Archives for April 2013

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Leasing ABIA = urban rail?

Getting better public transportation is so centric to the future of downtown, it always surprises me that there are not more occasions to write about it. In Austin, our current plan is called “urban rail” and it has almost become this amorphous type of buzz-word over the years. If you asked ten people “what is the urban rail plan?” I bet you would get 10 answers (or more likely you’d get seven blank stares and three answers).

The long-short of urban rail is this: It is a project the old Austin mayor (Will Wynn) pitched for downtown, and one that our current mayor (Lee Leffingwell) keeps bringing up, but no other council members, or any of our main business groups, ever seem to get very vocal about.

A little while ago, the Statesman reported that City Council was hot to trot to get something passed by voters before we switch our council makeup from seven-at-large members, to ten district members and one at-large, but we have still not seen very much action.

Suddenly, this week, the Statesman reported that Mayor Leffingwell is proposing a plan to lease out our airport, aka “ABIA”, in order to fund urban rail.

Statesman has more

KUT did a follow up that notes airports in Chicago and Puerto Rico have leased their airports, but six others abandoned the privatization idea after pursuing it.

Downtown adds more retail

Toy Joy, one of the coolest shops in the city, has been up near UT for years, announced it is moving to downtown, just below the Violet Crown on Second Street.

Recently another shop, Consuela, opened up at Ninth and Congress.

This is exciting news for downtown, because retail shopping – regardless of our personal preferences – is a vital component to a thriving urban ecosystem.

Culture Map has more on Toy Joy

Statesman has more on Consuela

Eighth and Neches hotel to be eight stories

I’ve done a couple posts about this hotel, but we finally have some specs on the new hotel across from Stubbs on Red River and 8th St.

The developer plans demolish the existing 117-space (hideous-looking) garage and build three stories of parking into the sloped lot with a five-story hotel above.

The $30 million project would bring about another 200 rooms to downtown. Given that this site is just a few blocks south of the proposed medical school, I think it is a smart play.

ABJ has more


Tower Planned for 70 Rainey Street

Tower Planned for 70 Rainey Street

[UPDATE 01/11/15: 70 Rainey To Be Condos]

Details are emerging for Riverside Resources’ planned multi-use tower at 70 Rainey St. across from the MACC.

The firm, which also developed The Whitley and The Crescent, has filed an administrative site plan application to construct 182 multifamily units, and another 3,600 square feet of ground level restaurant and retail space.

The 70 Rainey development, which encompasses the lots between 66-72 Rainey Street, was pursuing incorporating the City owned 64 Rainey Street into their plan, but the neighboring MACC lobbied City Hall last fall to get the land instead.

Initially, the 70 Rainey development, which would share the same alley used by the Shore Condos, and is being financed through Ft. Worth-based Kelly Capital Partners [UPDATE: Kelly Capital Partners is an equity holder, but is not financing the project], was pegged at 31-stories if it could include the 64 Rainey lot.

But until this site plan is approved, and we get some elevations, or something is leaked to the press, we won’t know how many stories this 182-unit project will have.

We can use the Shore condos as a reference, which has 192 units, and is only 22 stories.  The sites share a similarly sized footprint and orientation (north-south), so we are probably looking at buildings of comparable dimensions.  Accounting for the restaurant/retail on the ground level, I’m going to guess this one ends up around ~25 stories.

***Based on the site clearing I’ve seen over the past week, it looks like multiple food trailers are setting up to use the 70 Rainey Street site as a temporary home until site plan is approved and Riverside is ready to build. (Looks like it’s the United Nations of Food (?) from 95 Rainey Street, making way for the Sutton project)

70 Rainey

70 Rainey Austin

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Seaholm: No longer just a dream

The biggest downtown news of the week, and a major downtown milestone in general, is that the Seaholm power plant redevelopment is finally breaking ground. This will be another game-changer for Downtown Austin.

Almost every major news outlet did a story on it, but the Austin American Statesman ran an online headline that captured my sentiment best: “Seaholm redevelopment ready to break ground at last”.

Seaholm will included a 30-story tower with 309 apartments, a two-story building with a Trader Joe’s store, plus other retail, office and restaurant space. Most of the 117,000-square-foot power plant will be leased to one office tenant.

Most of the news stories are linking the imminent groundbreaking to the fact that the developer and the city finally signed their deal. However, the ABJ a few weeks ago published a great little story indicating that it was a lack of financing, not City Hall red tape, that held up the deal.

The vision for a Seaholm redevelopment started in 2005, and we should give credit to our city leaders for being bold and determined enough to see the deal through the recession and a host of other difficulties.

One of my big takeaways from this, is that anytime governments are involved in public-private partnerships, we should expect delays. This will likely play out with the new county courthouse near Republic Square.  Delays are playing out as we speak with the Austin bike share program.  And, they will also play out with the Seaholm Intake facility redevelopment, which is just starting to to gather ideas across the street from Seaholm proper.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Hotel confirmed across from Stubbs

The Austin Business Journal is confirming information that showed up on Austin Towers last month, about a new hotel being added across the street from Stubbs on Red River.

No new details were included, but the ABJ does let us know when we can find out what is going to happen, saying that Austin’s Planning Commission will hear the about it on May 23. Hopefully we will get some renderings then.

Austin Business Journal has more

Another Congress Ave. block changes hands

The buildings that house Annie’s Cafe & Bar, the Elephant Room and the former Capitol Metro storefront have been purchased.

I posted months ago about my excitement that Capital Metro was moving out of the 300 Congress block of downtown, with optimism that the space would serve a higher and better use. I – personally – would love to see more outdoor seating along Congress Avenue. With this purchase, I think that will now be possible.

