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.
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.
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. The building is owned by Bloctavo Holdings LLC / John Calhoun Miller, a real estate attorney in Texas.
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.
316 & 316 1/2 Cesar Chavez – A lovely surface parking lot (sarcasm), adjacent to the Christian Science Reading Room. Owned by Bloctavo Holdings / John Calhoun Miller, a real estate attorney in Texas.
102 / 104 Trinity – The Christian Science Reading Room, owned by the First Church of Christian Science.
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.”
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.