Major Redevelopment Project Near Lady Bird Lake Moving Forward

Major Redevelopment Project Near Lady Bird Lake Moving Forward

Option C - Master Plan RBJ Site - Aerial - featured

Most folks I know are in favor of having a range of housing options available in the downtown area.  After all, having a mix of residents helps make for a vibrant urban core.

Part of what’s missing in terms of downtown Austin real estate is a strong inventory of affordable housing and dedicated housing for seniors.  Although the ways to achieve the goal of affordable housing are hotly debated among just about everyone – most people think the goal itself is a worthy one. And while it’s true that empty nesters are a thriving component of downtown Austin’s population (Forbes listed at as the #4 City to Retire In in 2014), very little exists in Austin’s urban core in terms of housing specifically designed for an aging population.

One existing senior facility is located just southeast of downtown Austin.  Built over 40 years ago and owned and operated by a non-profit called the Austin Geriatric Center (AGC), the 16-story Rebekah Baines Johnson residential facility (RBJ Center) has stoically watched as the downtown skyline and the surrounding neighborhood has transformed.

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Back in July of 2014 we covered the redevelopment announcement for the RBJ Center.

The facility sits on land that was previously the site of a federal fish hatchery, and the AGC, led by Frank Erwin, Jr., bought the land cheaply when LBJ closed the fish hatchery and brokered the transaction right before he left office in January 1969. Over the years, the City of Austin acquired segments of the originally 27 acres purchased by AGC. Today, the 5-story RBJ Health Administration Building that sits next to the residential tower and includes city health offices occupies approximately 2.3 acres City-owned land that was part of the original 27 acre site. The City also purchased the remaining 6.7 acres of undeveloped land, dedicating it as parkland.

The AGC retired the mortgage on the RBJ Center and land in 2013.  Years before and in anticipation of retiring the mortgage, the AGC Board of Directors began discussions regarding the future of the RBJ Center.

In 2010, the City approved a Resolution directing the City Manager to coordinate the City’s involvement in creating a master plan for the RBJ and adjacent City-owned site, and to consider adding the future redevelopment of City Land into a master planned project.  A report was prepared and presented in late 2011, outlining options for a master plan for the tracts.

Option C from the report was selected.  The attributes of Option C as listed in the original Master Plan Report are:

  • RBJ builds  structured parking in order to sell 8.8 acres of its land to generate revenue
  • create 500 affordable senior units
  • create 2-Story row houses on Haskell Street
  • create 25,000 SF of commercial usage – 10,000 of which will most likely be an expanded health clinic (dental plus other medical care).
  • Main new building is 5-story with structured parking
  • 8.8 Acre site will be developed by others as mixed use, with 25,000 SF of commercial, and up to 340 residential units all with structured parking, which could be affordable / work force residential units

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Just last month, the City approved the mixed-use zoning that would be required in order to have the commercial usage included in the redevelopment.

We’re excited to see that these major redevelopment plans for the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center at 21 Waller are moving forward.  Infrastructure and accessibility improvements, the addition of high-density housing options to suit a mix of income levels, and significant commercial space will breathe additional new life into an already growing area.  Not to mention the massive benefits of revitalizing the existing public green space – community space that is currently and will continue to be an integral part of the neighborhood.

The 2011 report described the impact of the project accordingly:

This opportunity to create an enlarged campus to include affordable housing and health services for seniors in a prime Austin location is one of the most exciting development prospects in the city today. Moreover, the possibility of including additional land uses on a parcel bordered by the Saltillo TOD on the north and the Holly Redevelopment to the east positions the RBJ Project as the potential gateway for a complete revitalization of East Austin.

41-waller-exterior-2There’s very little doubt that this project will have a big effect on the surrounding neighborhood, and should reflect positively on values for both single family homes and multi-family units in nearby condominiums like 41 Waller.  Commercial activity in the area will increase, as well, to cater to an influx of new residents, medical staff, and other residents and staff that will be brought to the area because of the redevelopment.

Interested in checking out what’s for sale in the immediate area?  Visit our partner site REATX to see Austin homes for sale near the RBJ Center at 21 Waller. This search also includes available commercial properties for sale.

70 Rainey – New Renderings of Downtown Austin’s Next Condo Tower

70 Rainey – New Renderings of Downtown Austin’s Next Condo Tower

Renderings by Page Architects

Austin Towers has obtained a couple of additional renderings of 70 Rainey condos, a tower proposed in the Rainey Street District of downtown Austin.

The renderings come from the architect, Page (née Page Southerland Page).

