Archives for March 2013

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

There’s a number of interesting items relating to downtown in the news recently. With so much going on these days, along with the demise of Google Reader, we’re going to try something new at DAB: an end of the week wrap-up of what’s been in the news related to downtown. If you are like me, it is hard sometimes, to keep up with everything, especially during personally busy weeks.

Do me a huge favor and be sure to leave a comment if this is helpful and if you’d like to see this as a regular feature.

Rainey Street Ramps Up (again!)

Two new projects have filed site plans for new construction within the Rainey Street neighborhood district.

The vacant lot across the street from the Mexican American Cultural Center at 70 Rainey filed paperwork to build a mixed-use sky scraper consisting of a restaurant, residential units, and parking.

Down the street, the North Shore Lofts are moving forward with a multi-family building at the corner of the north shore and I-35, that will bring 44 class A multifamily units to the site.

Austin Towers has more

Capitol Kibosh

Texas lawmakers moved again earlier this week to make good on their sabre-rattling to freeze any development plans around the Capitol Complex.

A senate committee passed SB 894, by State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), making unsolicited proposals for development of the area north of the Capitol grounds illegal.

This effectively kills plans for the planetarium and high rise development.

The bill will also force potential developers to pitch their development plans before the Legislature every two years.

Notably, this bill has more than 20 sponsors and is also being supported by Kirk Watson.

KUT News has more

W Hotel for sale?

The Austin American-Statesman got its hands on a marketing brochure that says the W Hotel, also known as Block 21 and the home of the ACL Live studio is for sale.

The tower also includes 159 condominiums that aren’t part of the sale. To date 131 of the condos have been sold or are under contract, at an average price of more than $600 a square foot, according to the offering brochure. Jones Lang LaSalle’s Hotels & Hospitality Group is marketing the property.

Statesman has more

Travis County altering development plans?

County commissioners are considering another $38.5 million building downtown in early April at the corner of West 11th and San Antonio streets. The county previously received a proposal for a $60 million building on the same site.

In December, the county purchased the land for $7.25 million. It includes part of the Texas PTA offices and a parking lot.

Statesman has more

To view or not to view

While not downtown, we’re noting that neighbors are opposing the Taco Cabana development.

Bridges’ Homeowner Association has petitioned the City to deny a zoning request there.

Austin city planner Jerry Rusthoven told KVUE: “City code does not protect people’s views. That came up recently in another case downtown.”

KVUE has more on the dispute and Austin Towers has the details on the development

Higher & Better Use For Downtown Alleys

Higher & Better Use For Downtown Alleys

This effort could yield some cool results.  The idea is in focus as Art Alliance Austin will feature in April an alley installation adjacent to the Austin Club.

Councilmember Tovo’s office is capturing the attention of downtown stakeholder groups, including Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Commission, which has spun off a working group, for consideration of a masterplan for downtown Austin’s alleyways.

“Traditionally [alleys] are associated with garbage collection and can be associated with crime,” Tovo says “so, there’s the notion of kind of taking another look at them and really thinking about what kind of potential they might bring to our downtown area.” – KUT News

Repurposing alleys is not a new idea, and many cities around the world have embraced them as valuable real estate.

In fact, the concept for revitalizing downtown alleys has come before Austin City Council at least once before.  Back in 1971, architect David Graeber proposed repurposing the alleys behind 6th Street, from the Driskill Hotel to Waller Creek.

“By establishing cafes, boutiques, business offices and unusual shops, the alley could be a major economic stimulant to the downtown area.  Businesses could face either the alley or 6th Street, or more advantageously, both.” – David Graeber

Austin Architect, David Graeber's "Serendipity Alley" concept from the 1970s.  Daily Texan, September 24, 1971

Austin Architect, David Graeber’s “Serendipity Alley” concept from the 1970s. Daily Texan, September 24, 1971

[Image credit Art Alliance Austin/Creative Action and TBG/Dan Cheetham (Fyoog) and Michelle Tarsney]

Plan To Revitalize 6th & Congress Announced, Underwhelms Everyone

Plan To Revitalize 6th & Congress Announced, Underwhelms Everyone

Stream Realty Partners has a contract to acquire the downtown block bounded by Congress, Fifth, Sixth and Brazos streets, according to the Austin American-Statesman.  Here are the details on what’s planned:

