.

Federal Courthouse to be Constructed by Republic Square Park

Thanks to the Federal stimulus package, a controversial Federal courthouse will be constructed on the west side of Republic Square Park in the heart of downtown.

The $116 million project will be constructed on the former Intel site. Earlier in the decade, the city pushed the feds hard to locate the courthouse on the abandoned Intel site, only to reverse course later. Once downtown started to flourish with development, the City decided that the prime block would be better used with a multi-use project that would engage the neighborhood. Due to security concerns, the mammoth brutalist courthouse will result in the permanent closure of San Antonio Street between 4th and 5th, assuming that the original plans will be followed. In addition, the single-use building will not include any retail or restaurant space, it will simply be a highly secure federal courthouse.

New Federal Courthouse Repblic Square Park Austin

Here is a summary from the Austin Business Journal:

The long-delayed federal courthouse planned for downtown Austin has been approved for construction with money from the federal stimulus package, according to a congressman’s office.

The White House today approved $116 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the U.S. federal courthouse in Austin, said Wyeth Ruthven, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

“This $116 million means local construction jobs now when we need them most, a significant addition to downtown Austin, and a long overdue improvement benefiting all who rely upon our federal justice system,” said Doggett, D­-Austin. Doggett voted for the stimulus package.

The planned seven-story Austin courthouse has been delayed for years because of financial reasons. It will be built at the corner of Fifth and Nueces streets, across from Republic Square Park. The design is mostly done.

Massive 30-Acre Riverside Development to Proceed

Grayco partners of Houston has been assembling a mammoth parcel of land on Riverside drive -- just East of I-35 -- for a development that was originally planned to encompass 50 acres, as many as 2,150 apartments and condos, and as much as 450,000 square feet of commercial space.

Despite the financial crisis which has depressed development in Austin and across the country, Grayco this week announced it’s intentions to proceed with large scale development of the site. Under the revised plans, Grayco will replace a 30-year-old 1,000-unit apartment complex with as many as 1,380 new Apartments, condominiums and townhomes that will be priced from the low $200s with rents for the apartments starting at $1,100 per month. The new project will encompass 30 acres and will also include as much as 97,000 square feet of retail, commercial, and restaurant space. The project is slated to begin construction in early 2009.

The most notable element of this project is its scale: Grayco’s plan seems to be to create an entire district, a whole new neighborhood to attract residents to this emerging near-downtown market. While the final plans have not been released -- and the developers have hinted that the final proposal may be less urban -- the scale of the project is certain to remain large.

For those who have been anxiously watching the broad redevelopment of downtown Austin and worrying about the effects of the current crisis, this project reminds us of the strong long-term fundamentals of the downtown market. For developers who take a long-term perspective, the market remains attractive. With strong population growth, limited downtown housing, and a sizable population of people who want to live downtown, long-term demand should be strong for reasonably priced condo and rental units.

Renderings of Grayco’s Riverside Project as Originally Planned
Grayco Austin Condo Rental Project Riverside Lakeshore

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The economic downturn hasn't derailed plans for the biggest redevelopment project proposed along East Riverside Drive.

But talk among city leaders about the possibility of running light-rail service from downtown to the airport has caused the developer to postpone planning for a portion of the project.

Houston-based Grayco Partners is moving forward with most of its proposed 30-acre project between Riverside and South Lakeshore Boulevard, where it plans to replace blocks of aging apartments and retail strip centers with a dense district of townhouses, condominiums and higher-end retail.

But the developer has decided to remove nearly 10 acres along Riverside from its initial rezoning request to the city to see if the proposed rail line championed by Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken will become a reality.

City leaders have encouraged dense development around rail stations along the commuter rail line scheduled to open next year.

They think so-called transit-oriented development can accommodate large numbers of people without adding substantially more traffic to the city's congested streets. They also hope that these mixed-use developments will generate more tax revenue for the city while costing less to service than more spread-out, single-use development.

A rail line along Riverside would be more ambitious than the initial commuter rail line because it wouldn't run along existing tracks.

ROMA Design Group, a consultant hired by the city to develop a downtown plan that includes transportation, has recommended running a line from the old Mueller airport property through the University of Texas and downtown and then out Riverside Drive to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

ROMA estimates the 15.3-mile line would cost $550 million to $614 million to build and $21 million to $23 million a year to operate. . . .

Grayco initially sought approval to build as much as 450,000 square feet of retail. Most of that would be built near and along Riverside Drive. With that property excluded from the current rezoning request, Grayco is seeking to build about 97,000 square feet of commercial, retail and restaurant space, along with up to 1,380 residential units.

Grayco's attorney Steve Drenner said a rail station near the property wouldn't necessarily result in greater density near Riverside, but the developer didn't want to move forward with the costly and time-consuming planning of that portion of the property without knowing what city leaders would want to see built there.

"We don't know whether the city would want us to be a transit-oriented development or what type of retail mix use they might want to see along there," Drenner said. "Rather than try to guess at it and convince the city that was the appropriate way to go we thought we'd take that out of the zoning case."

McCracken said Grayco has discussed two versions of that portion of the project with him, and the developer was leaning toward a more traditional suburban design in the absence of rail service.

Drenner said the slowdown in the real estate market had nothing to do with the decision and shouldn't affect Grayco's goal to begin construction in 2009 because the developer planned to build the townhouses and condos along and near Lakeshore Boulevard first.

"We didn't have to have a decision about the frontage in order to proceed with first phases," Drenner said.

But Grayco has decided to indefinitely postpone buying 20 additional acres from Cypress Real Estate Advisors. That property, just east of Grayco's land, will be allowed to have 1,000 attached residential units.

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
DICK CLARK ARCHITECTURE

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.

The Definitive Downtown Condo Map

As the old adage goes, the three rules of real estate are location, location, location. And for this reason, Austin Towers has licensed the best mapping technology that we could find to make it easy for readers to find and navigate projects by location.

While a sample map is shown below, the top-of-the-line fancy interactive map can be found on the new Austin Towers map page located here. In addition to showing all new and completed projects with images and their own color-coded pins, the full map includes a comprehensive project table that lists all current projects with their key statistics.

CommunityWalk Map - Downtown Austin Condo Map

The full map can be found here!

New Apartment Tower to be Built in Warehouse District

As other rental projects reduce rents to lure downtown residents, Gables Residential has announced plans to build a new 20-story apartment tower at the edge of the warehouse district. The site, on the corner at Fourth and Guadalupe, is the current location of the Gingerman pub and the former location of teh Fox and Hound Smokehouse & Tavern. The project would be adjacent to Republic Square Park and down the block from the Plaza Lofts.

The project is expected to contain 220 units and 15,000 square feet of retail on the 1/2 acre site. The project is scheduled to begin construction next year and to open to residents in late 2010 or early 2011.

Gables, a large national apartment developer with 63 communities and more than 50,000 units under management, is also working on a new 168 unit project on 5th street near Mopac which will rent for $1,300 to $1,800 per month. Gables also developed the Gables West Avenue Apartments, their first downtown project, at 3rd & West Avenue near Whole Foods.

