This Is The Biggest Transformation Facing Downtown Austin

This Is The Biggest Transformation Facing Downtown Austin

You can clearly see from any of Austin’s view corridors the myriad cranes in downtown Austin, transforming the skyline.  But, the biggest transformation facing downtown Austin is not the redevelopment of Seaholm, nor Green Water.

I’m thinking of the Dell Medical School and UT’s Medical District Plan. This plan developed within two years, seemingly from thin air, and is awesome in the “shock and awe” sense of the word.

We’ve seen “Master Plans” come, go, sit on the shelves of City Hall, but the UT Medical District is more or less guaranteed to happen in the next couple of years, at least the first phase.  The UT system, the No. 3 richest system in the nation, will carry the brunt of development for Phase 1 of the master plan. I’d wager they aren’t dependent on lenders, credit markets, etc. when they (literally) have $1 billion of gold in the bank. That gold, by the way, represents just five percent of UT’s nearly $20 billion portfolio.

Officially, UT plans to open the medical school in the fall of 2016, while the planned opening of the hospital is January 2017.  

Now, look at the Medical District plan as a catalyst for development near the adjacent capitol complex and Waller Creek.  Things get really exciting.

I’m going to blog a few posts about this connectivity, in my best attempt to tie in the three plans and why they all are creating a nexus for something special to happen.

Let’s start by talking about what is in the works at UT in Phase 1.

UT Phase 1 plans

Phase 1 will be built while the existing Brackenridge hospital and Erwin Center continue to operate. Phase 1 will be jointly developed by UT and Seton/Central Health.

Parts of the first phase that will be developed by UT are:

  • A 75,000-square-foot academic/administrative building to serve as the medical school.
  • A 240,000-square-foot research building and vivarium. (If you’re wondering, “vivarium” is a fancy way of saying “animal research facility.”)
  • A 200,000-square-foot medical office building to provide space for specialty clinics, medical offices, hospital support, and clinical research.
  • A 1,000-space parking structure to serve the office building.
  • Meanwhile, Seton and Central Health will develop a new 480,000-square-foot hospital.



To facilitate development, the existing Penick-Allison Tennis Center will need to be relocated (sigh), as will the Centennial Park memorial features.

Additionally, Red River will be realigned between 16th and 15th street. If the glacially slow and problematic redevelopment of Brazos Street and other downtown streets is any indicator, that is the most likely part to delay UT’s plans.  Assuming the university twists arms at City Hall to put that on the fast track, there is still no telling what sort of headaches and potential delays that lay in wait under the street.

You might say: “This is basically UT and not downtown.”

I’d counter that 2/3 of this plan exists within the boundaries of Downtown Austin, adjacent to the capitol complex and Waller Creek.  The Medical District will spur more development for services and living options supporting Austin’s burgeoning medical industry.

Optimistically, I think this is “too big to fail.”  Exciting stuff, to be sure, and phase 1 is just the start.


About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS 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 has served on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.


  1. I wonder where they will put the Erwin Center? It would be great if they could find a location near but off campus so they could serve alcohol. UT is missing big bucks in concessions because of these rules, and the city is missing out on the alcohol tax that would surely flow from these events. I have a feeling they will probably put it on the other side of the Highway or tear down some of those parking garages to keep it close by.

  2. Regarding the statement “The UT system, the No. 3 richest system in the nation, will carry the brunt of development for Phase 1 of the master plan.” Wouldn’t it be fair to say that taxpayers are also carrying a significant burden to build Phase 1 because of the increased Central Health district tax?

  3. Fred Schmidt says

    Great coverage, as always, Jude. Two comments:

    The Waller Creek master plan and the entire “Innovation District” (basically the Northeast Quadrant of Downtown) face serious challenges to success unless our community and political leadership also step up to the plate and bring final intelligent resolution to redistributing the concentration of social service providers from the area around East 7th St and Red River. While retaining a solid intake center and first-level evaluation services Downtown, the long tail of ongoing solutions needs to be spread a little bit across our entire community just like the new 10-1 council representation plan. NIMBY should become “10% in everyone’s backyard” with housing at the top of the list.

    Secondly, one more transformational redevelopment plan on the horizon — along with Mueller and the NE Quadrant (which also includes redevelopment of the State parking garages and properties in the San Jacinto / Trinity corridor) — is Austin Community College’s re-engineering of Highland Mall into a massive new mixed use campus with a Creative Media and STEM Center as an anchor component. This is a project that I have become hugely excited about and is expected to come before voters this Fall for bond funding support. I believe this has the potential to catalyze Central Austin to the next level of success as a global tech and creative center. While certainly not “downtown” by usual definition, it is nevertheless just a short 3 miles away — right on the Cap Metro Red Line train and excellent bus connectivity with Downtown, or a pleasant bicycle ride through the UT campus and nice neighborhood streets.

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