  • The deal consists of five parcels totaling 2.3 acres at the southeast corner of Congress and Sixth, plus a half-block directly east on Fifth Street between Brazos and San Jacinto Boulevard.
  • Stream Realty is acquiring the portfolio in a partnership with Wanxiang America Real Estate Group and Diversified Real Estate Capital. Heitman LLC is providing financing.
  • The site includes the 26-story Bank of America tower. Stream will continue to operate the 256,911-square-foot tower, which is 90 percent leased, as an office building and leave as is.
  • Vacant 501 Congress building will be remodeled by 2014 into a contemporary five-story building with 112,000 square feet of first-class office space and a rooftop deck.
  • Existing valet parking garage will be torn down and replaced by 2014 with an eight-story parking garage with 300 spaces and street-level retail space
  • The site also includes the nine-story Littlefield parking garage with 535 spaces, plus 24 apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail space. By the end of this year, Stream plans to renovate the apartments as well as the retail space, which has been vacant.
  • The half block site on East Fifth Street between Brazos and San Jacinto, which is home to a Bank of America drive through, will be sold for an unknown development.

6th Cong plan

Much of this site is entitled with 25:1 FAR, so it’s a disappointment to see an absence of big plans.

Still, it will be better than the vacant buildings currently occupying the 5th Street block between Congress and Brazos.  It’s hard to notice these days, given the amount of foot traffic that passes by this block creating an illusion of activity, but this is a major dead zone within the core.

The glass is half-full, though, and of the changes coming to this block, we’re most excited about street level retail being added where that valet garage is now. So much of the urban experience takes place at eye level within the street-scape.

The street belongs to everyone, whether you are a visiting hipster from Tulsa, Oklahoma in town for ACL, a Bastrop native walking to a lunch appointment, a UT student looking for love on Sixth St. or a family from Bee Caves enjoying downtown on the weekend. Having active storefronts makes downtown feel welcoming and alive, and having them lit at night adds an air of comfort and safety that an inhuman, dark parking garage does not.

This is an exciting time to be watching and writing about downtown Austin. The rate of change and investment is unprecedented and is an incredible maturation of the policy strong Austin mayors like (state Sen.) Kirk Watson and Will Wynn put in place.


UT student housing, not condos, coming to 17 & Guadalupe

UT student housing, not condos, coming to 17 & Guadalupe

About a month ago, the Downtown Austin Blog had a post hinting at the redevelopment of the abandoned, sad-looking Arby’s at 17th and Guadalupe, received with some skepticism.

Guess what? It’s going to be developed into an 80-unit student housing apartment complex and they want to do it fast.

About a quarter of the block at 1715 Guadalupe has been an abandoned fast food restaurant with its onsite parking use for contract parking. Recently, it has been sold to a developer for mid-rise student housing, with below grade parking.

Here’s the catch: The construction schedule requires work to begin by March 15, in order for the project to be ready for UT student move-in this August. The entire project area will have underground parking, which will required about two months of demolition, excavation and grading work.

It will be interesting to see if this still becomes student housing if the project deadlines cannot be met. Initially, this lot was going to be redeveloped into downtown mixed-use and someone literally scratched out “condos and retail” on the site plan application and wrote “apartments”.

UT had record freshman enrollment this past year, and if the market said lending was easier for that use, then that’s how the chips fall.

There’s likely to be universal consensus that a mid-rise student complex will be great for adding some life back into that part of town, and be especially good for the adjacent Dive Bar and Arturo’s coffee shop.

But, like cutting into an overcooked, yet still tasty steak, the current plan leaves bit sadness about what could have been.

Street-level retail and condo owners, which would have been vested in the community, would have been much juicier than student housing. Not to mention: the site is zoned for DMU-CURE and not in the Capitol View Corridor, which means density could have been packed in there.

We’ll also not that unlike other apartment projects percolating around the core, this one – because it is student housing – is unlikely to be converted into condos at a later date.

On the other hand, having student housing bleeding into downtown does it’s own unique part to keep the core vibrant, and really adds a level of affordability and youthfulness to downtown, which a luxury high-rise condo tower would not.

Royal Blue Grocery Announces Next Location @ The Whitley

Royal Blue Grocery Announces Next Location @ The Whitley

Big news for those living and working on the east side of Congress Ave.  Royal Blue proprietor, George Scariano, confirms with DAB that the lease is officially signed with The Whitley!

This will be the locally loved grocer’s fourth location.  The 2300 ft store will anchor the Railyard District, and we can expect an opening in July.

The store will be a full blown coffee shop, offering beer & wine, with an on-site kitchen serving baja-style seafood tacos, tacos al pastor, and flattop burgers.

We can’t wait!