Gables West Avenue Apartments at 3rd & West


Here is a summary from the Austin Business Journal:

A high-rise apartment tower is being planned for downtown's Warehouse District in an area teeming with new residential activity.Gables Residential plans to build a roughly 200-foot tower with about 220 units and 15,000 square feet of retail and commercial space at Fourth and Guadalupe streets. Gables bought the nearly half-acre site of former Fox & Hound Smokehouse and Tavern, east of Republic Square Park, from a group of local investors last year. The 15-year-old Gingerman Pub, also on the site, will move, general manager Kristin Jacobson says.The pub's original facade will be preserved as a historical feature of the new building, says Jennifer Wiebrand, spokeswoman for Gables Residential. The project will be able to support up to 70,000 square feet of parking.Construction is expected to begin in late 2009 and be completed in 18 to 24 months.


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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


Larry Speck/PIRATE DESIGN


MITHUN


CATELLUS DEVELOPMENT GRO


BOSSE AND TURNER ARCHITECTS


COTERA AND REED ARCHITECTS

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

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

With Strong Sales, BartonPlace Construction Begins

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

BartonPlace, a 270 unit condo project on Barton Springs Road, includes one, two, and three bedroom units starting at $263,000 for 683 feet. With a prime location close to downtown and next to Barton Springs pool and park, the project will is in a great location and well priced. As we have seen with many of the downtown projects, the lower the price, the higher the demand. Projects like 360 with many units under $400K have sold very quickly. With construction underway, the project is expected to be ready for occupancy in late 2009.

Bartonplace Austin Condo Peojwct Barton Springs

Here is a summary from the Austin Business Journal:

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

Surprise Compromise Saves Riverside Condo Project

While the city continues to approve many variances to large downtown projects, there has remained one downtown Austin zoning request request that seems truly sacred: building in the protected zone around Lady Bird Lake. While long-standing rules prohibit construction within 200 feet of the former Town Lake, a new project may soon be built 50 feet closer to the lake than current rules allow.

CWS Riverside Austin Condo Project Rendering

In a new compromise with community groups, CWS Partners intends to build a scaled-down 8-story project 150 feet from the lake instead of the three 17-story apartment and condo towers with more than 800 units that had previously been proposed. With the support of community groups and a commitment to extend the popular hike and bike trails through the site, the new proposal should fare well as it works it's way through the standard zoning approval process. This is a productive compromise for both sides and a positive sign for the condo market. With the national housing market in such a weakened state, it is a strong endorsement of the market to see developers work so hard to bring a new project to market.

The proposed CWS project is to built on land currently occupied by long-standing apartments built much closer to the lake. Prior to the release of the current rules in the 1980s (they were revised in 1999), buildings could legally be built much much closer to the shore (as close as 25 feet). CWS prior position was that without their requested variance, they would build two 17-story towers within the legal setbacks and simply remodeling the existing apartments into town homes -- a legitimate exception to the setback requirements.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

In a precedent-setting compromise, developers have agreed to reduce the size of a controversial high-rise residential project on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake and donate land to extend the hike-and-bike trail across the site.In exchange, neighborhood and community groups that had mobilized against the project have made concessions that will allow the project to go forward.The deal reached this week ends a nearly two-year standoff between CWS Capital Partners LLC and the South River City Citizens and Save Town Lake, which had fought to block the project on East Riverside Drive, saying it would violate limits on waterfront development.Austin-based CWS had proposed to build three towers up to 200 feet high and to build within 80 feet of the lake.Under the compromise, the buildings will be no more than 96 feet high, and the project would be set back a minimum of 150 feet from the lakeshore. . . CWS will bring the revised project back before city officials for approvals. With the new agreement, the company will donate 1.5 acres for parkland and extend the hike-and-bike trail, which now stops at the western edge of the site.Miller said it will take four to six months to work through the city approval process and that construction could begin in 2009.

Seaholm Plan Approved: New Downtown Neighborhood to Emerge in 2011

Last week, the city approved a master plan for the redevelopment of the Seaholm Power Plant site on Cesar Chavez near Lamar. The $117.2 million project, a partnership between the city and Southwest Strategies, will result in a 22-story hotel, 60 condo units, and 180,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. Between the initial proposal and final draft, the condo portion of the project was reduced from 80 units to 60 units.

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The 150,000-square-foot decommissioned power plant will be the centerpiece of the 7.8-acre property across Cesar Chavez Street from Lady Bird Lake. With offices, extensive retail, and more than 3 acres of open space, Seaholm will further shift the heart of downtown to the west. While downtown life used to center around 6th street between Congress and red river, the warehouse district, 2nd street district, and Whole Foods have shifted the balance. With Seaholm, the downtown action will increasingly be centered between Congress, Lamar, 5th, and Town Lake.

The most exciting part of the project is the redevelopment of the Seaholm facility itself. When complete, the art deco structure will include nearly 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. Construction will 2009, with the final project completed in 2011.





Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The Austin City Council approved the master development agreement for the $117.2 million Seaholm mixed-use redevelopment project today.The agreement says the development group Seaholm Power LLP, led by Southwest Strategies Inc., will pay $98.6 million or 84 percent of the cost of the project, while the city will pay $18.6 million. The redevelopment plan calls for a 22-story hotel, 60 condo units, 130,000 square feet of office space and 50,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. The 150,000-square-foot decommissioned power plant will be the centerpiece of the 7.8-acre property across Cesar Chavez Street from Lady Bird Lake.The city's contribution to the project, which will be raised through property and sales tax revenues, would pay for street and utility improvements, public parks and a parking garage. The city will continue to own the renovated Seaholm Power Plant.


21c Condo Project Magically Relocated to Waller Creek

In a highly unusual move, developers of the 44-story 21c hotel and condo development have abandoned the planned third and Brazos project in favor of a new multi-building complex to be located a few blocks East on Waller Creek. The new project, also to be named 21c, will first include a 16-story hotel with 243 rooms which will be followed by a 49-story condo tower. The hotel will break ground in 2009 and the condo tower is expected to break ground by 2010. The hotel will also double as a contemporary art museum.

The original 21c project was late to the game, announced just 2 months before the summer meltdown of U.S. credit markets. Although 21c had been actively marketing condo units through a sales office on 6th and Congress, the developers will essentially start from scratch with their condo marketing efforts for the newly planned 295 unit condo tower. At this point, prices have not even been announced.

While the Austin hotel market remains strong, 21c's unlucky timing likely made condo marketing difficult. With the new plans, the developers separate the hotel, residential, and a newly announced commercial tower into three separate projects. This allows them to begin quickly with the economically viable and modestly-scaled hotel project while testing the waters on the other two fronts. When (and if) sales and leasing goals have been met, 21c will be able to embark on the other two towers. One clear sign of the developers preference for hotel rooms over condo and commercial projects is the simultaneous announcement that the existing 21c site on Third and Brazos will also be developed into a new hotel. If all projects are completed on the new site, the project will cost $350 million, a significant jump from the originally planned $200 million hotel-condo tower.

