Downtown's New Year

Click <a href=downtown.jpg target=blank><b>here</b></a> for a large format downtown development map.
Click here for a large format downtown development map.

The year begins like its predecessor, with persistent economic worries, but developers are an intrepid -- some might say reckless -- lot. There's caution in the air, but also opportunity on the wind. Most dealmakers seem to be cooling their jets until the storm blows past, but others are bent on raising more roof beams in 2003. Overall, there does seem to be less optimism now than when we last covered the landscape in 2001 ("Deconstructing Downtown," April 20, 2001). At the time, the sky was falling, and everyone was ducking for cover. Intel had just abandoned construction on a new building, CSC was wrapping up one of its office projects with promises of filling all 215,000 square feet (didn't happen), and no one believed that Cousins Properties would ever move headstrong into uncertainty on a 33-story office project (did happen). From that point, the Downtown real estate climate proceeded to bottom out. Then it bottomed out some more. Six months ago, developers thought they were on the verge of rumbling out of the recession. By now, they've grown accustomed to false signs of hope -- no one is ready to declare we've turned the corner.

The devils are in the details, and looking down the "in-progress" list, a lot of signs read "uncertain." Here's an itemized list of how things are shaping up out there.


COMMERCIAL UNDER CONSTRUCTION

1. Congress at Fourth

Project Type: Office

Developer/Owner: Cousins Properties Inc.

Completion Date: November 2003

With Wall Street analysts clucking their tongues in dismay in the economy's darkest hour, publicly owned Cousins Properties moved full-speed ahead on this project. The Atlanta-based real estate investment trust is still going great guns, but with no sign of an economic rebound on the horizon, the job of filling all 524,000 square feet of leasable office space will take longer than anticipated. Few lenders would have risked this kind of daredevil venture, but Cousins is building with its own cash. Real estate experts predict this closely watched project, with its Congress Avenue address and unusual design, will be the office space of choice for Austin's power elite. Future tenants thus far include four law firms -- Graves, Dougherty, Hearon, & Moody; Jenkins & Gilchrist; Winstead, Sechrest, & Minick; and New York-based Dewey Ballantine. Constructors and Associates, the general contractor for the building, is also on the tenants' list.

2. Hilton Austin and Fifth Street Tower


Fourth/Neches/Red River

Project Type: Hotel

Developer/Owner: FaulknerUSA (formerly Landmark Organization)

Completion Date: January 2004

The recent merger of Austin-grown Faulkner Construction Co. and Landmark Organization makes FaulknerUSA one of the biggest, baddest outfits of its kind in the country. But will it speed up progress on the hotel? Sorry, no. The Convention Center's official sleepover headquarters is still looking at a January 2004 completion date, well behind the already-concluded expansion of the CC. When completed, this public-private project will be a full-service affair, with 800 rooms, 108 luxury condos, two restaurants, and 25,000 square feet of retail and office space.

3. Hampton Inn and Suites

200 San Jacinto

Project Type: Hotel

Developer/Owner: Consort Inc.

Completion Date: Done

The industry is in a rut right now, but presuming a tourist turnaround, this just-opened 22-room hotel is positioned to draw in out-of-towners of all walks, especially conventioneers.


COMMERCIAL PLANNED

A. Sixth + Lamar (Austin MarketPlace) North Block

Lamar between Fifth and Sixth

Project Type: Grocery

Developer/Owner: Schlosser Development Corp./Whole Foods

Begin Construction: First quarter 2003

One step forward, two steps back seems to be a recurring theme at this corner, where developers Brad Schlosser and David Vitanza have tried for years to get a retail project off the ground. Now it's considered a sure thing (mind you, we've said this before), with Whole Foods Market Inc. planning loudly to build its flagship store and corporate HQ on the site. That's the good news -- the sticky wicket has been the mounting opposition to its prospective chain-store neighbor, Borders Books and Music, which many fear could drive Austin-bred BookPeople and Waterloo Records out of business. That fear has generated a political point of contention: the prospect of the Schlosser project getting $1.5 million in city fee-waivers on a project that does little for local business. The federal government is also sniffing out the site for a new courthouse (it's one of three potential sites under review), but no one seems particularly worried about that possibility.

