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!).
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.