21c Condo Project Downtown Austin

With the move, the new 21c buildings will anchor a high-potential development district on the East end of downtown just north of Lady Bird Lake. The project will be located on a large 3.5 acre site surrounded by park and close to the much-loved downtown hike and bike trails. In the new location, the project will anchor a potential Austin "riverwalk" along Waller creek. 21c is the first major project to take advantage of a city-sponsored $125 million tunnel designed to remove the creek from the floodplain.

Here are some additional details on the new project:

-The new site will be home to the project’s 243-room hotel, 295 residential units, retail, spa, pools, museum, restaurants and other amenities.

- The project, including an underground parking garage, currently totals over 1 million square feet. The development team plans to develop another 425,000 square feet on the site as either a future office/retail or residential/retail tower. The entire project represents a $350 million investment.

- The new location allows the project to be enhanced with park space, a sculpture garden, signature spa, retail, indoor/outdoor meeting space and additional parking.

- The project will include an innovative and accessible restaurant that will emphasize local and sustainable agriculture and feature contemporary American cuisine. Michael Bonadies, CEO of ACE, was previously a founding partner of the New York-based Myriad Restaurant Group, which owns and operates such well-known restaurants as Tribeca Grill, Nobu and Rubicon.

- According to the developers, some of 21c’s most innovative aspects will be its artist lofts and new contemporary art museum, open free to the public 365 days per year. Twelve artist lofts will be made available at favorable rental rates for living and studio space. The museum will provide a new venue for contemporary visual and performing arts.

- The team of architects for the project includes Deborah Berke & Partners, a well-respected New York firm, Goody Clancy Architecture of Boston, and Susman Tisdale Gayle, and Austin firm that is often selected to participate in major downtown projects.

We'll update the 21c profile as soon as full details become available.

The Central Austin Condo Conversion Boom

Last year, 824 Austin apartments were converted to condos. This year, that number is expected to grow to 1,167. As downtown condo prices have skyrocketed to $400 / SF or more (sometimes much more), a wave of Central Austin rental properties are being converted into more-affordable central condo buildings.

Many of these new projects offer upscale central living for much less than the price of the major high-rise projects. As downtown condo prices have rapidly increased while rents have grown at a slower pace, downtown condo conversion provide a quick return for developers. While the price is lower -- often $200 - $250 / SF -- the product is also very different. Unlike the new glass, concrete, and steel downtown towers with panoramic views and high-quality build-outs, most of the current crop of conversions are low-rise renovations of older wood-framed buildings without views and with limited amenities. The main attraction is the price of entry, with units starting under $100K -- they are the most reasonable yet chic living options within miles of downtown.

Representative projects are being completed in Clarksville, East Austin, and South Austin.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

Ryan Robinson, demographer for the City of Austin, said that with demand for downtown area housing skyrocketing, "market pressure pushes prices up, and property owners can realize a larger margin from selling units as condos."Most of the converted units have emerged from apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s in "prime locations" in Central and Southeast Austin that command higher-than-average prices, Davis said.Often they appeal to buyers because they offer "upscale living in a mixed-use development" with boutique-style retail, restaurants, coffee bars and the like, "all in one new urbanism-type community in the heart of the city," Davis said.Barbara Ditlow, a real estate agent with Capital City Sotheby's International Realty, knows of four condo conversions in South Austin, all with updated wiring, plumbing and walkways, plus granite counters, stainless steel appliances and wood floors. . . But Ditlow said buyers need to do their homework before purchasing converted condos."Some (developers) buy these apartments at high price points and have to skimp on the finish-out to meet the bottom line," she said, adding that it's important to research the developers and their track records. "Don't get stuck with sow's ear when you thought you were buying a silk purse."


2020 Congress Downtown Austin Condo Conversion
The $13.5M 2020 Congress Project in South Austin includes units priced from $97K for 425SF to $200K for 943 SF

41 Waller Downtown Austin Condo Conversion Project
The 30-unit 41 Waller conversion project in East Austin has units starting at $215K for a 936SF 2-bedroom condo

BartonPlace Approved by City, To Begin Construction

BartonPlace, a planned 270-unit condo project behind Austin Java on Barton Springs Road, received final city council approval yesterday.

According to the developers, the project has taken deposits on approximately 80 of their units with a combined value of $40 million. With decent pre-sales, the project has been able to secure financing for the project from IBC Bank in Austin -- clearing the biggest hurdle to a new project and setting them up to begin construction in the next 30 days. The project is being developed behind Austin Java on Barton Springs road.

BartonPlace Barton Place Condo Project Austin Barton Springs

The project 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.

The following story from the Austin Business Journal includes additional details:

Construction should begin within 30 days on BartonPlace, which has already generated $40 million in presales.The development team has signed a private agreement with the Zilker Neighborhood Association limiting the development of the portion of the property that fronts Barton Springs Road in order to preserve the local businesses that make up Austin's "Restaurant Row." The developers are also pledging a $500,000 cash contribution for a local nonprofit to provide affordable housing in the area, and will be aim to meet a 3-star green building standard.


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
SOUCE: AMOA

The museum also released the following site plan:

AMOA Austin Museum of Art Building Site Plan
SOUCE: AMOA

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.

New AMOA Tower Soon to be Announced

Between Republic Park on fourth street and the new AMLI tower on third street sits a run-down parking lot with a tumultuous history. For many years, the lot has been owned by the Austin Museum of Art (AMOA), a local art institution split between a storefront location on Congress Avenue and a mansion near 35th street and Mount Bonnell.

Over the years, AMOA has worked hard to build a permanent home on the downtown lot that has become one of the most choice central Austin parcels. First, they proposed a free-standing museum which was scratched after the technology bust of the late 1990's scuttled a $65 million capital campaign. In a second iteration, the museum partnered with local developer Tom Stacy in 2006 to build a museum & condo tower on the lot. The building was proposed as a 30-story condo tower to be designed by world-renowned Pelli Clarke Pelli architects. Sometime last year, likely after the summer credit crunch, that deal fell apart.

Now, in a third and hopefully final project, rumors suggest that AMOA is close to announcing 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. This would be the first new downtown office project since the 33-story 525,000 square foot Frost Bank Tower was completed in 2004.

As Austin's downtown core develops, the best scenario is a natural balance of retail, residential, commercial, cultural institutions and hotels. With the condo boom of the last two years, the quantity of residential and retail space downtown has grown substantially. While the addition of downtown commercial capacity takes a bold investor, new downtown office space is a good thing for the city. When Cousins Properties announced plans for the speculative development of the Frost Bank Tower at the height of the tech bust, everyone thought they were crazy. Just a few years later, the sale of the project set a new texas record.

The best news about the AMOA tower is that it will finally create a major downtown art museum. With the adjacent Ballet and the new Austin City Limits venue on Block 21, there is new hope that this corner of downtown will also become a new cultural center for the city.