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70 Rainey (aka “SEVENTY Rainey”) is expected to be 35 stories tall, hosting approximately 160+ residences. The site has unique geography that will provide the west facing residences protected views of the Hill Country and Lady Bird Lake. West facing units will also have view of the downtown Austin skyline.

What we can glean from the images is that there is a lot of attention being paid to the mezzanine deck, above the parking structure.  Looks like the gap between the podium and the tower, around the 10th-12th floor could clear 30-40 feet which, if correct, would be a dramatic setting for outdoor amenities.

Drawing by Page Architects

Drawing by Page Architects

Also, it’s nice to see the parking podium – typically an ugly feature on any building – wrapped with a green wall, of sorts.  Hopefully that feature does not get value-engineered out of the final product.

Another subtlety: it looks like the adjacent lot to the south, owned by the MACC, could become a complimentary pocket park next to the building.  This would take some coordination with the City or the MACC, but it could be a nice bonus for the neighborhood.

Rendering by Page Architects

Rendering by Page Architects

Progress at the site appears earnest.  Yesterday, we observed engineers doing geo-technical drilling.  Hopefully these renderings are more than just ideas, and the developer can execute on this vision.  The site that 70 Rainey sits on was originally entitled by Riverside Resources, and there was a previous proposal before Riverside owned it.  Sackman Enterprises acquired the site in 2014 and is seeing the project through to fruition.

Here’s the thing about Rainey: it’s a multi-use district that is evolving within downtown Austin. It’s not purely residential. It’s not a bar district. It’s the wild west of downtown. The juxtaposition of everything, the frenzied mixture of restaurants, venues, parks, and high-rises, is what I love about living here.  When complete, 70 Rainey will join other district buildings like Milago Condos, The Shore Condos, and Skyhouse.


Reservations for 70 Rainey condos to begin soon

How Much Does A Downtown Austin Condo Appreciate Over Five Years?

How Much Does A Downtown Austin Condo Appreciate Over Five Years?

Austin condo performance over five years, moving average

“How much will this condo be worth in a few years?”

Is there a more important question for an investor?  It’s a question without a specific answer, though.  Nobody can predict the future, of course.  However, we can glean insight from what history tells us.  The information we uncovered is pretty interesting.

Below is an analysis I prepared on the moving average of a 5 year hold of a downtown condo.  We can look at the annual median sales price per foot of every recorded condo sale since 1997*.  This is a broad market analysis including every downtown condo tower.

When we do this, we observe the moving average for trailing five years of appreciation at its lowest was 14.75%.

In 2014, specifically, the typical downtown condo owner would have seen appreciation of 63.62% over the previous five years.


Austin condo performance over five years, moving average

Austin condo performance over five years, moving average

*NOTES to analysis:

1) Reflects ALL transaction records for condos in MLS Area “DT” since 1997.
2) some early records did not have correct square footage, so the data is normalized by constraining the data set to condos with a square footage range of 100-12,000sf.

Adios Taco Cabana

Adios Taco Cabana


Just about two years ago, reported on news about a third iteration of a plan to redevelop the Taco Cabana site at 211 S Lamar – the site adjacent to the Bridges on the Park condos.

Since then, there have been additional changes, including a change of ownership to MLB pitcher Huston Street.

approximate outline of 211 S Lamar Site

approximate outline of 211 S Lamar Site

Signals of development can be found in many forms, including spray-painted awnings from the building being used as “closed” signs.

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Tower Vs. Tower: AT’s Austin Condo Cheat Sheet

Tower Vs. Tower: AT’s Austin Condo Cheat Sheet

Austin Condo Cheat Sheet

There’s a lot of disparate information on the “internets” about Austin’s condo towers, so we observed it could be useful to see the basics on a single page.  This is information we have presented in other forms across the site.  Hopefully readers can use this as a simple, basic cheat sheet.

This is a handy “at-a-glance” guide to condos for sale in downtown Austin, and a good way to wrap your head around all of the condo communities that exist and glean the vital information about each.

Austin Condo Cheat Sheet

Austin Condo Cheat Sheet

Also, if you’ve not checked out the condo buyer FAQ, go ahead and give it a look.

We hope these numbers help – but we do want to caution that the numbers / stats we’re putting out below are inclusive of only condo sales that happened on the MLS (private transactions and new construction sales, like developer-owned units The Austonian, aren’t included).

We also caution readers that these stats are inclusive of all the condo buildings that had sales posted on the MLS last year – it’s important to remember that there are sometimes big variations in pricing from unit to unit within buildings, as there are nuances between the units, such as view, floor number, upgrades, etc.  This spreadsheet represents the very tip of the iceberg on things you should consider when purchasing or listing a downtown austin condo for sale.

