One of North Central Austin's brownfield sites could become Austin's next big mixed-use development. The plan to revamp 66 acres of office space near the Domain jumped a major hurdle on April 12 when City Council gave preliminary approval to change the zoning for the IBM Broadmoor Campus at 11501 Burnet Rd. from North Burnet/Gateway-Commercial Mixed Use-Neighborhood Plan to North Burnet/Gateway-Transit Oriented Development.
If that sounds like planning and zoning gobbledygook, the simpler version is that a large, underutilized tract on Burnet, a few blocks up from the Domain, is set to add density, office space, and housing along one of the city's fastest-growing corridors. If developer Brandywine Austin LLC gets its way, the amount of office space on the property will jump from 1.1 million to 2.1 million square feet, plus an additional 300 hotel rooms, 150 condos, and over 2,000 multifamily residential units.
Big stuff, but it's not likely Brandywine will face too strenuous of a challenge. The request was recommended to City Council unanimously by the Planning Commission, and approved unanimously by Council on first reading on April 12 (with five members absent). What's more, Leslie Pool, whose District 7 encompasses the space and is often seen as tepid or even hostile to developments that would increase density in her district, was the one to propose the consenting vote, and the Gracywoods Neighborhood Association has already given the proposal a positive response. GNA President Francoise Luca said members were more concerned about the proposal to put a soccer stadium at McKalla Place, noting that the stadium would sit on what could be redeveloped as city parkland. By comparison, the Brandywine/Broadmoor proposal involves additional pocket parks that would be open to the public, as well as new paths to connect existing trails.
Currently Broadmoor has one major tenant: IBM – more specifically, the IBM Austin Research Laboratory, one of three IBM facilities in the area. Brandywine acquired the site from the tech firm in 2015, but it's that IBM connection that might be the most important. The computer firm has been a major employer and massive landowner in the area for over 50 years: The Domain was an IBM campus before it was the Domain, and Luca noted that many families moved to her neighborhood to work there. She added that both IBM and Brandywine have been talking with the community since last fall – again, she said, in sharp contrast to Precourt Sports Ventures, which has yet to meet with community members. The Broadmoor backers have already made clear that the full redevelopment would be a 20-year process, "so it's not going to be an immediate 'everything's taken down and starting over,'" said Luca. "We think that's a very sensible and responsible way of doing this."
Moreover, there's no indication that IBM will desert the area. Reached for comment, Amanda Carl, head of external relations, said: "IBM has been in Austin since 1967 and has no plans to relocate."
The area is already a hub for tech firms: beyond IBM, Facebook, real estate software firm Accruent, online recruitment firm Indeed, and nonprofit software specialist Blackbaud each hold major footprints, and there's a rapidly growing Charles Schwab campus nearby. Adding multifamily units nearby could make it easier to recruit, while adding density and population into an established neighborhood. City staff has projected that new families could boost enrollment at neighboring AISD campuses, slowing the projected decrease at Burnet Middle and changing projected enrollment at Pillow Elementary over the next five years from a 26% drop in student numbers to an 18% gain. Luca said, "People want to live where there are trees and a nice lifestyle."
The rezoning proposal plan may add fuel to the speculation that Austin could be a strong candidate for Amazon's second headquarters. In January, the firm released a list of 20 potential sites for what it calls "HQ2," and Austin made the cut. Talk of a connection to the Broadmoor site began soon after, when Brandywine Executive Vice President William Redd made a public statement that his firm was pitching the site to Amazon. The planned revamp would include relocating the MetroRail Red Line station (at the developer's expense) from the current (unpopular and hard to reach) site on Kramer Lane to right into the middle of Broadmoor, a big draw for Amazon, which has prioritized public transit in its search for an HQ2 city.
And remember that Amazon already has a presence in Austin: In 2014, it established a corporate office in the Domain, and in 2016 opened its shipping and warehouse facility in San Marcos. Last year it acquired Whole Foods Market outright, and has kept headquarters here.
However, Broadmoor still faces stiff competition in luring the company to Central Texas. New York business analysis nonprofit the Conference Board released a study earlier this month tracking Amazon's hiring patterns over the past two years and found that the company had seen the greatest increases in advertised management and tech posts in Washington, D.C., and Boston, a possible indicator of where expansion priorities might lie.
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