Here is the summary from today's Austin Business Journal:

Sources say AMOA is close to inking a deal with Hines Interests LP of Houston to develop the downtown block south of Republic Square Park owned by the museum.The towering project would likely feature about 400,000 square feet of office space, with about 80,000 square feet of that set aside for the museum's new digs. It's unclear whether or not the project would include a residential component as a previous incarnation did. But, if realized, it would be the first new office property in downtown Austin in four years since the opening of the Frost Bank Tower.AMOA, which has a total of 35 employees, has been housed on the ground floor of 823 Congress since 1995.

Austin Four Seasons Residences Breaks Ground

After seven years of planning and multiple iterations, the Four Seasons Residences will break ground this week. As we have seen with many of the recent downtown Austin condo projects, they are not truly real until construction begins. Having reached that milestone, the 32-story Michael Graves-designed tower is now expected to open to residents in 2010.

With 166 condo units priced from $500 - $750 per square foot and monthly condo fees of $0.61 / square foot, the Four Seasons Residences represents an ambitious super-luxury project for Austin. It was not too long ago that the Four Hotel Seasons hotel itself was almost a strange site in such a down-to-earth town. But times have changes and demand is strong. The project reports that they have received 10% deposits for 40% of the planned units. Interestingly enough, half of the buyers so far hail from outside of Austin -- a new twist for the emerging local high-end condo market. However, with 60% of units to sell, much work still lies ahead.

When combined with the Austonian and W, the Four Seasons Residences represents an entirely new ultra-luxury urban high-rise experience that has never existed and that will not exist in Austin until the first of these projects hits the market.

Four Seasons Residences Austin Condos Michael Graves Rendering

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The Four Seasons Residences, one of downtown Austin's highest profile luxury condominium towers, will break ground this week, seven years after initial plans were thwarted by the tech bust of 2001.The newly designed 32-story tower will rise in the parking lot next to the Four Seasons Hotel overlooking Lady Bird Lake. The building's 166 residences will be priced from $400,000 to $4 million, with units from 880 to 5,500 square feet. Four Seasons will manage the building, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2010 and become a landmark on the evolving skyline.The $125 million project is a venture between local developers Ardent Residential and Atlanta-based Post Properties Inc, the financier. Michael Graves & Associates Inc. designed the tower, which will have a terra cotta-colored brick base that will blend with the hotel, developers say.The first major sign of construction will come later this week when crews begin demolishing the hotel's 123-space surface parking, which will be redirected to an underground garage. The new tower will include five levels of above-ground parking.The construction entrance and staging area will be on Trinity Street to minimize disruption for the hotel, said Art Carpenter, a principal with Ardent Residential.


New Downtown Project: Quorum Lofts

It's been a while since Austin Towers has had the privilege of announcing and profiling a new downtown Austin condo development. Today, we are pleased to announce that Quorum Lofts, a new capital-area loft conversion project, has been announced with a target completion date of late 2008 or early 2009.

The new project will convert a 1964 office complex on 13th & Guadalupe -- 2 blocks West of the Capital -- into a dramatic modern
26-unit condo project. With the Capital-area location, the project (and the name) are targeting legislators and other Capital district employees who might be the excited by the idea of walking just a few hundred feet to work. The project is aiming for a crazy fast development timeline with delivery before the end of 2008. Although the developers hope to beat the rush of projects arriving in 2009, the deadline will be hard to reach unless they receiving zoning approval and begin construction quickly.

Units in the Quorum Lofts will be big - ranging from 1,450 to 2,450 square feet with prices starting near $500,000. The project will include a rooftop infinity pool and lots of nice features such as high 10 foot ceilings, granite counter tops,and jetted soaking tubs. We have posted a full profile here.

quorum lofts austin downtown condo

Here is additional information from the Austin Business Journal:

Local developer John Graham knows there are plenty of condo projects on the horizon for downtown Austin.But with most of the next set of big towers not scheduled for delivery until 2009, Graham sees big potential in bringing a development to market quicker -- and in a location just steps away from the Capitol.Graham's company, AustinPartners.net, hopes to get approval on a building permit in the next month for redevelopment of the property at 1300 Guadalupe St. The $10 million Quorum project slated for completion late next year would turn a three-story office building constructed in 1964 into modern, loft-style condos.Work is set to begin in January on the project that will add a fourth floor to the building and create 26 condos ranging in size from 1,450 square feet to 2,450 square feet and priced from $350 a square foot to $450 a square foot.The fourth floor will feature a spa and negative-edge, or "infinity," pool overlooking the Capitol. A glass elevator fronting Guadalupe will feature views east toward the Capitol. A second phase that would add structured parking and more units is also being considered.

The Most Controversial Project: Version 3.0

The Congress Avenue Marriott -- a 1,000 room hotel complex on 2nd and Congress avenue -- is the most controversial, and one of the least popular downtown projects. The project is best known for displacing Las Manitas and other local businesses. While the full details of the current plan are not known, the last two versions of the project were criticized for bland institutional architecture and a lack of ground-floor retail on a key block connecting the convention center area to the second street district.

New Downtown Austin Marriott on Congress Avenue
The Congress Avenue Marriott, V. 1.0

The original plan for the project included 1,000 rooms across 3 separate Marriott-branded hotels in one convoluted multi-facted building. The second version of the project included two hotels in one building. Version 3.0, announced today, includes just one Marriott hotel with 1,000 rooms. With the changes and increases in downtown construction costs, the project budget has supposedly climbed from $185 million to more than $250 million.

The ironic thing is that the hotel is actually a good thing for Austin. A 1,000 room hotel will allow the city to book larger conferences and events -- bringing valuable tourism dollars and jobs to Austin. Their is a shortage of rooms downtown and a crazy large 1,000 room hotel can make a big difference. The problem is all in the developer's and Marriott's execution of the project: they seem to have no respect for downtown Austin and no interest in making it better place. If they hired an architect and surrounded the building with ground-floor retail, this would be a much more palatable.

Here is a summary from the Austin Business Journal:

Plans for a downtown hotel project at Second Street and Congress Avenue have changed yet again and will now feature a single, 1,000-room Marriott convention center hotel.White Lodging Services Corp. had originally planned to build three different hotels at the northeast corner of the intersection where Las Manitas café and other businesses currently stand. The proposed hotels included a 650-room Marriott convention center hotel, 200-room Renaissance Hotel and 150-room Springhill Suites hotel.Last summer the company switched course on the project saying it would build an 800-room convention center Marriott and 200-room upscale J.W. Marriott. The move was said to be due in part to greater demand for rooms dedicated to convention-goers and the growing market for upscale lodging downtown.This week White Lodging confirmed it will now build a single 1,000-room Marriott, but a spokesperson could not comment on why the group is altering course a third time. The most recent pricetag on the project puts the cost at about $250 million, though it's unclear if the new plan would alter that in any way.



We'll post new renderings as soon as they become available.

Seaholm Rezoning Under Way

Over the next decade, the redevelopment of the Seaholm power plant and Green Sewage Treatment Plant will forever transform Austin's downtown. By reclaiming a dozen blocks in the core of downtown between Lamar and San Antonio, 1st and 3rd streets, these projects will provide a multi-use urban district that connects the second street district to Whole Foods.

