If you haven’t yet read this week’s edition of The Austin Chronicle – and seen the amazing front page photo/rendering – please check it out at once here! Stupendous reporting by Senior News Editor, Michael King, of breaking news regarding a multi-billion dollar plan to build a Major League Soccer (MLS) stadium in the middle of Lady Bird Lake, coupled with the new Light Rail line running straight through the center of the stadium as the train crosses the river.
Have you experienced the phenomena that BIG things seem to happen when you’re on vacation? This past week, while we attempted to cruise, there were multiple status report updates about three tall projects in downtown Austin.
99 Trinity Tower Announces $100mm, 39 Story Apartment Highrise
Back in November, DAB broke the news about Trinity Tower. Located just east of the Four Seasons Residences, and north of Lakeside apartments. This will become a very dense intersection. We have big expectations that this highrise will fill the perceptive gap between the Rainey Street neighborhood and the rest of downtown Austin. We’re thrilled that they are aiming high with a 39 story tower, which would be the tallest apartment building in Austin. Demolition of the warehouse should commence soon. (Statesman)
Waller Park Place Closes On Land
The Sutton Company closed on their deal to buy Perry Lorenz’s incredible 3-acre assemblage along Waller Creek. What Sutton is proposing is nothing short of the largest private development in the history of downtown Austin. Three towers in the Rainey Street district, including significant Waller Creek enhancements, stretching from Cesar Chavez to Davis Street. (Statesman)
Fairmont Selects Builder
This was significant because half of the people I talk with have begun to think this project is vapor-ware. The project was planned to break ground a while back. The Fairmont website is showing delivery in “2016+”, and the sign pictured above says “Opening Fall 2017″. We hope this is a reliable signal that the project will break ground soon. (Statesman)
Here are the latest revisions to the 3 acre Waller Center plan – an ambitious project that stretches along the east bank of Waller Creek, from E Cesar Chavez to Davis Street.
The updated renderings (below) give a more comprehensive vision for the massing of three distinct towers, and how they could be best be oriented. According to the ABJ‘s interview with development firm, The Sutton Company, their target is to submit plans to the City of Austin for approval by late November
Here’s what we know about the goals of the project:
- Tower A is a 21 story office building
- Tower B is a 46 story residential tower
- Tower C is a 38 story mixed use Tower
- Target FAR is 10:1
- 26,000 ft retail (possibly grocery store)
Checkout the images below.
You can clearly see from any of Austin’s view corridors the myriad cranes in downtown Austin, transforming the skyline. But, the biggest transformation facing downtown Austin is not the redevelopment of Seaholm, nor Green Water.
I’m thinking of the Dell Medical School and UT’s Medical District Plan. This plan developed within two years, seemingly from thin air, and is awesome in the “shock and awe” sense of the word.
We’ve seen “Master Plans” come, go, sit on the shelves of City Hall, but the UT Medical District is more or less guaranteed to happen in the next couple of years, at least the first phase. The UT system, the No. 3 richest system in the nation, will carry the brunt of development for Phase 1 of the master plan. I’d wager they aren’t dependent on lenders, credit markets, etc. when they (literally) have $1 billion of gold in the bank. That gold, by the way, represents just five percent of UT’s nearly $20 billion portfolio.
Officially, UT plans to open the medical school in the fall of 2016, while the planned opening of the hospital is January 2017.
Now, look at the Medical District plan as a catalyst for development near the adjacent capitol complex and Waller Creek. Things get really exciting.
I’m going to blog a few posts about this connectivity, in my best attempt to tie in the three plans and why they all are creating a nexus for something special to happen.
Let’s start by talking about what is in the works at UT in Phase 1.
UT Phase 1 plans
Phase 1 will be built while the existing Brackenridge hospital and Erwin Center continue to operate. Phase 1 will be jointly developed by UT and Seton/Central Health.
Parts of the first phase that will be developed by UT are:
- A 75,000-square-foot academic/administrative building to serve as the medical school.
- A 240,000-square-foot research building and vivarium. (If you’re wondering, “vivarium” is a fancy way of saying “animal research facility.”)
- A 200,000-square-foot medical office building to provide space for specialty clinics, medical offices, hospital support, and clinical research.
- A 1,000-space parking structure to serve the office building.
- Meanwhile, Seton and Central Health will develop a new 480,000-square-foot hospital.
To facilitate development, the existing Penick-Allison Tennis Center will need to be relocated (sigh), as will the Centennial Park memorial features.
Additionally, Red River will be realigned between 16th and 15th street. If the glacially slow and problematic redevelopment of Brazos Street and other downtown streets is any indicator, that is the most likely part to delay UT’s plans. Assuming the university twists arms at City Hall to put that on the fast track, there is still no telling what sort of headaches and potential delays that lay in wait under the street.
You might say: “This is basically UT and not downtown.”
I’d counter that 2/3 of this plan exists within the boundaries of Downtown Austin, adjacent to the capitol complex and Waller Creek. The Medical District will spur more development for services and living options supporting Austin’s burgeoning medical industry.
Optimistically, I think this is “too big to fail.” Exciting stuff, to be sure, and phase 1 is just the start.
Bike Share: Not Until End Of Year
Bike share is late, but better late than never. After KUT News and the Statesman both did spotlights on the fact that Bike Share had all but dropped off the map in Austin, City Council approved approved a contract last week with B-Cycle to purchase the equipment needed to operate the Austin bike share system.
