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.

The Other Downtown Austin

The Other Downtown Austin

the streets are adorned with lush, green trees

It’s an exciting time to live in and be involved with Downtown Austin.  Major developments being announced, and construction commencing pretty regularly.  Population and commerce increasing exponentially each year.  More places to eat.  More feet on the street. More energy.  Austin, and downtown Austin specifically, garners a lot of local, regional, and even national attention… well, most of downtown gets attention.

See, there’s this “other” downtown.  A hidden-in-plain-sight curiosity.

Let me preface the point.  Take look at a map of downtown Austin.  Visualize downtown as four quadrants, with axes along 6th Street and Congress Avenue.

First, the southeastern quadrant of downtown is home to the monumental Waller Creek redevelopment, has fortunate proximity to most downtown and East Side venues, quick access to the Hike & Bike Trail, several exciting and new hotel developments, including the The Fairmont and the Hotel Van Zandt, and an array of existing and proposed apartment and condo developments.  70 Rainey, for example.

Second, the southwestern quadrant, the media darling of downtown Austin, with heavy economic investment, has a rich mix of residential, office, and recreational uses, and seems to be constantly boasting some sort of development activity.  Major, sexy condo tower projects like the Seaholm, the Greenwater Treatment redevelopment, and the newly announced Independent have put the area on the forefront of media coverage.  Substantial office projects like the recently completed Colorado Tower and the under-construction office tower at 5th and Colorado are also making news.

Third, the northeastern quadrant is bubbling as an “Innovation Zone” – with developments bringing new life to the medical and tech industries, as well as activity related to our state Capitol.  Very recently, Foundation Communities opened it’s affordable housing development: Capital Studios.  This area is also filled, FILLED!!, with blighted parking garages.  Fortunately, Texas State Capitol complex has started getting some attention in recent years.

And, now we’ve arrived at the subject of this post.

Fourth, and finally, the “other” downtown.  The oft overlooked top left corner of downtown.  The tranquil, lush, historically quaint, attorney office dense, northwestern quadrant of downtown!  (Bookmark this: OANA’s terrific historic online tour, block by block)

We simply don’t hear much from this neck of the woods, even though it’s among the most peaceful and pleasant places to live in downtown, with plentiful tree canopy, open parks, myriad law offices, Shoal Creek, ACC, and tasteful restorations.

It’s also some of the most expensive residential property in the City.  Most of the residential in this area is comprised of single family homes, like this, and this, and this one.  Many of these homes have become office uses, generally of the law firm or other office-practice variety (although some other fun stuff is starting to pop up!).

Austin Panic Room

The Austin Panic Room, a fun new concept that just opened in NW downtown Austin.

The reason we don’t hear of these big, shiny, fabulous, skyline changing developments?  Zoning.  It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.

For better or worse, many of the lots in the northwest part of downtown Austin simply aren’t zoned for high-rises.  It’s no simple task to get an area that’s this passionate with historic sentiment and neighborhood protections to simply approve mass zoning changes willy-nilly.  Some of the City’s most prime and walkable downtown real estate is almost completely untapped as far as density goes, with most lots being inhabited with one-story or two-story Victorian style homes.  To be clear, we like it this way, too!

There are a few dense developments in northwest downtown, like the newly constructed apartment tower, Seven.  And, Aspen Heights is under construction.  Also notable, are Westgate and Cambridge Towers, which are along major boulevards.  Typically, in this part of downtown, we expect to see mid-rise developments like 904 West, Park West Condos, and the Nokonah, along with a handful of off-the-radar apartment communities, like the Nueces Flats.

You can be on W 6th Street at midnight, then walk stumble 2-3 blocks north along Nueces and it feels like a different, quieter, world.

No doubt we will continue to read headlines about downtown Austin.  Along the way, it will be interesting to observe how the “other” downtown Austin remains relatively media mute.  Maybe it’s better that way.

-Jude





“Adult-Oriented” Use proposed for 422 Congress

“Adult-Oriented” Use proposed for 422 Congress

Screenshot 2015-02-10 16.47.18

Congress Avenue – the Main Street of Texas – is about to “make it rain!”

An “adult oriented use” has been proposed for the site at 422 Congress Ave.  Lanai and other various cocktail lounges inhabit / have inhabited the space previously.

The city permitting office states: “The applicant is proposing a conditional use application for an adult oriented business” and the business is referred to as a “nightclub” in parts of the application for permit.