If you want custom, detailed information on a specific residence, you can always call or email us directly.


Downtown Austin Tid-Bits

Downtown Austin Tid-Bits


Sometimes stories start small, or may seem inconsequential, then later emerge as a topic that has a major impact on the City. It’s in that light that we present some items that are on Austin Towers’ radar this week.

Signals of tower development at Red River and Davis

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No, this isn’t Waller Park Place; rather, this is the assemblage to the east, just across Red River Street. It has been speculated since 2012 that the site at 91 Red River and adjoining lots are making moves, and the fact that the house at 91 Red River is being relocated is just another indication.

Earlier this week we observed the vegetation around the property being cleared. The house is purportedly being moved to 2791 FM 425, Thorndale, TX (the previous request to entirely demo it has been withdrawn). There’s an active demolition request for the neighboring home at 91 1/2 Red River, too.

Another big sign of imminent development on this block is that an LLC controlled by Endeavor Real Estate already owns the parcels at 93 Red River and 93 1/2 Red River. And, 91 and 91 1/2 are controlled by parties who have are very involved in downtown Austin real estate development.

Google will be at Fleming’s for SXSW

logosYou can file this under not that surprising, but Google will be buying out Fleming’s for SXSW this year. We have verbal confirmation of this from an inside source, as well as knowledge of a temporary right of way permit being requested for a Google Play sign at Fleming’s for March 11-20th. Fleming’s has one of the MOST “prime” locations for SXSW Venue Rental, so it makes complete sense that the technology giant will be controlling the space during the festival this year.

Allen Edmonds Shoe Store wrapping up finish-out work in the new 501 Congress office building

501 Congress, a newly remodeled office building near the City center, is well on its way. While Dropbox, who will reportedly be leasing around 60,000 sf of the building, was the major newsmaker for the site, there are other interesting tenants that will inhabit the space. One is the men’s shoe and accessory brand, Allen Edmonds. The store will be a nice complement to the nearby Keepers concept at 515 Congress, not to mention the Brooks Brothers store on the south west corner of 6th and Congress.

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Lonesome Dove Western Bistro moving forward at 419 Colorado

Last year, the ABJ announced that Kenichi was closing at a Ft. Worth concept called Lonesome Dove Western Bistro would be taking over the site. The remodel is continuing, and the exterior should have a remodeled look for the new concept . The dinner menu at Lonseome Dove Western Bistro is interesting, to say the least. Try LDWB for dinner, then boot-scoot over to the new Concrete Cowboy bar at 719 W 6th (where Molotov used to be) for a truly Texas themed night on the town.

The "boot scoot" trail

The “boot scoot” trail

Aspen Heights Apartments at 805 Nueces seemingly moving forward

Our sister site, Downtown Austin Blog, originally broke the story about this site when it was slated to be The Bremond, in late 2010. The Bremond concept did not end up happening, but we got wind of another concept in late 2013 called Aspen Heights Apartments. Aspen Heights is also the financing partner behind the Independent Condos. City records indicate things are moving forward with Aspen Heights Apartments, though the project itself is still being marked as “in review.”

Drawings by Rhode Partners, as submitted to Design Commission in 2013

Do you have questions regarding what’s happening at a particular site downtown? Leave your comments below!

New Travis County Courthouse Proposal: Wrong Place, Wrong Time

New Travis County Courthouse Proposal: Wrong Place, Wrong Time


Travis County is proposing a Courthouse to be built facing into Downtown Austin’s most central and celebrated park, Republic Square Park.  And, residents and visitors alike should not be thrilled with the current proposal.

Some background, per consultants hired for the project:

Currently Civil and Family Court proceedings for Travis County are occurring at the Heman Mariott Sweatt Courthouse, a building erected in 1931.


taken from Google Maps streetview

This current courthouse is lacking space needed, infrastructure, and general design and layout / circulation for those with dealings in the Court (particularly to ensure safety of those filing claims against their aggressors).  More people, more problems, so to speak, and Austin needs adequate court space to properly ensure justice is being done in as timely of a manner as possible.

We get it.

What we don’t get is why Travis County feels the need to use some of the most prime real estate in Austin to build a silo of a structure that in no way relates to the neighborhood it will inhabit – a neighborhood with the SPECIFIC goal of being pedestrian-friendly and engaging.  The current site selection sits just south of Republic Square Park.

Apparently, there will be two phases of construction. The first phase will be the actual Courthouse (the structure that will face into the park), and the second phase will have some other use, like County offices (with some space potentially being leased to private entities, etc).  In the interim, the County hopes to make the unused portion of the lot “green space.”