With the development of retail, cultural institutions, office, hotels, and condo units, these developments are likely to shift the center of gravity for downtown Austin further to the West. In fact, the Seaholm development, with the redeveloped shell of the mammoth art deco power plant at its core, may become the new heart of downtown. The Second Street district, which now forms the Western edge of the downtown core, will be much more central once development reclaims the blocks to the West.

Downtown Austin Map Seaholm Green Condo Development

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The city is taking the first steps toward redeveloping two of its high-profile downtown properties by rezoning them.The City Council will vote tonight on rezoning the Seaholm Power Plant site in preparation for a mixed-use project that will include 80 condos, a 160-room hotel, 100,000 square feet of office space and up to 60,000 square feet of retail.The city wants to rezone the property to allow building heights of up to 393 feet. The height is now capped at 120 feet.The City Council could also approve a resolution to begin the process of rezoning the site of the Green Water Treatment Plant.No plans for that site have been formed, but the city intends to release requests for proposals from developers early next year.

The Evolving Riverside Condo District

The shores of Riverside drive on the south side of Ladybird lake are about to undergo a dramatic transformation. Starting next year, four separate developers will begin construction on as many as 3,000 luxury condo and apartment units. 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 than the city core.

As we have reported, some of these projects have requested zoning variances to allow them to build closer to the lake than the 200 feet that the current rules allow. As a result of the zoning opposition, one developer has decided to redevelop the existing structures, some as close as 20-feet to the lake, as opposed to building new structures with a 150 foot set back. As part of the development, an extension of the hike and bike trails between Congress and I-35 and beyond is likely on the south shore of the lake.

The scope of the combined Riverside-area development is incredible: 3,000 units are now planned - more units than currently exist in all of downtown. While it will take many years for the projects to reach fruition, construction of the first projects will begin next spring.

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The transformation of East Riverside Drive from a sprawling, well-worn, affordable enclave into a dense and upscale urban village will begin in earnest in the spring, when the first planned condo project is expected to break ground.Australian developer Constellation Property Group plans to begin work in March on its 225-unit project at the northeast corner of Interstate 35 and Riverside Drive. The Star Riverside condos, which will sell for between $400,000 and $1.2 million, will be broken into four buildings ranging from 60 to 110 feet high.The first owners are expected to move in in April 2009.Constellation faces competition from numerous condo projects planned in the vicinity.AMLI Residential hopes to break ground by the middle of next year on 375 luxury apartments on 11 acres at the northwest corner of East Riverside Drive and South Lakeshore Boulevard. In addition, Sutton Co. will build at least 45 condos. Construction could take up to two years.Cypress Real Estate Advisors also hopes to break ground next summer on a mixed-use development that will replace 800 aging apartments with as many as 2,500 apartments, condominiums and townhomes, as well as commercial, retail and live-work space on a 50-acre site on South Lakeshore Boulevard.



Huge Downtown Site Slated for Development

Over the last few years, much of Austin's downtown has been redeveloped -- or planned for redevelopment.

Whole Foods has transformed an area of car dealers and auto body shops. The second street district transformed a region of old warehouse and industrial buildings. Seaholm power plant has been decommissioned and is now slated for mixed use development. Congress avenue is set to be transformed with a new hotel megaplex and the Austonian tower.

Nestled between all of these projects 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 plant, which is located between Cesar Chavez and Third streets between Seaholm and San Antonio is about to be decommissioned to make way for a new development. On November 29, the city will begin the process of soliciting proposals for redevelopment of the site. Once complete, the new development will likely add retail, housing, and office space while filling in the missing streets on the city grid.

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.

Over the next year, the City will seek and review proposals from developers interested in the site. Once a developer is selected, construction is expected to begin in 2010. Full build out of the site could take as many as 10 years. The land, which is currently owned by the city, is expected to sell for as much as $65 million (half of the proceeds will then be used for site improvements including reforming the street grid throughout the site). At that price, developers will need to build some tall buildings -- condo, rental, or commercial -- in order to profitably develop the site.

New Project: "Zilker Place Condos"

John Wooley, the founder of Schlotsky's, this week announced plans for Zilker Place Condominiums, a new 74-unit condo development on a prime lot on Barton Springs road adjacent to Zilker Park. With quick access to the park and the hike and bike trail, three 5-story buildings will be constructed on a 2 acre lot that currently houses the restaurant Wanfu Too. Prices for the units will start at $300,000 for 900 square feet and will top out at $1.3 million for a 3,030 SF unit. The project will feature a central courtyard and pool, screened porches on many units, and protected views of Zilker Park.

Here is a rendering published by the Statesman:

Zilker Place Condominiums on Barton Springs

When combined with Barton Place, a 270 unit project just a few doors down, it is clear that the area on Barton Springs between the park and Lamar is now in store for a radical transformation. With two large projects on the way, tax increases will certainly put pressure on the remaining restaurants and mobile home parks that form this prime area of the city. As the blocks develop, one of the most important elements -- one that is missing from current plans -- may be a requirement for ground-floor retail up and down the street. It would certainly be detrimental to Austin to lose a full district of iconic restaurants for a few mid-rise condo buildings.

Although Wooley originally hoped to build a much taller tower, he intelligently reformed the project as a 5-story venture that fits just within local zoning requirements. The local neighborhood association has provided vocal opposition to other projects. Given Zilker Place's location adjacent to the park, it would have been very difficult to secure political support for variances.

City Approves Plan for Second Downtown

The Austin City Council today approved the first phase of a plan to create a second "downtown" urban center in the region of north Austin near Braker and Mopac -- essentially the area surrounding the domain. As we have reported in the past, between now and 2015, one developer alone plans to build 50 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.

Here is the summary from the Austin Business Journal:

Austin's City Council gave final approval of phase 1 of the North Burnet/Gateway master land use plan, which will create a so-called second downtown in the area around the Domain luxury shopping center by 2035.The North Burnet/Gateway plan's vision is to ultimately create clusters of dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods in the 2,300-acre area north of U.S. 183 bounded by Walnut Creek, Metric Boulevard, Braker Lane and MoPac Expressway.The final plan will allow developers to build denser than anywhere outside of downtown, as high as 15 stories or 180 feet, and up to 30 stories or 360 feet in areas closest to planned commuter rail stops.Phase 1 immediately designates a zoning overlay district in the area to allow vertical mixed uses and other urban design elements, and to preclude interim development not in concert with the plan.A draft plan of Phase 2 -- outlining ordinances implementing the plan -- is expected in six months, says Molly Scarbrough, a city senior planner. Final approval for the entire plan is expected in a year.

Major Downtown Condo Project On Hold?

Rumors have been circling for months that AquaTerra, a 163 unit 20-story project planned for Barton Springs road between Congress Avenue and south First street, has been having trouble getting off the ground. In fact, the building was supposed to be complete by 2008 -- yet construction hasn't even broken ground.