The legal term “adult-oriented business” means an adult arcade, adult bookstore, adult cabaret, adult lounge, adult novelty shop, adult service business, or adult theater.  Link to Austin’s land development code.  I think most observers would agree that “adult oriented business” is clearly a euphemism for strip-club.

Screenshot 2015-02-10 16.47.18

from Google maps

This would be a first for downtown Austin, at least this century.

More to come.





70 Rainey Signals Condo Tower

70 Rainey Signals Condo Tower

70_Rainey_Street___A_Downtown_Austin_Condominium

The popular Rainey Street district may host the next condo tower to be announced in downtown Austin.  Known simply as 70 Rainey, the four lot assemblage, currently occupied by several mobile food trucks, is situated just east of the Mexican American Cultural Center.

While we’ve been expecting a tower on this site, it is noteworthy that 70rainey.com indicates the tower will deliver as condos for sale, rather than previous reports of a multi-family tower with apartments for rent.

70-rainey-map

Outline of the site, and adjacent 64 Rainey owned by the MACC

The site has been in play for several years and has seen several owners.

The current owner, Freemont Holdings, LLC – a related company of Manhattan developer Sackman Enterprises, acquired the site last year from local Riverside Resources.

City of Austin filings indicate that the site plan might not be fully fleshed out.  As of last October engineers are seeking 200 residences, for a total project size of 531,806 sf.

This is a nuanced change from what the project was originally entitled for, and new City of Austin ordinances for density in Rainey Street could hand-tie the developers ability tweak the building.  The new desired height of the tower has increased to 35 stories due to smaller floor plates in the revised building plan.

Summary of what we know about 70 Rainey:

  • Number of dwellings = 200 (86 1bd, 110 2bd, 4 penthouse)
  • Building size = 531,806 SF
  • Number of stories = 35 (tbd.)
  • Number of parking spaces = 478
  • Amenities include: onsite restaurant, 24 hour concierge, pool, gym, great streets sidewalks

After years without any new condo towers, the past 18 months have given downtown Austin three official announcements: Seaholm, Fifth & West, and The Independent.  The only building to see vertical construction so far is Seaholm, but site work has begun on Fifth & West.

Interestingly, those condo towers are located within two blocks of each other, and each is anchored to West Avenue.  It would be great to spread some of that excitement to the east of Congress Avenue, and perhaps that will be 70 Rainey… but maybe we’ll just as soon see 99 Trinity, or the three towers proposed by Waller Park Place.

-Jude





How Much Convention Center Is Too Much Convention Center?

How Much Convention Center Is Too Much Convention Center?

block-8 2

Block 8 sits in the southern shadow of the Four Seasons Residences, just west of the Austin Convention Center.  There are signals that the City of Austin is posturing for another Convention Center eminent domain battle (à la the Whittington Saga Part 1 & Part 2, which we wrote about in 2008).

City Staff recently recommended that the City acquire the southern tracts of what’s known as Block 8 to be part of an expansion of the Austin Convention Center, the first step in a larger proposed expansion.

block-8 2

The Convention Center currently sprawls over six city blocks, and hosts 881,400 square feet of space.  The City Memo states that there is “solid evidence” for expansion and is wanting up to 305,000 in additional square feet! No doubt the abundance of downtown hotel rooms recently built, and under-construction is part of that “evidence”.

You can view the memo in a recent report from the Austin Monitor, though talks about this have been going on behind closed doors for a while before this.

block-8-tcad-parcels

Plat map of the southern half of Block 8

Below is the breakdown of current ownership of the southern half of Block 8 that the city is intending to initially acquire:

101 E Cesar Chavez / 302 E Cesar Chavez – this is one of the most awkward buildings in downtown Austin. The tenant, Casa Chapala, recently closed its doors.  Public records show the lot to be owned by Bloctavo Holdings LLC / John Calhoun Miller, a real estate attorney in Texas. May be a registered agent.

