Archives for May 2013

Downtown News & Rumor Roundup

Downtown News & Rumor Roundup

There’s been a smattering of interesting dining news recently:

1)     The original Opal Divine’s on West Sixth Street will close on May 31st. They are currently working on a deal in the downtown area for a 5400-square-foot new Opal Divine’s. Look for an announcement soon on the exact location. Projected opening date is June 2014. (Dear lord, please don’t let another ‘effing steakhouse move in to Opal’s soon-to-be vacant space.)

2)     Memphis-based Gus’s Fried Chicken is moving into the Mongolian Grill spot, on San Jacinto and Second Street. This little stretch of downtown has consistently had well-intentioned people (Hank’s Garage, anyone) fail horribly on the stretch, but who knows… Americans love chicken.

3)     Dallas-based TexMex eatery Uncle Julio’s is setting up shop on the ground floor of the Whitley. By the look of the recent press releases the chain has issued, Austin is just one stop on Uncle Julio’s rapid expansion across America.

Austin homeless arrests present quagmire

Austin, with its warm weather and generally liberal leanings, have always been a home to a large transient and homeless population.

However, new data released by the city, in response to a request from Council Member Chris Riley, shows that for the first seven months of FY 2013, there have been more homeless-related downtown community court cases than in all of FY 2012. In addition, just about half of the cases originate from repeat offenders.

According to the city, the Austin Police Department began executing public order initiatives in fall 2012 – coincidentally, right about the time it rolled out the red carpet for Formula One – which has resulted in the problem offender population receiving many new charges, mostly related to City Ordinance violations, such as Camping in Public.

So says the city: “Unfortunately, there are extremely limited options in finding permanent supportive housing for problem offenders with extensive criminal histories. Without options for permanently housing these individuals, they will continue to receive new cases, further limiting their chances for acquiring housing.”

Go to the source here (PDF)

Council hands $2M to event promoters

The city is revamping its Special Events Ordinance, and a topic that keeps floating around the downtown neighborhood crowd is how much in fees City Council is waiving for these events.

Council Member Laura Morrison asked and got the answer: $2 million from the beginning of FY 2012 through FY 2013 year-to-date. These fees, from what I understand, are related to the costs of having traffic and public safety staff working on events and plans in place.

Not surprising, SXSW is granted the lion’s share, about a half million in waived fees.

I’m sure a lot of these organizations that are receiving waivers are fulfilling charity missions, but I’d be curious to know if the City Council ever asks for, or audits after the fact, how much of the profit generated by these events actually goes to a charity.

Go to the source here (PDF, hat tip to InFact Daily, which reported this this week. They are behind a pay wall, so no link guys.)

Amber and I got married!!!

After eight wonderful years, my longtime girlfriend Amber – who is also the backbone of my real estate business and a strong DAB contributor – and I had a wonderful downtown ceremony at 9th and Congress.

I’m going to steal a page from Car Talk and ask you to refrain from posting any congrats in the comments section. Instead, write any notes of congratulations on the back of a 27-inch iMac – with a 3.2GHz third-generation Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, high-capacity 1TB hard drive and advanced NVDIA GeForce graphics, packaged in an incredibly razor-thin, all-in-one design – and deliver it to my office. (Please write any notes in a water-soluble marker as to not hamper the resell value.)

Colorado Tower scheduled for launch next month

Colorado Tower scheduled for launch next month

Despite some ominous rumbling on the horizon that the project could be delayed indefinitely, I’m excited to share the news this week that Cousin’s magnificent Third & Colorado office tower is breaking ground next month.

Cousin’s issued a press release Thursday announcing that the 29-story, 371,000-square-foot office tower will break ground early next month. The building has been christened “Colorado Tower” and is scheduled for near completion by the end of 2014.

The Colorado Tower project has already signed two law firm tenants — Dubois Bryant & Campbell – which now offices in 700 Lavaca — and Scott Douglass & McConnico, which now offices in 600 Congress.

Earlier this year, Austin Towers picked up on the fact that this project was running behind schedule, after Cousins initially said it would break ground last year, due to among other things, a pending zoning change that council approved earlier this year.