Included in this purchase will be approximately 400 bicycles, 600 docks, 40 kiosks, and other miscellaneous accessories including the hardware and software to operate the system.
The Public Works Department promises that next month it will release an online location-suggesting tool that will enable citizens to choose where they would like a kiosk to be located, and vote for already chosen locations. Stations will be on average two or three blocks apart. The stations will be located in close proximity to local attractions, transit stations and other popular destinations.
The City aims to have the bike share program operable by late 2013.
Fairmont ground breaking imminent?
The 10,000 square foot surface level parking lot across from the convention center will soon be gone. Though not an official “groundbreaking,” crews will never the less break ground soon at 101 Red River St, the site of the planned Fairmont Hotel, which will anchor the lower Waller Creek District (btw, the design plan was approved by council).
Permits were just granted for the crews to begin to tear up the concrete there, so don’t be surprised if you see activity out there. (But also don’t confuse it with general construction, which is slated for October)
Seaholm Central Library Construction Started
This was covered to death around town, thanks to a pretty aggressive PR push from city hall. Construction has started, and will go through Fall 2015. I’m not going to belabor you with the details. They are all in this PDF presentation.
Instead, I’m just going to show you this little comparison photo of development along the north shore, west of City Hall…
An inspired master plan design for Waller Creek is inching closer to reality. It’s on the agenda for City Council this Thursday. It is a big step in a project I am a big fan of, and will be another transformative measure to propel Austin into the next 100 years.
You may vaguely remember news from six months ago, or so, about city council approving a plan for Waller Creek. What actually happened is City Council approved the design team, from a national competition, but not their design plan.
Here is a PDF of the design plan. (use this backup link if that doesn’t work). If you are super interested, you can watch a presentation made to city council last week like I did. (skip to 11:00 to bypass city council doldrums.)
The plan is rather broad for council to be approving wholesale, but it appears linked to getting donors who are comfortable cutting big checks.
Highlights of the plan:
- Build an outdoor concert stage — called the Poppy — at Waterlook Park just south of where the new Dell Medical Hospital will be built..
- Connect a bunch of trails and mini-bridges over the creek, connecting the Rainey Street District into the greater downtown area.
- Remove/replace the Austin Police Department headquarters.
- Build a pontoon bridge connecting to the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, which will swing from 12 O’Clock position – connecting the shores – to a 9 O’Clock position in order to open the water for boats.
If you’ve read this far, and are like “What the heck is Waller Creek?” here is a crude cheat sheet:
- There is a creek in downtown Austin, on the west side of I-35 stretching from the river (lake) to UT-Austin campus, which is prone to flooding when it rains. So the properties surrounding it represent a large economic development opportunity.
- The city is spending large sums of money, which no one disagrees with, to dig a huge tunnel deep underground, which will act as a drain for the floodwater, thus making it cool to redevelop the creek area.
- A new conservancy was formed for stewardship and to raise money for grade level improvements, and held a national competition, and a firm based in Brooklyn, NYC won.
- The design firm, the conservancy and the city are signing a legal agreement to more or less turn the Waller Creek District over to the conservancy, with the usual city checks and balances, etc.
- This project is coinciding with the new Dell Medical School and adjacent development near the Erwin Center, along with a vaguely outlined “innovation district” along the east side of the State Capitol Complex.
By now you might have read the breaking news that the Sutton Co. is proposing to build a three-tower complex (including a 65 story tower!) across the street from Iron Works BBQ, with a tower that would be taller than the Austonian.
What you may not realize yet is that Rainey Center, the dual tower project that was supposed to encompass up to 50 stories each, and include up to 1,000 apartments and condos, next door to the Lustre Pearl in Rainey Street, is dead as envisioned… BUT will be replaced by a new concept.
Wally Scott and Mac Pike – aka the Sutton Co. – have sold the 2-acre site to subsidiary of the Houston-based Dinerstein Companies. This information was buried in the last paragraph in a blockbuster story the Statesman published about a larger than life deal around the block.
According to information posted over at the SkyscraperPage forum, alleged to be taken from city records, Dinerstein is scrapping the dual tower concept for an eight-story mixed use building with an internal parking garage.
That’s a major let down, IMO. Austin has no shortage of squat beige buildings. Hopefully the new proposal will retain some ‘wow’ factor.
Maybe it just didn’t make sense from a traffic management standpoint to have that much of a draw right off the Cesar Chavez and I-35 access road, and in any case enables Sutton Co. to get capital for an even more inspiring, legacy project.
Still, once people start absorbing this information, it could instill a sense of skepticism about the Sutton Co.’s latest proposal. It wasn’t long ago – after all – that the Statesman broke news about the Rainey Center project (now Dinerstein is reducing the scope), just like it is doing now with the Waller Center project. Even the Statesman’s Shonda Novak — perennial cheerleader of Austin development — put a caveat in the first line her story about Waller Center of “if it happens”.
The details on the Waller Center project are as follows:
- $500 million project
- 3 acres at East Cesar Chavez and Red River streets near Waller Creek.
- Condos/Hotel tower – 65 floors
- Apartment tower – 35 to 45 floors
- Office tower – 17 to 20 floors
- Proposed groundbreaking – mid to late 2014.
We’d love to see this one happen and reflect the vision below. It would be a huge boon to downtown, specifically the Waller Creek District. Cheers to ambitious thinking.