We can think of a few reasons NOT to build the Travis County Courthouse in this location.  Here are a couple:

  1. There are better locations for the site.  The population center of Austin is north of the University of Texas, near Burnet and North Loop.  One proposed alternative by those in the know is the Travis County owned site at 290 at I35 next to the Highland Mall ACC Campus location.
  2. After 5pm, this proposed 14 story box becomes an urban void.  A full city block – one of the best in the entire city – sitting idle for 12+ hours a day.
  3. There are much better and higher uses for the current site sitting just south of Republic Square park.  Pretty much any use that can remain open, active, and engaging after 5pm is better.

There is only one real reason we’ve heard to place the Courthouse at 4th & Guadalupe: to reduce the need to transport those in custody to another location (we have requested exact numbers on that, but until told otherwise, cannot believe the impact would be THAT significant).

Location qualms aside, the $300 million 14-story beige box proposed ignores the opportunity cost of placing a silo in the middle of downtown.

Apparently, retail was considered for part of the ground floor, but then somehow decided against, because of “security concerns” and lack of compelling evidence that retail was a sustainable use for the space.

OK, let’s say that the security concerns were real and retail was not a sustainable use for ground floor space in the Courthouse – so put the building elsewhere that street level retail use hasn’t been planned for years!

The security concerns described (simply ensuring no dangerous objects or material are able to enter the Courthouse through the retail space by shipping or customers coming from the exterior) seems easy to overcome.   With the new Hotel Zaza and thousands of dwelling nearby, notably Plaza Lofts, W Hotel, 360 Condos, AMLI on 2nd, Gables, and more, it only improves the chances that a retail use will be highly successful in that location.  Currently, the County intends to use a portion of the ground floor as “event space.”  Huh?!

I’m ready to be convinced otherwise, but on its face, the concept that retail couldn’t survive in this location is bunk. It might not fit the mold of a courthouse, and that’s why this location has higher and better uses than a courthouse.

We don’t have renderings yet, but a massing was provided, with some general info on the structure:


Bottom line is the new Travis County Courthouse as proposed ignores more than two decades of effort by myriad people working to improve the experience of living, working, visiting, shopping, dining, and generally desiring to be in downtown Austin.

Luckily, this particular project can’t be funded without passing the bond election in November.  Unless the location is changed, or the proposal for the current site is drastically altered to integrate into the fabric of the City, we’re voting “NO” in November.


Something is finally happening at 220 S Congress

Something is finally happening at 220 S Congress


Heading northbound on Congress Avenue, just before you cross over Lady Bird Lake into Downtown Austin proper, you’ve probably noticed a vacant commercial building on your left.

This is the one:

220 S Congress-downtown-austin

220 S. Congress taken from Google Maps

We’ve certainly noticed it and marveled at how such a high-profile location could continually remain vacant for such long periods of time.  The last use I remember in the space was a modern furniture store called “Your Living Room”, which I believe shut down in 2008 or 2009.

So we are thrilled to find out something is being done with the space. recently received a press release that Cielo Property Group will be heading up a major renovation of the 25,000 sf three-story building, which was originally built in 1936 and has great historic features such as exposed brick, metal trusses, and a general raw, industrial aesthetic. It reminds us of Brazos Lofts (except 220 S Congress will be for commercial use only, no residential is planned at this time).  Cielo plans to retain the character and feel of the building.  The renovation looks to be somewhat light for the exterior of the building, and will reportedly focus on replacing outdated infrastructure and creating ways to make the space divisible for multiple businesses. Gensler is the architect.

Interior renovations start this week, and Cielo expects to have the building fully renovated and leased by the end of 2015.

We’re told that the building was bought by Cielo in December 2014.  Looks like an LLC governed by a corporation headed by the principal of Reagan Outdoor Advertising owned it before (and they still own the billboards, apparently). The billboards will remain on the site after the renovation.

In our mind, the project, by virtue of it’s stellar location if nothing else, will be a home-run.  Per Cielo’s press release:

Multifamily projects currently underway in the immediate vicinity include The Catherine, a 300 unit luxury apartment tower developed by StreetLights Residential at 214 Barton Springs Rd. and Broadstone at the Lake, a 220-unit community by Alliance Residential on the former Run-Tex site at 422 Riverside Dr.

With that much residential nearby, plus hotel traffic from the likes of the Hyatt, 220 S. Congress will do great with commercial activation.  CBRE is listing the property for lease, quoting $36 /SF/Year + NNN.

Take a look at the renderings from Gensler:

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We’ll keep you posted as we learn more!