B. Sixth and Congress/ Bank of America Center

Project Type: Office

Developer/Owner: Hines Interests LP

Begin Construction: 2005

Hines' designs on Sixth and Congress (this one and the two listed below) are still in the iffy stages, as this Houston-based development waits out the recession. Plans call for a 250,000-square-foot office tower to replace the existing building.

C. Sixth and Congress

Project Type: Possible residential

Developer/Owner: Hines Interests LP

Begin Construction: Uncertain

The existing parking garage here might see a complete transformation into 20 to 25 residential units.

D. Sixth and Congress

Project Type: Parking garage

Developer/Owner: Hines Interests LP

Begin Construction: 2005

Hines will build a multilevel garage above the existing bank drive-through and new street-level retail.

E. Robertson Hill

I-35, spanning three blocks south of East 11th

Project Type: Office/hotel/retail/residential

Developer/Owner: Riata Development L.L.C.

Begin Construction: On hold

Blueprints for this site, also known as the Bennett tract, have a history of coming and going. The current proposal -- 1 million square feet of office space, a hotel, retail, restaurants, and residential -- has undergone a number of incarnations since the 1980s. The Guadaluupe neighborhood has a pending lawsuit to block Riata's plans, and no tenants are lined up yet.

F. 11th Street Commercial Corridor

Project type: Office/retail/residential

Developer/Owner: Riata Development L.L.C.

Begin Construction: First Quarter 2003

Work is under way on this longtime endeavor of the Austin Revitalization Authority -- redeveloping a three-block section of East 11th with office and retail space, eight town homes, and six live/work units.


RESIDENTIAL UNDER CONSTRUCTION

4. AMLI Residential: Block 20

Between Second and Third, Lavaca and Colorado

Project Type: Apartments

Developer/Owner: AMLI Residential Prop.

Completion Date: January 2004 (first units); complete June 2004

Downtown resident and community leader Chris Riley is particularly excited about this city-owned block project because of its size -- 220 apartment units hold the promise of life in this otherwise empty (save for the construction crews) pocket of a neighborhood. Excavation of the underground parking garage, with 339 spaces, is complete.

5. Fifth at West

701 W. Fifth

Project Type: Apartments

Developer/Owner: Phoenix Property Co.

Completion Date: 2003 (first units)

This four-story project will add 139 trendy units to the increasingly trendy West End.

6. Austin City Lofts

800 W. Fifth

Project Type: High-rise condo

Developer/Owner: CLB Partners

Completion Date: July 2004

Yet another semichic residential project is on the way. CLB is moving at a steady clip on this 14-story, 82-condo property. Price tags range from $270,000 to $1.5 million.


RESIDENTIAL PLANNED

G. AMLI Residential: Block 22

Between Second and Third, Guadalupe and San Antonio

Project Type: Apartments

Developer/Owner: AMLI

Begin Construction: 2004

A renegotiated lease with the city and a bleak financial landscape delayed the initial 2002 start date on this project, one block west of its sister development. Now we're looking at a start date some time next year for the 220-unit, six-level building. Plans include 42,600 square feet of street-level retail and a 336-space underground parking garage.

H. River City Condos

10 N. I-35 at Town Lake

Project Type: Condo

Developer/Owner: River City Holdings Ltd.

Begin Construction: 2003

The last time we made note of this project, we cast doubt on its targeted November 2001 start date. Dirt still hasn't turned on the site, but the developer's New Year's resolution calls for a 2003 groundbreaking for 35 to 40 condos, with some commercial space fronting the north shore of Town Lake.

J. Four Seasons Residences

Cesar Chavez and Trinity

Project Type: Condo

Developer/Owner: Maritz Wolff & Co.

Begin Construction: On hold until 2004

If the boom were still booming, construction on this lavish lakeside residential would have started and finished by now. If this 129-condo project ever sees the light of day, it'll be home to Austin's millionaire set. Admission price: $375,000 to $3 million.

K. Post West Avenue, Phase II

805 W. Fifth

Project Type: Apartments

Developer/Owner: Post West Avenue Lofts LP (Post Properties)

Begin Construction: Post has pulled out of Austin with no word on whether the residential outfit will make a return engagement. Word is they're looking to sell this primo spot.