While we have not received any confirmation from the developers, we have heard from other sources that the project is in fact on hold and is unlikely to ever be completed. If true, this represents the first major cancellation of a downtown condo project. While it is easy to blame the project's demise on the credit liquidity crisis, AquaTerra has been in trouble for many months due to weak demand. Competition is intense to market units to downtown buyers --- projects that are not attractively positioned and aggressively marketed will have trouble getting noticed.

Here is what the project would have looked like:

Monarch Profile Added

We've added a full profile for the Monarch -- the 305 unit rental-turned-condo project at 5th and West, just East of Whole Foods. The project is named for the Butterfly-like structure on the roof and is scheduled for completion in early 2008. The building features units from 681 square feet to 3,530 square feet and priced from the low $200,000s to $1.75 million.

The Monarch Condo Austin Downtown

The full profile is here.

Another New Project: Hyatt "Andaz" Condos

In April, Hyatt introduced a new boutique-style luxury hotel brand called Andaz. The first hotels, they announced, would be placed in world's most important "international cross-road" cities. And so far, three such locations have been announced. First was London. Second was midtown Manhattan. And the third location to be announced is— believe it or not — Austin, Texas.

The 210-room hotel is slated to open in 2010 as part of a $750M development on 32 acres formerly occupied by Concordia University. The site is located between I-35 and Red River near 32nd street. On top of the hotel will also sit 150 condo units ranging in size from 800 to 2,700 square feet. The building will be 182 feet tall and condo units will start at around $400,000 or a whopping $500 / SF for a non-downtown location.

hyatt andaz austin hotel condo project concordia tower

Here is a summary from the Statesman:

The hotel, which is expected to open in 2010, will offer amenities such as a spa and fitness center and a 20,000-square-foot park-like roof that includes a cocktail lounge and restaurant.It will have appeal in Austin for its high-quality amenities but also will reflect the city's casual atmosphere, Sarwal said."The Andaz concept will integrate well with this prime location and Austin's cosmopolitan energy," Steve Haggerty, global head of real estate and development for Global Hyatt, said in a statement. "Together, we intend to attract customers looking for fresh, uncomplicated luxury."The hotel will be energy-efficient and will use ecologically friendly building materials. It will also offer organic food.


This is the second major project announced in the last 10 days after a multi-month lull in major announcements. While it's not downtown, it represents another major investment in central Austin and likely signals the creation of a promising new district.

New Project: 8th & West Tower

Between the credit crisis, skyrocketing construction costs, and the slowing real estate market, we didn't expect to see anymore downtown condo projects for a while. Today, however, we were surprised to learn of another downtown condo project announcement.

Austin's Fortis development today announced a new 20-story 200-unit condo tower to be developed on West avenue between 8th and 9th. While virtually no other details have been announced, the public details are enough to generate public opposition to the project. As the project is in a low rise area just north of sixth street, the project pushes the frontier of high-rise development.

fortis development west 8th 9th condo

The issue is that the location is zoned for buildings as tall as 60 feet -- far less than the 250 foot height of the proposed condo tower. 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 is the summary from the Statesman:

A new condo high-rise is being proposed on West Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets, but residents in the neighborhood on the western edge of downtown have registered their opposition.David Cox, president of Austin-based Fortis Development, is seeking a zoning change to build a tower of up to 250 feet, or about 20 stories, in an area where office zoning now caps height at 60 feet. The project would have about 200 condominiums plus retail space.The zoning request is scheduled to go before the city's Planning Commission on Tuesday, and the City Council would have the final say.If all goes as planned, the project would break ground in the fourth quarter of 2008, said Cox, who also is a vice president with Cypress Real Estate Advisors Inc., which has provided some financing for Fortis, his new development venture.



We'll post additional details and a full profile when we receive them!

BartonPlace Shows Condo Demand is Still Strong

BartonPlace, a planned 270-unit condo project behind Austin Java on Barton Springs Road, announced today that despite recent media attention and public speculation about whether the Austin condo market is being overbuilt, 300 people have already made reservations for a chance to buy a condo in their 270-unit project. They also announced that they will end the reservation project after tomorrow. After that, the only way to reserve a unit will be with a sales contract on any that do not sell in the pre-sales period. The project is expected to begin construction later this year.

The project 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.

The full profile is included here.

Project Rendering:

BartonPlace Barton Place Condo Project Austin Barton Springs

Approximate top floor view:


Austonian (sort of) Breaks Ground

The Austonian, a 56-story tower at 2nd and Congress that would become the tallest building in the city, staged an elaborate "ground-breaking" ceremony today to signify the beginning of construction. While the ground-breaking does hold real symbolic value, it did not involve much in the way of construction equipment. For the ceremony, a pile of dirt was constructed in the middle of the lot and then symbolically dismantled by a large crowd of well-dressed dignitaries in business clothing and matching white hard hats!

While the ground-breaking does not truly commit them to completing the project, it is a step in the right direction. The project team announced that they have lined up full financing for the project from Spanish sources. With the financing complete, they are now commencing construction. When the cranes go up, it will be a good sign that the building will truly be a reality.

The Austonian is an exciting project that is one of the most bold developments in Austin. At 56-stories and with 188 units starting at $500,000, the project is exclusively focused on the high end of the market. This is the segment that remains the most unproven downtown. The commencement of construction is a good sign for the Austin condo market, especially in the middle of the current credit crunch and ongoing subprime lending crisis.

Austonian Austin Condo Ground Breaking Ceremony

21c Museum & Condos Takes a Step Forward

The 21c Museum & Condos moved a step closer to reality this week. The project, a 44-story tower which will combine a museum, hotel, and condos in a very attractive structure on Third and Brazos, received approval from the Austin Design Commission. Next, the Austin Planning Commission will review the project on September 11 before it's final review by the City Council. Given the buildings strong support, it seems to be well positioned for approval.

Here is the summary from the Statesman:

"The 21c museum, hotel and condo development slated for Third and Brazos streets will reach 44 stories into the Austin skyline, making it a dominant presence in the area of downtown east of Congress Avenue. The $200 million project will include 209 condos along with an upscale, 230-room hotel and contemporary art museum. The Design Commission voted unanimously on Monday to support the project, which has already garnered the approval of the city's Downtown Commission and support from the Downtown Austin Alliance."



The building is expected to begin construction in January and to be completed in 2010. The sales center is expected to open later this month.

Fight over Riverside Lakefront Towers Continues

While zoning variances seem easy to come by for most downtown condo projects looking for increased density or height, there is one request that remains sacred: building in the protected zone around Lady Bird Lake. Long-standing rules prohibit construction within 200 feet of the former Town Lake.

This is a problem for CWS Capital Partners which is trying to build three 17-story apartment and condo towers with 715 units on the south bank of Lady Bird Lake between Congress Avenue and I-35. The project has requested a variance to build 50 feet closer to the lake than current rules allow. The project has faced significant opposition and lost a crucial vote last week.