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304 & 306 Cesar Chavez – downtown’s purveyor of Aprilias and Vespas, AF1 seems to hide in plain sight.  Owned by Bandy Real Estate LLC, a family operated LLC located in Kingsland, TX.

af1

AF1 Racing

316 & 316 1/2 Cesar Chavez  – A lovely surface parking lot (sarcasm), adjacent to the Christian Science Reading Room. Public records indicated this is owned by Bloctavo Holdings / John Calhoun Miller, a real estate attorney in Texas. May be a registered agent.

the view of the lot looking to the north

the view of the lot looking to the north

102 / 104 Trinity – The Christian Science Reading Room, owned by the First Church of Christian Science.

front exterior of the Christian Science Reading Room

front exterior of the Christian Science Reading Room

Southwest Strategies has been marketing the assemblage of the southern half of Block 8, hoping to get a developer to build with a long-term ground lease.

They describe Block 8 as follows:

The Block 8 Tracts are an assemblage of 4 smaller tracts. Currently, the western portion of the property along San Jacinto is improved with a two story building containing 6,103 sq. ft. currently leased to a restaurant on a short term basis. The central part of the assemblage is improved with a one story building containing 5,320 sq. ft. Tenant is on a month-to-month lease. The eastern portion of the assemblage consists of a paved parking lot utilized for contract parking and an owner occupied one story building consisting of 4,161 sq. ft.

It’s true that the block sits on a prime redevelopment location.  It’s near the convention center, has CBD zoning, and “is unencumbered by any Capitol View Corridors.”

block-8-capitol-view-corridor

Per the Austin Business Journal, “City officials invested about $110 million to expand the convention center in 2002 by several city blocks.”

In their memo, the City states that it has already sent what’s called a Letter of Intent to Acquire to the property owners, and is also already throwing around eminent domain references (though the memo does state that the City will make a good faith attempt to acquire the properties at market value).

The above lots are just the first part of the plan.  From the Austin Monitor: “Rizer suggests the city will need to acquire ‘the equivalent of three to four City blocks‘ to accumulate enough room for the additional space.”

As a resident of downtown, the prospect that an additional three to four blocks of CBD zoned downtown Austin land, currently occupied by thriving businesses, would be annexed by a sprawling Convention Center is alarming.  This would divide downtown Austin using brute force malaise-era design principals.  The City should instead be investing in sustainable design that enhances the preciously compact pedestrian experience our downtown currently affords to residents and visitors.

I call BS on the dogma that Convention Centers can only expand horizontally.  City leadership should invite world class designers to show us a better path to expand vertically on the already significant Convention Center footprint.

-Jude





Austin Fairmont Hotel To Break Ground November 3rd

Austin Fairmont Hotel To Break Ground November 3rd

Fairmont_Rendering_Oct2014_final

Some people, myself included, were beginning to think downtown Austin’s Fairmont Hotel was becoming development vaporware.  Back in March there was proof-of-life when they began fencing off the site.

Today, according to a press release sent to DAB, the Fairmont Austin, the first hotel providing direct access to the Austin Convention Center, is announcing that it has secured financing and will break ground on November 3, 2014.

Colony Capital has stepped in with project financing for the $370 million luxury hotel, which is expected to open June 3, 2017.

The site, located at the northeast corner of Cesar Chavez & Red River is a 1.74-acre parcel situated along the bank of Waller Creek. The hotel will be notable for having a direct connection to the Austin Convention Center, via an arial promenade being designed by Thomas Phifer and Partners (the firm selected by the Waller Creek Conservancy to develop a master plan for the Waller Creek district).

The finished building will no doubt add to downtown Austin’s skyline. At 595 feet tall, it will be second tallest structure in downtown Austin – the tallest being the 56 story, 680-foot Austonian.

Summary of what we know about the Fairmont Hotel…

  • Number of rooms = 1,066
  • Number of stories = 37
  • Square Feet = 1.4 million
  • Building Height = 595 feet
  • Delivery = June 2017

-Jude

Fairmont_Rendering_Oct2014_final

Fairmont Hotel, Red River @ Cesar Chavez, southwest POV





Fifth & West Residences: The Next Austin Condo Tower

Fifth & West Residences: The Next Austin Condo Tower

view from east

The Statesman confirmed today what many of us have been expecting, the former offices of the Texas Press Association located at the corner of Fifth Street @ West Avenue, will be razed and construction to commence on a 39 story condominium.

Known officially as Fifth & West Residences, it is the first condo project in downtown Austin to reveal official plans to begin accepting reservations since Seaholm.  Seaholm Condos is notable as it was announced almost exactly one year ago, and was fully reserved within just a few days of that announcement.