Austin BusinessJournal has more

Austin Post profiles some dude

Maybe you’ve heard of him.

Joking aside, I’ve been egged on to post this on here after it published earlier this month, even though it feels a little self-aggrandizing   I want to thank the Austin Post for the online love, and Rob Patterson for making me appear much cooler than I am in real life.

I’d also like to say that if you are reading this, and have visited this blog with any regularity since I started toiling at it years ago – much to my soon-to-be-wife’s chagrin – then I owe you, The Reader, a debt of gratitude.

It is logging into to my readership metrics and reading ya’lls comments that make the Downtown Austin Blog a true passion for me. Even though I have only a small cadre of folks contributing to this site, along with my own posts, I feel like our readers have helped build a community around it and it is an honor to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Austin is king city of downtown jobs

Austin is king city of downtown jobs

I have heard off and on over the years that the urban core of Austin holds about 30 percent of the jobs in the Austin region. It’s a mantra often repeated, especially as it relates to transportation discussions. But, as I thought about it, no one has ever been really able to say how or where that sound bite came from.

Thankfully, we now have a bonafide source, The Brookings Institution, who says it is about 25 percent (if we count “downtown” as the three-mile zone surrounding it and not the bureaucratic political boundaries City Hall assigns to “downtown” as the 78701 and part of 78703 zip codes).

The Austin American-Statesman just posted a story on downtown Austin job growth, based on a report by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

You can read the whole Brookings report here, or download the Austin snapshot here

If you’ve followed us at the Downtown Austin Blog for a while, you’ll know that from time to time, we like to dive into data around condo sales. This time, I’m diving into these job numbers.

Report on the report

The Brookings report puts into numbers what we all already know intuitively: downtown Austin keeps adding jobs. What we don’t always realize is how exceptional that fact is, relative to other cities.

Between 2007 and 2010 – the years of the Great Recession – downtown Austin was one of only FOUR of the major cities across the entire country where the number of absolute jobs in the urban core *WENT UP*.  Amazing.

Austin joined Charleston, Cincinnati and New Orleans in this distinction, but Austin was the only one that did not lose jobs overall during this time period. (I’m not smart enough about this, but does that mean Austin never had a recession??)

If we count on the number of office developments, and hotels underway now in downtown, it’s safe to assume downtown Austin will continue to lead the country in adding jobs.

Food for thought

One might think that this puts Austin in a magic realm of urban development and new urban development. Well, it does, in a way, but paradoxically, the share of jobs in downtown Austin, relative to the jobs in the metro area actually fell from 2000 to 2010 by about 3 percent.

Why? Because even though Austin added about 6,000 jobs downtown from 2000 to **2010** – which in and of itself is remarkable – in the zone that is 10-35 miles from the Central Business District, the city added a staggering 74,000 jobs.

It is interesting to me because, if you look at other American cities especially in the past three decades, most of the cities that had surges of jobs surged in the suburbs, while downtowns languished. This means, matter of fact, downtown Austin is special.

So rather than opening up a debate on whether downtown is “the economic engine” of the region, this new report confirms that downtown is definitely a pumping piston in the engine.  As a downtown lover, I’ll cheers to that.

If you are curious about what 3, 10 and 35 miles looks like, here ya go:

35 miles from downtown

10 miles from downtown

3 miles from downtown

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Whitley apartment building opens doors

Announced in September 2011, The Whitley apartment building, at Brazos and Fourth, welcomed its first tenants this month. The 16-story building brings 266 apartments, and is the vanguard of an apartment building boom in the core.

There are at least another 1,100 apartments coming online, not including the projects recently detailed on this blog. Downtown apartment occupancy remains at a stunning 98 percent occupancy as of late February.

The Statesman has more

Downtown braces for more convention business

Its long been part of local king-makers’ narrative that Austin is missing out on tourism business – or essentially free money for the local economy – due to a shortfall of hotel rooms.

Now, some 4,000 hotel rooms are coming online in and around downtown, which means we get to share our awesome downtown with more people.

Tourism dollars, for those who don’t follow this stuff, are highly-coveted because they pump a ton of sales tax into the local economy, but tourists cost little in terms of core-city services, such as police and fire.

The Statesman has more

Cousins Third & Colorado project kaput?

Cousins property last year announced a pretty cool-looking office tower at Third and Colorado, in the Warehouse District.

Cousins said it had hoped to break ground late last year, and to date, there is no physical progress.  One reason for the delay is they still don’t have their zoning, but it’s on the council agenda this week.

This is creating fears that the project may be put on ice as other office project jockey for tenants.

Austin Towers has more

Block 51 – aka IBC Bank tower – and 7 Rio set for groundbreaking

Two longtime downtown projects, which have been germinating for half a decade are finally getting ready to sprout.

Block 51, which is just north of the new federal courthouse, and 7 Rio (located at 7th and Rio Grande) both filed paperwork to start partially blocking the streets to begin construction.

Austin Towers has more

City Council finalizes new parking requirements: There are none

City Council has waved future parking requirements for new downtown development.

This is a symbolic and legal step forward because minimum parking requirements have many negative effects, including:

  • Generate greater automobile usage and reduce use of transit and walking.
  • Increase building construction costs and make units less affordable.
  • Negatively affect the aesthetics of the built environment.
  • Perpetuate the inefficient use of available parking. (Currently many parking spaces in garages downtown sit empty throughout the day and night.)

KVUE has more

Cirrus Logic campus plan OK’d by Planning Commission

Apple supplier Cirrus Logic’s plans to build a new building that is as tall as its new headquarters got the green light from the Austin Planning Commission recommendation despite opposition from neighborhood associations.

Austin Business Journal has more