Here is the summary from the Statesman:

A developer seeking city approval to build three high-rises 50 feet closer to the shores of Lady Bird Lake than city rules allow struck out at the city’s Parks and Recreation Board meeting last night when board members recommended that the city should deny its request.Board members voted 5-4 against CWS Capital Partners’ request for a variance that would allow it to build 150 feet from the shore. The board’s vote will serve as a recommendation to the Planning Commission, which could hear the case as soon as September.More than 70 people attended Tuesday night’s meeting including many nearby neighbors and lake enthusiasts lobbying against the variance for the property located at 222 and 300 E. Riverside Drive.Board chair Linda Guerrero was one of the members who voted to deny the request.“There was an overwhelming concern regarding the project, and the citizens seemed to want to preserve the waterfront overlay (the current rules) overwhelmingly,” she said.


While CWS had been requesting a 150 foot variance, this was a major concession as their original plans called for an 80-foot setback. The project is built on land currently occupied by long-standing apartments built much closer to the lake. Prior to the release of the current rules in the 1980s (they were revised in 1999), buildings could legally be built much much closer to the shore (as close as 25 feet). If CWS does not receive approval for the current variance request, they have proposed building two 17-story towers with the legal setbacks and simply remodeling the existing apartments into town homes -- a legitimate exception to the setback requirements.

While it might make sense to replace old townhouses that are close to the lake with new buildings 150 feet from the lake, the political debate has focused on the integrity of the regulations. The lake is the crown jewel of Austin and the council has taken a "no exceptions" approach to preserve the integrity of the green space surrounding the lake. While it is easy to focus on the setback, an equally important goal of many residents is to extend the hike and bike trails to the east. In fact, one public interest group endorsed the 150 foot version of the CWS proposal.

While the zoning issues are settled for now, it does not seem like the city will get everything it wants: a 200 foot setback, demolition of the old apartments, and an extension of the hike and bike trails to the east. Hopefully CWS will take up the slack, striking the right balance between their development needs and the public interest.

Spring Condo Update: Construction Begins, Sales are Strong

The Spring condos, an attractive 42-story green-colored building just south of Whole Foods, is under construction and selling quickly. According to the marketing center, construction began on July 24th and completion is expected Spring of 2009. As of today, 40% of units have already been sold.

We have learned of additional details of the planned project:

- 75’ lap pool on the 5th floor with an outdoor kitchen
- Private dining for rent with a full kitchen 
- Gas cooking 
- All 2 and 3 bedroom residences are corner units with 180 degree views
- 2 and 3 bedroom units come with 2 reserved parking spaces
- There is a rentable guest suite available to building residents
- Bosch appliances are standard
- Pets allowed
- Designed as a Green building

The latest renderings or shown below -- and we've updated the full AustinTowers profile on on the project.

Spring Condo Tower in Austin Skyline

Spring Condo Project Bathroom Austin

Spring Condo Project Kitchen Austin

Spring Condo Project Interior Austin

Spring Condo Tower Pool Austin

Seaholm Construction Begins

Construction has officially commenced on a five-year project to transform the Seaholm power plant and surrounding site near Cesar Chavez Street and Lamar into a large mixed-use project. The initial phase of construction, as expected, include mostly infrastructure enhancements and site preparation.



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.

The project will also include offices, extensive retail, and more than 3 acres of open space. However, the most exciting part of the project is the redevelopment of the Seaholm facility itself. When complete, the art deco structure will include nearly 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurants.

More than anything else, Seaholm will further shift the heart of downtown to the west. While downtown life used to center around 6th street between Congress and red river, the warehouse district, 2nd street district, and Whole Foods have shifted the balance. With Seaholm, the downtown action will increasingly be centered between Congress, Lamar, 5th, and Town Lake.

Monarch Switches to Condos

As predicted, Monarch has officially announced that they are switching their project from all-rental to all-condo. This is big news, It's indicative of both the hot condo market and the weakness of the high-end downtown rental market. The 29-story building at 805 West fifth street, is located just a block from Whole Foods. The buidling, which is less than a year away from completion, will feature 305 units from 681 square feet to 3,530 square feet and priced from the low $200,000s to $1.65 million.



Here is the sumary from the Statesman:

Developers of the Monarch, a 305 unit residential tower under construction on West Fifth Street, have decided to switch the project from apartments to condominiums . . . Officials with ZOM Texas Inc. said their investors this week approved the decision to sell rather than rent the units in the 29-story building, based on what they say is continued strong demand for downtown condominium living. . .Some observers said the change renews questions about whether Austin's downtown residential market might be at risk of being overbuilt. But Charles Heimsath, whose consulting firm does research for many developers about demand for their proposed projects, says healthy sales and reservations at various projects are prompting him to raise his estimates on how many units the market can absorb annually, and he said he expects demand to remain strong for the next two to five years.



And the developer and broker seem very optimistic about the projects sales potential:

Kevin Burns, principal broker of Urbanspace Realtors LLP, the Monarch's exclusive listing agent, said that, without any marketing efforts until now, there already are prospective buyers for at least half the building. From the start, the Monarch's units were built to condominium standards and specifications — larger units with features such as hardwood floors, granite counters and wood cabinetry, for example, with the long-term goal being to sell them, said John Faulk, development manager for ZOM Texas Inc., a subsidiary of Orlando-based ZOM Inc.



The Monarch has a great advantage which is that they will beat many of the other planned projects to the market. With dozens of projects in the early phases of construction or still in the pre-construction planning phases, Monarch will have the advantage of marketing units that are very close to completion, and to target the pent-up demand for new projects.

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!


Read More...

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.

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!

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

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:






Site Update: 3 New Profiles Added!


As new downtown Austin condo projects are announced, we add them to AustinTowers. Over the last week we've added three full new profiles for recently announced projects. This brings the total number of projects covered by AustinTowers to 36!

The new profiles are:

1155 Barton Springs
21c Austin
Sabine on 5th

And of course, they can all be found in either the New Condo Project Gallery or the Completed Condo Project Gallery. Please contact us to let us know if we have missed anything!

The NEW Austin Luxury Condo Market


When 21c Musuem & Condos, the latest downtown luxury condo project, was announced on June 11, many interesting questions were once again raised about the downtown luxury condo market. While the market remains strong for units priced below $400K -- such as many of those in 360 and Milago -- the market for high end units is not yet proven. With a bunch of high-end developments in the works including the Austonian and the new Four Seasons Residences, we should find out soon whether a real market exists for hundreds of units priced over $500K, and dozens priced over $1M as these projects come to fruition. As none of these projects have broken ground, it's hard to know where they really stand.

When the 21c project was announced, some interesting speculation on the Austin luxury market made it into the news coverage. Here is an excerpt from the Statesman:


Some observers question whether downtown might end up with a glut of high-end condos, as has happened in some other major cities. But Poe and some local real estate developers and consultants insist demand remains strong locally as baby boomers, young professionals, empty-nesters and others seek an urban lifestyle."I think your market is pretty deep," Poe said. He noted that developers would have three years to sell units before the building opens, adding that selling 65 units a year is "not an unreasonable goal."Charles Heimsath, president of an Austin-based real estate consulting firm that advised developers on the project, said strong pre-sales and reservations at both the Austonian and the Four Seasons suggest a solid demand.