We first learned about Fifth & West earlier this year when the project came before the Downtown Commission, and we observed just how compact a footprint the building will have.  So, maximizing FAR was crucial to developing the site.  One of the more notable pieces the developer offered for density bonuses was subsidized Car2Go, B-Cycle, and Shoal Creek Conservancy memberships for each residence.  It is to be determined if those commitments carried through the entitlement process.

[Interior renderings by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture]

Tall and slender (think Spring Condos) because of the property’s small foot print, combined with the the impact of the Capitol View Corridor, the building’s architecture will be a unique triangular tower, with the longest plane facing southeast.  The surrounding businesses, notably Austin Urban Vet, Kung-Fu Saloon, Jerry Kunz design, and Molotov, will remain untouched by the vertical development.

Below is a summary of what we know about Fifth & West Residences:

  • Project name = Fifth + West Residences
  • Address = 501 West Avenue, Austin, TX 78701
  • Project type = condominium
  • Number of residences = ~154
  • Target pricing = ~$740 per foot, on average
  • Building height = 448ft
  • Unit sizes = average of 1,624 sf  (1, 2, 3 bedroom plans)
  • Developer = Riverside Resources
  • FAR = ~20:1
  • Architect = GDA Architects (Interior Michael Hsu)
  • Anticipated delivery = Autumn of 2017

It’s interesting to see how a large Capitol View Corridor impacts vertical development, forcing architects and developers to finesse the building envelope.

Capitol View Corridor

A large Capitol View Corridor cuts through downtown Austin, Fifth & West to the left

Pre-sales process will be announced soon.  Until then, if you’re interested in making a reservation, contact us for more details!

-Jude

Comparison of GDA Architect's rendering to what the corner of 5th & West looks like today

Comparison of GDA Architect’s rendering to what the corner of 5th & West looks like today





Downtown Austin Streets Are Safer With Uber & Lyft

Downtown Austin Streets Are Safer With Uber & Lyft

uber

Update: 10/16/2014: The TNC Ordinance passed Council with a 6-1 Vote.  Council member Chris Riley’s press release HERE.

We celebrated Amber’s birthday this past weekend with friends and family hanging out with us at the Shore condos, and later crawling Rainey Street.  Everyone had a great time… and plenty to drink.

As we wrapped up the evening I observed 6-7 people use Uber to get themselves home safely.

I was struck by how effortless ride sharing is, and that it effectively keeps a percentage of drunk drivers off the streets of Austin.  Remarkable.

I think back to just last year, when getting a cab was a non-trivial event.  I’ve always been frustrated with taxis in Austin.  They are notoriously difficult to locate, arrive late, or didn’t arrive at all.  The result is that people would make the poor decision to just drive themselves after having a night on the town.

In cities where ride sharing is embraced, I fully expect to see data showing a drop in the number of DWIs.

Austin leadership should pay attention, and we’ll be watching as this topic goes before Austin City Council on the 25th.

-Jude

 





Hard Hat Tour Photos of Seven Apartments (née 7 Rio), Scheduled To Open This Winter

Hard Hat Tour Photos of Seven Apartments (née 7 Rio), Scheduled To Open This Winter

seven_apartments_austin_highrise_southern_view

Admittedly, I was one of the disappointed spectators when the original concept, proposed as “7Rio”, was reduced to 23 stories.

Still, for the past 18 months, or so, many of us have been eagerly watching the construction site at the corner of 7th @ Rio Grande.  Earlier this year I speculated that Seven could even “go condo,” but it appears that multi-family development continues to have legs.

Now that downtown Austin’s Seven Apartments is approaching completion, and will be delivering residences this winter, we were invited to take a hard-hat tour of the tower.  This would be a great opportunity to get some insight into a new community that’s about to open in our neighborhood.  I could also start to compare how Seven will compete with existing downtown Austin apartments for rent.

I love taking hard-hat tours.  There’s no better opportunity to see the guts of a building.  For me [and definitely NOT Amber!] riding up the bone-jarring ear-splitting construction elevator adds to the excitement.  Peeking through the elevator’s diamond perforated sheet metal, accepting your fate as it creeps higher, you get a unique sense for how each additional floor impacts your perspective of what’s around you.

Here’s what we know about Seven:
Average Residence Size = 924 sf
Average Price per SqFt = $3.05 per month
Number of floors = 23
Number of residences = 220 (172 1bds, 48 2bds)

Seven-Apartments-Austin-Rio-Grande-7rio- - 12

More pictures from the tour after the jump!

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