Downtown Austin Aloft & Element Hotel Proposal for Congress Ave

Downtown Austin Aloft & Element Hotel Proposal for Congress Ave

At last night’s Downtown Commission meeting, we heard from White Lodging on their proposed 33 story, 353 foot, 410 key, dual-branded Aloft/Element hotel at 7th & Congress Ave.

They paid more attention to engaging Congress Ave this time, compared to what they did originally with the JW.  The rhythm of the columns, al fresco dining, and dramatic doorway from Congress are hat tips to connecting with the street scape.

The development is seeking a zoning variance related to step-backs and loading docks, which the DC voted to recommend to City Council provided that: 1) accommodation be made to the adjacent Hideout Theatre, which shares a party wall with the proposed development, 2) keeping the shared alley and sidewalks clear, 3) The South facing wall has no windows since the adjacent property could eventually be developed. There is a light well, but additional architectural consideration should be paid to this wall since this will be the most visible face of the building.

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One interesting feature of this proposal is there will be zero parking spaces (excluding ADA requirements) and only three valet spots.  This isn’t the first Congress Ave hotel concept to propose no onsite parking.

I’m a believer in reducing parking to increase demand for public transit and reduce reliance upon cars.  It’s a rip-the-band-aid-off and get through the pain approach.  But, only three valet spots for such a large building?  Haha, lets watch this play out!  White Lodging knows a thing or two about operating successful hotels and how to park them.  The free market will determine the wisdom of this decision.   If they make it work it will be a huge signal to other developers about what is possible.

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Overall, I’m impressed with the proposal. It’s reflective of a city that’s grown up (not growing up) and it’s important that we support projects that bring density to narrow lots.

Tall and slender, if built, this would be the first new skyscraper on Congress Ave since … well… White Lodging’s other hotel currently under construction, the 1000 room JW Marriott.

-Jude

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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. avatar Win Bent says:

    (Sorry for the slow response, I just-now saw this posting)
    I spoke up at the meeting mentioned here – the parking issue here is a proposal which is either unrealistic, or antagonistic. Either there are not enough spaces downtown to support a hotel of this size, or they will pay whatever it takes to “unlock” the spaces they need, thus robbing everyone else of parking spaces. “I have all the water I need, I just pumped everyone else’s lakes dry.”

  2. These are really nice designs with a modern touch. Good for inspiration.

  3. 1) To answer Thomas’s question: no, we’re not even close to reaching a saturation point on hotels. Yet. Austin has one of the highest hotel-occupancy rates in the country, even when the city isn’t effectively sold out of rooms for SXSW/ACL/UT football weekends/etc. That being said, the 1000-room Marriott down the street could change the calculus dramatically in that regard.

    2) I’m sorry, but this zero-parking-spot thing is *nuts*. As much as certain parties would like to pretend that Austin is a city on par with New York as far as public transit and ease of bike usage goes, the reality is that we won’t reach the point of being a *truly* “zero-car-city” until our light rail system is fully built-out — at the very *least*. Moreover, White Lodging is making two *extremely* dangerous miscalculations in this regard: a) most of its guests will confine their time to the downtown area, and b) as in certain other downtown areas where they’ve opened properties (e.g. Dallas, where they repurposed a ’20s-era building with no garage), their guests who do have cars will have ample parking options in nearby garages and private lots.

    Finally, some reality-check time: contract parking garages are 100% full throughout the CBD. Even surface lots, which have consumed the overflow from the full contract lots, are nearing capacity, with many at 100% occupancy during the day (and filled with Dirty Sixth-goers at night). There are no parking garages in the immediate vicinity except the one across 7th St. behind the Stephen F. — and that hotel already has dibs on all spots not already under contract — and the one at 7th & Brazos in the complex that houses both an office building and the downtown Omni Hotel (which is also at capacity).

    Has White Lodging even *considered* where it’s going to park the hundreds of cars using its valet service?

    • Chicken and egg, JMK. A few observations:

      1. Every parking space we build limits density.
      2. Rail and other transit cannot be efficient without density.
      3. Believe it or not, a large number of parking spaces sit idle downtown much of the time. “Unlocking” these spaces to valet service may lead to more efficient use of parking.

      • To clarify a bit:

        1. I am, broadly speaking, strongly in favor of density.
        2. I am, however, also a realist, and it is simply too early to be building 33-story hotels with zero parking.
        3. I am also well-aware that a large number of parking spaces sit idle much of the time. However, I am further aware that the overwhelming majority of the spaces are reserved spots for a specific individual and will continue to be reserved spots. “Unlocking” these spots to valet service sounds great in theory, but won’t work in reality.

        • JMK, one key to unlocking the reserved spots is profit motive. The hotel will have a strong business incentive to pay what it takes to unlock the spaces.

          If it generates excessive demand for transit, all the better. One of the keys to transit that actually works is to have demand for it. Again, chicken and egg.

  4. The hotel design looks nice. However, with all of these hotel buildings under construction and being planned in and around downtown, has been any study as to whether we are reaching a saturation point in the core area? Also, whether the delicate balance of office/residences/hotels in becoming unglued?

    I’m all for more visitors and tourists, but I believe the city should remain vigilant on bringing residents and businesses downtown which pro ides more stable economic development.

  5. avatar Fred Schmidt says:

    As one who has been watching that project unfold…and who will soon be moving a business to that block in one of the (comparatively) tiny buildings in between this new hotel and the existing Littlefield Building… I have two observations:

    First, the height of this building seems absurdly out of proportion for that lot size and vis-a-vis the Littlefield and Intercontinental buildings – and I, too, am a big supporter of downtown density. We are forgetting that Congress Avenue is also a National Register Historic District – at least what’s left of historic buildings on that avenue versus, say, East 6th Street. I see Austin history losing the battle on Congress with the rest of the one to three story buildings left all meeting the wrecking ball in coming years, too. Not a big fan of development trumping all sense of local identity and character.

    The other issue is these massive blank walls like we already see on the east side of Plaza Lofts at 5th & Guadalupe. Obviously they cannot install windows because of potential – likely – future adjacent re-development. But I think we would be well tasked to find some creative solutions like giant art murals or other temporary/removable decorative schemes to turn those walls into a feature rather than an eyesore. Alternatively, like in LA and other cities, they also might get draped in massive advertising banners. Now there’s a real value-add for a Historic District. Here’s an example: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/16871390 Nice, huh?

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