Convention Center Sprawl Gets Real

Convention Center Sprawl Gets Real

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.


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:


City of Austin putting downtown real estate on the market

City of Austin putting downtown real estate on the market

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.


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.


A New Future For The Gilfillan House at 603 W 8th Street

A New Future For The Gilfillan House at 603 W 8th Street

The Gilfillan House at 603 West 8th Street is a 1905 structure that is on the National Register, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and a City Landmark.  It’s tucked away in the northwest quadrant of downtown Austin, and the brand new luxury apartment building Seven towers over the historic structure. Located on the southwestern corner of 8th & Nueces, it has been a law office since the early 80’s.  It is currently zoned GO-H. The Gilfillan House is grand, but it’s seen better days.

The Gilfillan House-downtown-austin-real-estate-2-750

The historic Gilfillan House with the new Seven Apartments in the background

The site was most recently purchased in early June (with a note of almost $3.6MM), and the new ownership (headed up by Rene O. Campos – a real estate investor in Dallas) would like to zone it to DMU-H as part of a restoration of the historic structure. 

The much more flexible DMU-H rezoning would also allow the new owner to utilize the restored structure both for office use and for events such as weddings, receptions, business meetings, luncheons, fundraisers (among other things).  The owner’s representatives say that this type of flexibility would lend itself to more active uses of the site, and introducing more people to the historic structure (and fill in downtown Austin’s seeming increasing need for proper venue space).

Why is the Gilfillan House worth preserving and sharing, anyway?

A little research at the Austin History Center brought me to some interesting information:

This residence was constructed in 1905 for William L. Gilfillan (d 1932), one of the founders and directors of the Austin National Bank, designed by the prominent Austin architect Charles H. Page, Jr., the two-story brick home reflects a mixture of popular Pre-World War I architectural styles, including Mission Revival and the Prairie School.  In 1931, the home was purchased by Julius G. Knape, a Swedish stonemason and contractor.

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark – 1981

The Austin National Bank was founded in 1890 and built their second generation space at 507 Congress in 1895 (507 Congress doesn’t exist as an address anymore, it’s been absorbed).   The bank kept growing and relocating until its merger with First International Bancshares Inc in 1981.

Here’s a photograph of the 1895 location on Congress – designed by Charles H. Page.

Newning, Charles A., editor. Texas Industrial Review, Volume 01, Number 03, October, 1895, Book, October 1895; ( : accessed August 05, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

Newning, Charles A., editor. Texas Industrial Review, Volume 01, Number 03, October, 1895, Book, October 1895; ( : accessed August 05, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

So, lots of history, with lots of Austin’s early movers and shakers. We believe that it’s worth preserving and celebrating many of these structures and all of their stories. And we tend to think integrating the history with a current use is often better than a restoration that creates a well-preserved, but unapproachable (and generally unappreciated and unutilized) time-capsule. History is only useful if people actually know about it.

We personally love the juxtaposition of the old and the new that’s occurring in parts of downtown Austin, and are generally supportive of efforts to activate historic spaces so that the public can access them in a more meaningful way.  If done intelligently and intentionally, flexible commercial use of some historic buildings could be a great way to accomplish preservation, increase the functionality of prime downtown Austin real estate, and educate more folks about Austin’s rich history.

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

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

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.

Social Scene: Wu Chow, Seven Apartments, and Austin Way

Social Scene: Wu Chow, Seven Apartments, and Austin Way

A couple weeks back, I was invited to a small get-together at Seven Apartments in downtown Austin, one of downtown Austin’s newest towers.  The event was put on by Austin Way magazine in coordination with Seven Apartments and Wu Chow, and the program consisted of tours of the model units and amenities of Seven, followed by a special tasting menu from Wu Chow (serving up genuine Chinese cuisine, and one of the most anticipated restaurant openings in downtown Austin this summer).

The Setting

Gorgeous, of course.  Seven has become one of our favorite downtown apartment buildings (Jude’s original skepticism has come full circle), and several of our clients have recently moved in with rave reviews, too. The event started with champagne in the lobby, followed by tours of the model units, and then we were seated at a well appointed table on the pool deck – complete with stunning views of downtown.


The People 

Austin Way is a relatively new social magazine that launched in Austin fall / winter of 2014, but is stepping up its game with several events this summer season.  Not too long before this event at Seven, Austin Way hosted a large-scale dynamite event at Searsucker, and are appearing more and more at many of the “it” events in Austin.


Wu Chow is brought to you by the same team that owns Swift’s Attic on Congress, C.K. Chin and Stuart Thomajan. C.K. Chin and his team created a decadent, authentic Chinese menu for this tasting party.  The restaurant is set to open any day now, and will be located in the same building as Fixe.

CK Chin

CK Chin, photo compliments of Austin Way

The Food

Really good, bona fide Chinese cooking, served family style.  Don’t even think about comparing it to P.F. Changs.


Tasting menu included: Spicy Sichuan Pickles, Sichuan Sesame Peanut Noodles, Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Shanghai Egg Rolls, Ginger Soy Marinated Chicken Skewers, Mongolian Beef Skewers, Shrimp Dumplings, Scallion Pancake, Curried Squid Skewers, Sichuan Spicy Grilled Tofu, Pork Shumai, BBQ Lamp Chops, Scallop Shu Mai, Pan Fried Pork Bun, Mapo Tofu, Potstickers, Sesame Fritters, and Fruit Tartlets for dessert.  All served with fabulous wine.  A few pics of the early stuff below.

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All in all, it was a first class event that was made truly special by the folks that put it on – and a fun way to celebrate downtown Austin’s invigorating growth and evolution!

(Note: some of these pictures were taken by me, but others I took from the folks at Seven and Austin Way – thanks for allowing us to share!)