L. La Vista on Lavaca

1701 Lavaca

Project Type: Condo

Developer/Owner: Guerrero-McDonald & Associates

Begin Construction: Spring 2003

Things have been fairly quiet here, but if and when this eight-story project gets off the ground, it will include a restaurant and retail on the first floor, followed by three floors of executive suites and 19 condos.

M. Park Place on Town Lake

Project Type: Apartments

Developer/Owner: 3621 Beverly, L.P.

Begin Construction: Uncertain

Another project that's iffy for this year. This planned mid-rise tower on Barton Springs east of Lamar will include 48 apartments.


NONPROFIT/OTHER UNDER CONSTRUCTION

7. Texas Association of Counties

14th and San Antonio

Project Type: TAC offices

Developer/Owner: TAC

Completion Date: March 2003

TAC will build its eight-story headquarters on this site, located a short hop west of the Capitol.

8. Blanton Museum of Art

MLK and Speedway

Project Type: Art Museum

Developer/Owner: University of Texas

Completion Date: 2005


NONPROFIT/OTHER PLANNED

N. Austin Museum of Art

Project Type: Museum

Developer/Owner: AMOA

Begin Construction: Uncertain

Nonprofits are all too familiar with the lack of hard cash in hard times, but what the AMOA lacks in funding it makes up for in determination. We've waited 20 years for this -- what's another year ... or two ... or three?

P. Texas Retired Teachers Association

Project Type: TRTA offices

Developer/Owner: TRTA

Begin Construction: Uncertain

Trinity and 12th is the site for this 43,133-square-foot administrative building.

Q. Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long Center for the Performing Arts

Project Type: Performance Center

Developer/Owner: ARTS*CenterStage

Begin Construction: Uncertain

The Long Center ended the year with a deflated Christmas stocking but welcomed 2003 with a check from the bank. Last week, J.P. Morgan Chase presented ARTS*CenterStage with a $100,000 check toward the center's $110 million fundraising goal.


CITY OF AUSTIN PROJECTS UNDER CONSTRUCTION

9. Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH)

Neches and Seventh

Project Type: Multipurpose service center

Department: Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services

Completion Date: June 2004

This long-awaited, 100-bed men's facility will serve multiple functions as shelter, resource center, and health clinic.

10. City Hall

Project Type: New City Hall and public plaza

Department: Redevelopment Services Office

Completion Date: Fall 2004

For all its inevitable political pain and anguish, the actual work on this project appears to be running remarkably smoothly. The city just hired a construction manager-at-risk -- Hensel Phelps Construction Co. -- and construction on the City Hall and plaza will begin this spring. The three-level underground parking garage is complete, and some folks swear it's the coolest garage around.

11. Town Lake Park, Phase 1

Project Type: Park

Department: Public Works

Completion Date: Done

Phase I of the 54-acre park calls for a "cultural landscape" to ring in the new Palmer Events Center.

12. Lester Palmer Events Center

Project Type: Events Center

Department: Public Works

Completion Date: Mostly finished

The new Palmer is drawing praise all around. It's light, airy, and attractive, includes exhibit areas and meeting rooms, and will host events too small for the Convention Center. That will probably suit many people just fine.


CITY OF AUSTIN PROJECTS PLANNED

R. Town Lake Park, Phase II

Project Type: Park

Department: Public Works

Begin Construction: May 2003

Once the last of the remains of the old City Coliseum is carried away, the earth work begins.

S. Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC)

Project Type: Cultural arts and events center

Department: Public Works

Begin Construction: September 2003 (Phase I)

Here's another community-inspired dream that's suffered a series of fits and starts. But all signs point to "go" this year as the MACC prepares to break ground on a 126,000-square-foot center with an outdoor plaza and a two-story office/classroom/ meeting-room facility.

T. Pfluger Bridge Extension

Project Type: Bicycle/pedestrian bridge

Department: Public Works

Begin Construction: 2003

We have a bridge across Town Lake -- now all that's left is the extension across Cesar Chavez. Should the extension travel in a northeastern direction toward Seaholm or northwest to Lamar? That is the burning question, still subject to much council debate. There's also the unresolved matter of unsightly cracks in the surface veneer.