The information from Charles Heimsath, an independent consultant, is very encouraging if true. It makes sense that the 21c developers did their research before deciding to proceed. We'll keep our eyes open to see if we can uncover any additional information on the state of presales at the current set of high end projects.

21C Museum-Hotel-Condo: Major New Downtown Project Announced

A Kentucky-based developer announced plans for a unique 44-story tower on a prime downtown lot today. The $200M project, "21c Austin" will combine a private contemporary art museum, condos, and a boutique hotel run under the 21c brand. The project is based on the 21c Louisville, which is the top-rated hotel in the city of Louisville, Kentucky.

Here are some of the details from today's Statesman:

Another dramatic change could be on the horizon for Austin's skyline, as plans take shape for a 44-story tower that would combine luxury condos and a hotel that doubles as a modern art museum.Developers today will announce a $200 million project at Third and Brazos streets that is to include a 21c Museum Hotel, the second such project following the successful opening of one last year in Louisville, Ky. The project would have 209 guest rooms and 200 condos as well as a world-class contemporary art museum that would offer free admission year-round to allow the public to experience original art in a nontraditional setting.



The investment in the project is truly staggering: $200 million for 779,000 square feet. It's nice that the developers are investing first for underground parking, an expensive rarity in Austin, as well as for the museum which will add another cultural destination downtown while providing the project a creative identity. The project is being constructed at 3rd and Brazos on the current site of the Whitley printing company -- a windowless black stucco one floor industrial building that has had "future condo site" written all over it. The project will require variances for the large size and is expected to break ground in 2008 with a planned completion in 2010.

The project architects include Deborah Berke & Partners, a very well respected boutique, modern New York firm as well as Goody Clancy Architecture, a national firm based in Boston. Susman Tisdale Gayle, a local firm retained to assist with many of the large Austin projects, will also be involved.

The renderings show a very attractive project:






What's the bottom line? First, it's nice to see developers who could choose any city in the world choose Austin for such a unique $200 million project. This concept, more than most, will make a significant positive contribution to the downtown Austin environment. It will also be a key project in an important part of the city: the area between Congress and the Convention Center, between Sixth and the lake. While the Second Street District and the contiguous Warehouse District are becoming the heart of downtown, this area is the prime connective tissue to historic Sixth Street, the important Convention Center District, and the rest of downtown. The area is threatened by the terrible Marriott block between second and third, congress and Brazos where a huge retail-less hotel monolith will break the westward pedestrian traffic flow from the 2nd Street district. This project will help balance the area, providing a hub for new restaurants, bars, and shops and hopefully creating a bridge between these important downtown neighborhoods.

While pricing has not been revealed, the developers have implied that the project will compete on the upper-end of the market with the Austonian and the Four Seasons condo project. As this market for high-end condos has not previously existed in Austin, it's too early to tell how the project will fare financially. However, the unique boutique hotel will certainly be a welcome addition just a block from the convention center.

As always, the full AustinTowers profile can be found here!

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.

Very Expensive Barton Springs Living


Developers just announced plans to proceed with a 4-story, 27 unit development on Barton Springs just east of Lamar. The project is a very odd combination of location and pricing that suggests a lack of experience in residential development.



Here is the summary from the Statesman:

Now called 1155 Barton Springs, the project will consist of a four-story condominium building atop three levels of parking. The building will replace the long-vacant Treehouse restaurant and nightclub at Dawson and Barton Springs roads, which is next to a railroad track.Developers Elisabeth and Steffen Waltz and their partners plan to sell 27 condos for $1 million to $6 million each, well above the price range of the most expensive downtown-area condo projects announced to date.Skeptics may question the prices because of the location. But the developers say several factors set the project apart: It will have large units, from 1,600 square feet to more than 6,200 square feet. The grounds will be designed by the renowned landscape architectural firm Peter Walker & Partners of Berkeley, Calif.The building's concrete and sound-proofing insulation will minimize noise from the railroad.And its location near cultural and arts venues, including the future Long Center for the Performing Arts, is expected to appeal to arts patrons.


This project does not sound viable as planned. With prices starting at $625 / SF, it is 25% more expensive than the next highest price proposed project - the beautiful Pelli designed 5th & Congress project. And with a location on the south side of busy Barton Springs adjacent to the railroad, McDonalds, and Peter Pan mini golf, it's not a top location. And with units priced as high as $6 million, it's clear they have not done their research. There are almost no residential sales over the last five years of houses above $5 million -- that is a price point that just does not exist in Austin. Maybe, the Austonian can sell a crazy penthouse for $6 million - but it is not going to happen on the fourth floor of this project.

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.

Four Seasons Residences May Actually be Built

After seven years of proposed projects, the developer behind the Four Seasons Residences claims that the project will break ground this year. Apparently, the developer is self-financing the $100 million project -- eliminating the pre-sales hurdles which stall many projects before construction.


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The Condo Conversion Wave


The Statesman reported today on three condo conversion projects currently under way in downtown Austin. All three projects will transform commercial space into new condos. As thousands of residential units are being built in Austin for new residents who want to live and work in downtown. Compared to the boom in condo development, there is relatively little new downtown office space being developed downtown. These conversions will take additional office space offline. All in all, the city seems headed for a healthy commercial-residential mix.

One of the projects is "Sabine on Fifth" - an 80 unit 10-story building on, go figure, Sabine & 5th just west of I-35. Units will start at $190K for a 700 SF one bedroom apartment. the most expensive unit is in the mid 500's for 1,461 SF. The second project is the Brazos Place Condominiums, which we've fully profiled. It's units are already on the market. The Third project is Capital Tower which would include just 25 "Ultra Luxury" units atop an office building at 9th & San Jacinto. The project is still in the early planning phase.

Here is a picture of Sabine on Fifth:

Barton Springs Project Proposed

While it's technically out of the downtown radius, Texas American Resources is proposing a 14-story mixed-use project on Barton Springs Rd. between 1st and Lamar and directly across from the Long Center. The building would include 24 condo units atop 86,000 feet of office space and a ground floor restaurant. The site is the former location of the iconic Filling Station restaurant which closed in 2004.

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Major Austin Towers Site Update

As promised, a new section launched tonight that lists all known "Early Stage" Projects. The new section will include projects that have been announced and do not have enough information for a full profile. Today, the section lists 8 new projects with 2,500 units and total proposed budgets in excess of $1 billion.

In addition, two new projects were added to the Project Navigator:

The Residences at the Hotel Van Zandt and Bridges on the Park. Bridges on the Park is well on it's way -- construction started last year on South Lamar and is expected to be completed in 2007.

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...

Downtown Post Office Redevelopment

Not everybody is thrilled with the rate of development downtown. However, most Austinites would agree that the downtown post office at 6th & Guadalupe is one of the worst developed sites in the city. They took a prime downtown lot and built a small ugly 2-story post office that takes up less than 30% of the block. They surround it with a parking lot and a couple of mailboxes.

Last year, Mayor Wynn went to DC to lobby for redevelopment of the site. The fed agreed, proposals were submitted, and Novare Group Holdings of Atlanta---the firm behind the 360 project--was selected. Today, more details were announced. 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.


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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.

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