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.

-Jude

About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR-Principal of REATX Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude serves on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.

Comments

  1. I thought CBD zoning limited FAR to 8:1 before CURE or density bonuses. How’d this site get entitled for 25:1?

  2. Good catch, Fred… I was thinking of 5th Street’s vacant drive through bank, and general lack of retail along Brazos (not including the corner store), more than anything. Indeed, the 6th Street block of retail under the Littlefield Garage is not vacant.

  3. avatar Fred Schmidt says:

    One important correction to the Statesman story which has been repeated in your summary, Jude: Much of the 30,000-sf of retail space in the Littlefield Garage/Apartments building has NOT been vacant for the past 10 years.

    It has been home now for more than 8 years to my 22-year-long Downtown Austin retail store, Wild About Music, as well as another iconic local retailer, Hatbox (formerly known as Vertigo for about 30 years), plus the Littlefield Market. Somehow we all seem to be invisible to the press. Yet this is Austin-centric, street-level retail — exactly what everyone continues to realize Downtown Austin needs a whole lot more of to be vibrant 18/7, not just at lunchtime and for weekend bar binges.

    At this time, the collective fate of our businesses is unknown as there has been zero communication around this transaction with any of us existing tenants. Yet it was also reported in the Statesman story that “We’re talking to several users now, representing a broad mix of uses.” Interesting, aye? Last time I heard that line of thinking there was a Walgreen’s being lured into our space to replace us. I have placed an inquiry into Stream to hopefully begin some discussion around this topic sooner than later.

    This is our fourth ownership change of this property since Wild About Music relocated operations to East 6th St from our prior 8 years on Congress at 8th St (an important corner which still sits pathetically vacant and in shambles to this day). Let’s just say that some prior ownership and management we’ve experienced has been better than others, with current management by Tom Stacy’s team being by far the best.

    We can only hope for a good future ahead but that remains to be seen. Personally, I would like to see some immediate intervention to keep Antone’s in the heart of Downtown rather than relocating out to East Riverside which, I believe, is a big mistake both for them and for Downtown. Our building (a prior incarnation) is actually the original home of Antone’s — there’s a placard out front on 6th to commemorate — and it would be fantastic to bring them back into here to fill one remaining large empty “hole” deep in a cavern of the Littlefield Garage building once occupied by Gold’s Gym. As a marquee destination venue, plus the synergy of Wild About Music and our fellow retailers, that combination would really rock until eventual inevitable dense redevelopment of the entire block one day becomes feasible to undertake and Austin experiences another transformational change that is out with the old and in with the new.

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