A lot of people are forgetting that for the longest time the lot was supposed to be a hotel: an 18-story, 300-room Westin Hotel to be exact.

Who could have predicted back in 2008 when the hotel was first announced, on the foothills of the recession, that here we’d be in 2013 with almost a 90 percent downtown Austin office occupancy rate, a smorgasbord of hotel development and an urban residential market that is bright red hot (we’re talking lightsaber red).

(Conversely, I remember Will Wynn and Brewster McCracken – former Austin council members — hyping an upcoming urban rail election back then. Who would have also predicted that here we’d be in 2013 practically no closer to real mass transit, and being outdone handsomely Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.)

Enough about that, though. Check out these renderings of Colorado Tower!

News & Rumor Roundup: Bike Share Delayed

News & Rumor Roundup: Bike Share Delayed

Bike Share delayed?

Sadly, it looks as if the bike share program in Austin is hitting some unexpected delays.

KUT reported “the program has seen complications, and that a launch planned for this spring– which would’ve coincided with May as National Bike Month – will be delayed.”

I’ve heard that some people who work at the city disagree with the KUT story, but the fact of the matter is this program – after a flurry of news and forward momentum – appears stuck in the mud.  The city has not yet released a map of where the bike share kiosks will be installed yet, let alone what the timeline is for installing the kiosks.

KUT has more

Dell Medical School will reshape NE corner of downtown

Likely you caught a whiff of news about the UT masterplan for its Austin campus, and the attached medical district, which will house the Dell Medical School. The plan has been officially approved by the Board of Regents, and will transform the northeast portion downtown for generations to come.

Among the top things likely to come up at a dinner party, which you should know:

  • The Dell Medical School is expected to open in summer 2016.
  • Phase I would require the replacement of the Penick-Allison Tennis Center.
  • Within five years the UMCB (University Medical Center Brackenridge) will be demolished.
  • Within six to 15 years the Erwin Center will be demolished.

All the important points have been summarized over on Austin Towers, along with a collection of renderings and maps.

Austin Towers has more

Truluck’s expanding downtown

Truluck’s, one of the anchors of downtown’s Warehouse District, is investing more than $2 million to add a third story.

This follows a trend of reinvestment and development of properties within the Warehouse District. Work is going on now, for example, at the building that housed The Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant for decades.

Sometimes, it is easy to get fixated on the mega projects downtown, but this is a reminder that a lot of smaller projects are underway too.

Austin Business Journal has more

Wells Fargo teardown underway at 15th Street

Wells Fargo teardown

As a sign of the increasing residential density of downtown, Wells Fargo has destroyed it’s drive through bank on the corner of 15th and Rio Grande, and instead plans a full service lot there.

In place of the relic 800-square-foot drive-thru center, Wells Fargo plans to build a 4,000 square foot full-service branch, with four drive through bays and 20 parking spots.

Wondering why that block was never developed? Oddly enough, back in the 1970s and again in the 80s, the city entered into a restrictive covenant with the former property owners to limit any use of that lot to a drive-thru bank – it had been zoned for office and then CBD, but any use outside office was limited to a drive thru.  Odd.

First Phase of Green Water Construction Moving Forward?

First Phase of Green Water Construction Moving Forward?

Move over, Seaholm!  The other massive redevelopment on Cesar Chavez, the Green Water Treatment Plant Redevelopment, is rumbling to life!

Adding to the seemingly endless list of construction occurring downtown, it looks the Green Water Treatment Plant construction could be getting underway very soon.

A site plan for a high-rise apartment on “Block 1” (110 San Antonio) – possibly climbing 38 stories – has been turned into City Hall for the lot just west of the Silicon Labs building. It’s another exciting moment for downtown Austin, and the culmination of years of “wait and see” from guys like me, who watched these project move at a glacial pace after the economy tanked in 2009.



It was way back in 2008 that Trammel Crow won the bidding process to redevelop the site, and another five years before it hammered out a deal with the city.

On May 25, 2012 the Austin City Council approved an agreement with a development team led by the Trammell Crow Company to redevelop the site with several buildings up to 30 stories tall.  The project will have 1.75 million square feet of development, including 826 apartments, 456,000 sq. ft. of office space, a 200 room hotel and 82,000 sq. ft. of retail (most along an extension of the 2nd Street  District).