U. Lance Armstrong Cross-town Bikeway

Project Type: Bike route

Department: Transportation, Planning, & Sustainability

Begin Construction: 2003

The bike community and city staff have their hearts set on a Fourth Street route through Downtown. But Warehouse District businesses and some City Council members threaten to put the kibosh on that dream -- in which case, the route would shift over to the less popular Third Street.

V. Republic Square

Project Type: Park makeover

Department: Parks and Recreation

Begin Construction: Currently in design

This is a collaborative beautification effort between Parks and Rec, Austin Parks Foundation, and Downtown Austin Alliance.

W. Seaholm

Project Type: Seaholm Power Plant reuse project and district master plan

Department: Transportation, Planning, & Sustainability

Begin Construction: Uncertain

First we have to decide on an afterlife for this handsome structure. Current options include a high-tech or transportation museum. Council Member Will Wynn will likely take the lead on converting the plant to a Texas music hall of fame and museum. Fanning out beyond the plant is a Master Planned area that was left hanging pending a decision on the extension on the Pfluger bike and pedestrian bridge.

X. Waller Creek Tunnel

Project Type: Flood diversion tunnel

Department: Watershed, Protection, & Development

Begin Construction: On hold

Voters said yes to this project in 1998, but the city's finances are up a creek -- so to speak -- so back on the shelf these plans go.


WHAT GOT DONE

Downtown is so ... so ... new. Here's a list of construction projects completed since our April 2001 report:

Commercial

a. Computer Sciences Corp. -- CSC opened these two office buildings (a third was scrapped) on West Cesar Chavez with far fewer employees than anticipated when it inked the ambitious public-private deal with the city of Austin. They're subleasing some space.

b. Restaurants -- The transformation of some old warehouse space gave the Convention Center neighborhood what it had been asking for -- food. Three high-end restaurants opened on the block bound by Second, Third, San Jacinto, and Trinity.

c. CarrAmerica -- By most projections, this high-rise at 300 W. Sixth was supposed to be the only office project to make it out of the ground in 2001. But Cousins Properties' surprise start on its Congress Avenue digs has put the two buildings in fierce competition for tenants.

Residential

d. Alexan Congress -- This urban-chic apartment building of 253 units is capitalizing on its location, location, location on South Congress and Bouldin Creek.

e. Post West Avenue -- It's also post Pole Yard for those who recall its former life as the city's storage yard. These 239 apartment units at 300 West Ave. opened in Spring of 2001.

f. The Plaza Lofts -- The view from this residential high-rise at West Fifth and Guadalupe offers an interesting mix of urban green and urban blight; it overlooks Republic Square Park and the abandoned shell of the Intel building.

g. The Nokonah -- Word is that this 95-condo structure is faring better than others, with its high-profile residents and its Ninth-and-Lamar address adding to its marketability.

Public

h. Robert E. Johnson Bldg. -- This government building at 15th and Congress delivered 330,000 square feet of additional space to the state office lineup.

j. Texas History Museum -- Where our state's history and IMAX converge under one roof on Congress at MLK.

k. Pfluger Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge -- It's hard to believe all the years we trod across the dangerous, walkways of the Lamar Bridge while city leaders engaged in an off-again-on-again debate, which evolved ever so slowly into the Pfluger Bridge. Phase II of the debate -- on extending the bridge across Cesar Chavez -- is ongoing.

m. Parking Garage -- As parking garages go, this one bears a stamp of originality. The 1,200-space structure on Barton Springs Road will serve the Palmer Events Center (mostly completed) and the future Long Performing Arts Center.

n. Convention Center Expansion -- The project added two exhibition halls, a grand ballroom, and 18 meeting rooms to the north end of the Convention Center.


DORMANT PROJECTS

These projects were on the slate in April 2001; now they're in limbo.

Commercial:

p. CSC Block 21

q. Intel

r. Metropolitan Life Building

t. Vignette Corp.

Residential:

u. Reddy Ice site

v. 54 Rainey Place

x. Mirabeau (South Congress)

y. Lumberman's Corp./Sand Beach

Source: city of Austin, real estate sources

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