Warehouse District vs. Capitol View Corridors

Warehouse District vs. Capitol View Corridors

Sign at 5th and Bowie providing direction to the Warehouse District

Sign at 5th and Bowie providing direction to the Warehouse District

Writer Katherine Gregor presents the story of the Warehouse District in this week’s Chronicle.

The Warehouse District is valuable for two reasons:

1) It’s an established destination in downtown.
2) It’s uniquely positioned outside of the Capitol View Corridors (map)

As Michael McGill astutely pointed out: “this is the sort of all day activity that 6th Street and Red River would kill for…this is the envy… this is what you want… this is what people work so hard to design in…”

From the article…

“The irony is that the district is so at risk because it’s so attractive – people want to do new developments in it and close to it,” said Jacqui Schraad, executive director of the Heritage Society. For example, the planned 18-story Westin Hotel will market itself as a chic “Warehouse District hotel”.

What is being proposed is clearly a taking of property rights, however, ROMA is offering an economic alternative that could potentially enable individual Warehouse District property owners to earn more money by transferring their air rights to other projects.  Currently, the adjacent property owners need to work with each other to create an assemblage site large enough to build a high rise.  ROMA’s solution appears to eliminate the need for these relationships of necessity and allow individual property owners to cash in on their property without the need to work with their neighbor.

A system of transference of development intensity could effectively put an end to the CURE based system to pursue additional entitlements.  Arguably, getting rid of the CURE system would eliminate the potential for backdoor lobbying efforts and could reduce the feasibility costs to developers.  Simply put, if you needed more density, you could just purchase it.  But, is there a real market for these air rights? Clearly the owners of the Warehouse District properties are not confident that there is.

This will be not an easy decision.  IMO, the real culprit is the Capitol View Corridors which artificially inflate and depress the intrinsic value of properties that are either outside or inside of the view corridor, respectively.  Were they not to exist, the extreme focus on this small assemblage of land we call the Warehouse District might not be at issue.  But, the existence of the Capitol View Corridors is a subject that is political wildfire with the “no growth” opinions who seem to equate “keep Austin weird” with “keep Austin low and sprawling”.

I’ve always believed that you don’t bite off the hand that feeds you, and Downtown Austin has been feeding off the charm of the Warehouse District for years.  The Warehouse District is an attractive destination for all of Austin and it’s visitors.  If ROMA’s recommendations aren’t adopted, it’s not likely that the Warehouse District will completely disappear, but we can expect it to change.  As our community works to create an amazing downtown experience, losing this district, in it’s current form, will take us further from that goal.