The project hit another, unexpected, snag when a dust-up occurred over seven heritage trees that are on the site. There were some concerns that the city was applying double standards by not making the developer follow the Heritage Tree ordinance, which the city council enacted in 2010 after Trammel Crow had its plans, but before it inked a deal with the city.

In the end, Trammel Crow agreed to save the trees, but would have to sacrifice about 67,000 square feet of leasable area, and the city agreed to hand over $1.7 million to compensate them, according to the Austin Business Journal.  [h/t Chris Bradford, see comments]

We have yet to see clearly how a reduction of almost 70,000 square feet will impact the scope of the development.

Back in 2012, the per block details were posted on the SkyscraperPage forum:


Block 23 Office
28 floors
566,074 gross square feet
524,143 usable square feet

Block 1 Residential (SITE PLAN FILED)
38 floors
682,120 gross square feet
531,700 usable square feet

Block 185 Residential
39 floors
436,975 gross square feet
336,600 usable square feet

Block 188 Hotel
19 floors
245,643 square feet

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Downtown News and Rumor Round-up

Rainey Street District hotel breaking ground next month?

If you’ve been around downtown Austin since 2006, you’ve been hearing about the Hotel Van Zandt.

It was a sister development to the Shore Condos, sharing the northern end of the site.  Hotel Van Zandt was initially planned to be a $100 million, 29-story hotel and condo tower.  The scope has been reduced to 16 stories and will include just the hotel component.

We’ve heard all of this before. Developers are now telling the Statesman they plan to get going next month. This is the same thing they told the ABJ in March, which is a sign that it is indeed ready to roll.

Hotel Van Zandt was initially planned to be a $100 million, 29-story hotel and condo tower.  The scope has been reduced to 16 stories and will include just the hotel component.

Statesman has more

New Travis County courthouse up for debate


The ongoing debate for whether or not Travis County will enter into a deal for a public-private partnership to build a new courthouse downtown could be coming to a head.

Recently, the Statesman profiled some of the issues associated with the project, and on Tuesday the Commissioner Court talked to the finalists for the deal: URS and Broaddus and Associates.

The court did not take a vote when it discussed it at a hearing this past Tuesday, but is taking the issue back up this Tuesday.

The new courthouse could rise 17 stories next to Republic Square. Earlier this year, commissioners decided they will hold a bond election to finance the courthouse, but no date is certain.

If the deal ever falls through, or the public does not approve the bonds, it would put a lot that is not encumbered by capitol view limits back into the private market.

Statesman has more

Austin is a finalist to host the X Games

ESPN announced that Austin is one of four finalists to host the 2014, 2015 and 2016 X Games. The games would be held at the Circuit of the Americas, but without a doubt, we can expect something related downtown. If – of course – Austin ends up taking the cake.

For the record, I think it will.

Austin is competing with Chicago, Detroit, and Charlotte, N.C. I think both COTA and Gov. Perry will roll out the red carpet and offer just as competative package of any tax breaks the other cities and states can offer. From a ticketing and marketing perspective, the folks at ESPN must know that Austin is going to have the best draw among the kids and also know that marketing machines like Nike and Samsung already have the ground troops and past experience to tackle Austin from a marketing perspective, due to SXSW.

ESPN is sending envoys here next month and expects to pick a winner this summer.

KXAN has more

The saga of an expensive parking garage coming to a close?

For you readers who are devotees of downtown palace intrigue, the saga of Whittington v. City of Austin could finally be coming to a close.

The case started almost a decade ago, in relation to the public-private partnership the city got into to build the Hilton next to the convention center. The city seized Harry’s downtown lot and he sued them for it.

After a series of trials, the case made it all the way up to the Texas Supreme Court, which sided with the city.

Got to give it to the man, he knows how to dig in and raise hell. Although, he must have asked himself several times over the past few years: What would that lot have been worth today if the city hadn’t tied it up in litigation 10 years ago?

Maybe now, they will put all of that vacant retail space, which wraps the ground level of the garage, to good use.

ABJ has more