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.

Convention Center Sprawl Gets Real

Convention Center Sprawl Gets Real

block-8 2

Last year we began tracking the City’s push to expand the Austin Convention Center.  Which is all well and good until they expressed interest in doing it by swallowing downtown blocks.

The City Council Economic Opportunity Committee is slated to receive an update on the Convention Center’s expansion plan on Monday Aug. 24 — according to the draft agenda

I and others will be interested to see if the briefing adds any clarity to City’s public plan to buy one of the last prime redevelopment sites along Cesar Chavez (Block 8) for the expansion. The real estate, in the southern shadow of the Four Seasons Residences west of the Convention Center, has no height restrictions.

austin-convention-center-expansion

News broke in July that White Lodging had acquired a land lease on the same property and proposed to build a hotel on the site. However, the development news — which appears to have been “placed” by White Lodging PR — is sparse on details.

How the two projects would actually marry seems very complex.  It would be a sophisticated negotiating move by White Lodging to make this play to entice the City Council to really put their foot on the gas and fast track a Convention Center expansion.

The CEO of White Lodging was quoted in the local paper as saying the company’s looks “forward to working collaboratively with the city to ensure this project complements, and hopefully expedites, the proposed convention center expansion.”

Anyone who has ever bought or sold a car or a puppy knows how to put the heat on by lobbing in another interested buyer/seller — even if they are half imaginary. I encourage our City Council to consider that their policy choices on this matter will forever impact the future of downtown Austin.

As my friend Marshall put it:

austin-hotels-convention-chicken-egg





City of Austin putting downtown real estate on the market

City of Austin putting downtown real estate on the market

I-35 (firehouse) header

I haven’t seen this hit the mainstream news yet, but a large 1.6-acre lot, with prime frontage along Waller Creek corridor and a potentially buried I-35 is on the market.  But, it’s future is uncertain.

The lot, at 408 North IH-35 between 4th and 5th Streets, is owned by the City of Austin. The city acquired it in 2010 as a staging area for Waller Creek Tunnel project.

City Lot Birds Eye

According to city records, staff said they will bring a viable bidder forward to Mayor and Council by the end of the year.  Current City procedure requires the approval by City Council of any sales of a fee-simple parcel after staff has successfully identified a willing and able purchaser. Under standard procedure, City Council is not involved in the development of bid criteria for proposers.

There is a rumor among downtown aficionados that the Austin Fire Department has been eyeing the parcel ever since the city bought it, as place to relocate the firehouse at Brush Square Park.

Despite being limited by a Capitol View Corridor in terms of how tall it could be, it could be tall enough for me to believe that a fire station would be a bone-headed, shortsighted use of the land!

Through tax increment financing (TIF), Austin has bonded out millions to pull a long corridor of downtown out of the Waller Creek floodplain, and won public approval to develop the Sabine Street Promenade – which runs adjacent to the lot for sale.

Further, the importance of a world-class project moving into this slot crystallizes when taken into context of the still-enduring vision by the community to cut and cap I-35. In June, TxDOT officially got behind the idea of depressing I-35 about 25 feet below the frontage road level throughout its downtown Austin stretch, from south of Cesar Chavez Street to north of 15th Street.

i35at5th

I’ll be keeping an eye on this site, and am at least excited that the RFP process required by the City should help make sure that whatever project lands here contributes to the Waller Creek evolution.

-Jude





You thought Austin had reached peak hotel development? Think again.

You thought Austin had reached peak hotel development? Think again.

Proposed hotel footprint

There has been a bit of chatter recently about the (literally) sky high hotel development in and around downtown Austin.

How much more hotel development can downtown Austin support?  More, it seems.

519 W. Sixth Street

519 W. Sixth Street

The half-acre surface parking lot at 519 W. Sixth Street, adjacent to the IBC Bank Plaza and near the Plaza Lofts condo building, long slated for a hotel but mute on progress is not only still alive, it is growing.

A nascent group of developers are in preliminary stages of design for a 32-story, 250-key hotel with ground floor restaurant, and 5 levels of parking connecting to the adjacent IBC Bank garage. Right now, there’s no drawing laying around to show, but the facts are otherwise confirmed.

Aloft/Element hotel proposal at 7th & Congress

HKS rendering of Aloft/Element hotel proposal at 7th & Congress

There’s speculation that the design would have to be somewhat similar to White Lodging’s 33-story, 410 key, Aloft/Element hotel at 7th & Congress Ave. pictured left because they are similar height and occupy the similarly sized footprint.

As noted above, the IBC Bank site has been the source of water cooler talk for years.

When the IBC Bank Plaza was announced in 2012, it added a bookend to a series of fables about the block. But, like a dangling storyline slated for a sequel, downtown development watchers still waited to hear what would become of the southeast corner of the 6th Street and Nueces Street intersection (also known as “Block 51”).

The popular mythology for some time was that IBC Bank was considering developing a 28-story hotel on site. To have gotten word that a concept for the site, albeit different, is in the works is exciting.

IBC Bank Plaza, while encumbered by a Capitol View Corridor (shakes fist) and a meager 13-stories, is an architecturally beautiful building and the notion of a unique project to compliment its style has a lot of potential. The proposed hotel site isn’t in the Capitol View Corridor.

Proposed hotel footprint

Proposed hotel footprint

There are no clues right now as to whether HKS, the firm that designed IBC Bank Plaza, has a hand in the designs of the corner project but I’m hopeful. IBC Bank’s architectural style and street-level presence is designed to support Austin’s Great Street’s Program through ground-level restaurant, retail and landscaped streetscape.

More to come on this project in coming months hopefully as an area of downtown that was once destitute continues a regeneration.





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

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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