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 Sabine Street Promenade: Don’t Call It A Comeback

The Sabine Street Promenade: Don’t Call It A Comeback

sabine street promenade

The Sabine Street Promenade project — between Fourth St. and Seventh St. — has always been a rough jewel I’ve been waiting to see cut. The project will transform a parked-car-congested design dinosaur from the 1980s into a modern, landscaped, walk/cycle through-way.

I’ve been a strong advocate of the project from day one.  Now, there are signals of progress behind the scenes.

Not only will the Sabine Street redevelopment be a great public space, but it will also create great connectivity along the Waller Creek redevelopment.

sabine street promenade

First approved back in 2011, the pace of urban progress is never a fast one, but we’ve finally got our first actual look at the layout between 4th and 6th Streets of the pedestrian/bikeway corridor.

It is still unclear when the redevelopment would take place, but the initial plan was sometime this year. It’s not uncommon for massive infrastructure projects to get delayed for one reason or another. Even still, those who spends time downtown, especially nearby residents at the 5 Fifty Five, Avenue Lofts, or The Sabine, should be excited to see it move from concept to an engineer’s plan.

sabine-street-promenade1

Based on the road redevelopment plans, submitted by the City of Austin last month, it looks like the nuts and bolts of traffic flow remains unchanged from what was announced a few years ago.

Back in 2012, city officials were quoted in the newspaper saying 60 percent of the corridor would be devoted to bikeways, sidewalks, and trees. The corridor will still have on-street parking — which is not a surprise — but drastically less than now.

The Sabine Street redevelopment runs parallel to the Waller Creek Corridor, and adjacent to a portion called “The Narrows” which will be focused on outdoor socializing, rather than transportation. (Think San Antonio Riverwalk but less campy.)

In 2013, the City Council picked Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) as the lead consultant for the Sabine Street project, which makes sense given that MVVA is the lead designer for Waller Creek.

Personally, I’m hoping the promenade has some MVVA flare, versus coming out a cookie-cutter image of other redeveloped downtown Austin streets. (Don’t get me wrong, I love cookies even if they are cookie-cut. I’m just saying, MVVA bring a lot to the table).

Waller Creek is envisioned as a chain of parks in the heart of Downtown Austin. Sabine Street will connect an envisioned year-round event park to the north (Refuge) and a reinvigorated Palm Park to the south.

sabine-street-promenade2

If you look at the architectural drawings below, you also notice the promenade is going to be enhanced by a good dose of trees, which are noted by the triangle symbols, and other shrub beds on the north side.

-Jude

sabine-street-promenade3





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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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