Travis County Courthouse Proposal Still Missing Details

Travis County Courthouse Proposal Still Missing Details

austin travis county courthouse header

The Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously voted earlier this month to place the fate of their new 14-story downtown courthouse in the hands of voters. This past winter, I took a strong stance against the Courthouse occupying prime real estate in Austin to build a silo of a structure that in no way relates to the neighborhood it will inhabit.

Suffice it to say: I recognize the current courthouse is overwhelmed and under-equipped.

[Read more…]

Visuals: Austin Convention Center Expansion

Visuals: Austin Convention Center Expansion

austin-convention-center-expansion2

Last week Downtown Austin Blog highlighted the Austin Convention Center expansion occurring at the Austin Convention Center.

This week, we’ve got new image renderings that represent a long-range master plan for the Convention Center.  The vision is truly to create a “Convention Center District” at a cost of $400 – 600 million not including the cost of the dirt.

austin-convention-center-expansion5

[Read more…]

“Fourth &”: Micro-loft condos heading to East Austin, open slated for Fall 2016

“Fourth &”: Micro-loft condos heading to East Austin, open slated for Fall 2016

Fourth&austin

A micro-loft condo development at Fourth & Chicon is in the works, and expected to be completed in Fall 2016. The project teases to be an affordable option to more expensive downtown area dwellings.

Situated on 2.1 acres east of the Plaza Saltillo development and MetroRail station, the Fourth& project is expected to include about 130,000 square feet of live/work condominium units, and street level commercial space. When completed, the project will be among the largest single mixed-use developments in East Austin, with 97 condo units and another 42,000 square feet of commercial space.

This looks to be a quality project, and the developer — Capsa Ventures — seems to be working hard to carve out a niche for creating sustainable urban projects. Previous projects include Pease Place on Enfield Road and 904 West, at 9th & West Avenue.

So far, Fourth& is the only building in East Austin to offer micro-loft condominiums. Traditional “micro-unit” housing is about 300-400 square feet (about the size of a 1-car garage), and Fourth& is pushing the limits of the label, with units starting at 512 square feet. The project will also have larger sized units, reaching 1,400 square feet.

fourth&chicon

The building’s design and PR team is emphasizing the building’s micro-lofts, green architecture and efficient building… practicality over “needless sprawl.” The walkable location is near commuter rails and the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, so it will be easy to explore nearby or to move about the city.

Prices are expected to start at $235,000 for a studio, all the way up to $600,000 for bigger units. That may sound expensive when taken at a price per square foot, but considering the alternatives for downtown area living, it will be attractive for people who would otherwise be priced out of market.

According to news reports, the micro-lofts will still offer gas stoves, stainless steel appliances, LED lighting and European cabinetry. Among the amenities offered include reserved and guest parking, a dog wash, and an amenity deck with outdoor grills and a conference room with smaller meeting rooms for residents who work from home and want a change of scenery.

Fourth& continues to add to a major area redevelopment along the East Fourth street corridor, beyond the Plaza Saltillo development. Adjacent to the Fourth& site, Eastside Station, a 300-unit luxury apartment building is slated to opening late 2015. And across the street, the Arnold Oil Redevelopment (pictured below) is underway on a three-acre lot, with a proposed 90,000 square feet of office space and 330 apartment units.

fourthandchicon

Arnold Oil Redevelopment

South Congress development heating up

South Congress development heating up

guesthousehotel

South Congress Avenue, one of the most popular destinations for weekend strolls for residents and visitors alike, is slowly but steadily redeveloping — including a new, yet unannounced boutique hotel, just South of Oltorf.

The big South Congress news reported this week is an $8 million office, retail and condominium development planned behind Guero’s Taco Bar at South Congress Avenue and West Elizabeth Street.

Reports indicate 7,000 square feet of ground floor retail space, double that amount of office, and a smattering of condos. The South Austin development is still in the design phase, but if it comes to fruition, it would replace Eco-Wise and Vulcan Video, behind Guero’s.

At the same time, AustinTowers.net is the first to tell you about a Chicago-based boutique hotel that is replicating itself in South Congress, just south of the Oltorf intersection, called the Guesthouse.

From Dawson Neighborhood Assoc.

From Dawson Neighborhood Assoc.

The site planned for construction is the dormant Taste of China Express at 2510 South Congress, next to where the Blockbuster used to be, which is now a laundromat. The Taste of China closed sometime in 2014, unsurprisingly, and we’re excited about the energy this classy boutique hotel would bring to the scene.

china2

china 1

The Guesthouse Hotel project is comprised of 1.5 acres, and expected to be three to four stories tall, along a narrow, long footprint. There will be a terrace overlooking a courtyard, parking, and landscaping, as well as a pool and event center with associated cabanas and breezeway.

The Guesthouse motto is “live like a local,” and developers have been actively presenting to neighborhood associations this summer. This is an indication that the project is past the conceptual phase and on its way to a site plan submission.

guesthousehotel

The Guesthouse is being designed by local Levy Architects which has a couple of small multifamily projects also in the works on South Congress, including a three story project across from Penn Field at 3110 South Congress.

Meanwhile, the South Congress Hotel is on track to host its first guests this September in the lot that once held a much-loved food trailer park.  That boutique hotel located at 1603 South Congress will have 83 rooms total, and an event space to host up to 300 guests.

First Look: Another large mixed-use project on tap for South Lamar

First Look: Another large mixed-use project on tap for South Lamar

southlamardevelopment2

The tidal wave of construction on South Lamar Boulevard – near the Broken Spoke – isn’t over yet.

Plans have just been filed for a large mixed-use project, consisting of three buildings, totaling half a million square feet of office, retail and 304 apartment units.  The project is another development by Ardent Residential, the same group that developed the similarly named Gibson Flats and Burnet Flats (not to mention the Four Seasons Residences downtown).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The mixed-use project — called Lamar Flats — will go in across the street from Red’s Porch. The site currently holds a Golden Corral, which will be demolished, and is next to the planned In-N-Out Burger.

Lamar Flats plans call for:

  • a 4-story 125,000 square foot mixed use building
  • a 5-story 158,000 square foot mixed use building
  • about 137,000 square feet underground parking
  • a 4-story residential building

southlamar1

The area in question has been the subject of years of press coverage while the world-famous Broken Spoke became flanked in by two residential rental projects. Over the past year, South Lamar has undergone a complete transformation. Six prior mixed-use projects brought nearly 2,000 new homes for people eager to live in the area, plus over 100,000 square feet for shops, restaurants, and small offices.

The development along South Lamar brings with it sweet, not just sour. As pointed out by the Austin Contrarian — South Lamar has become a destination in its own right — like downtown, the Triangle, or South Congress.

From a residential real estate standpoint, the development is boon for land owners. A transformed South Lamar is also an increased draw to those purchasing condos near the core.  While it may not bring a lot of vertical development like we see elsewhere, projects like this $4.2 million townhome project on 2002 Glen Allen, also increase urban density in the area and start to become more attractive to builders.

However, the new development will also raise the ire of the existing neighborhood and through commuters who gripe about traffic. This is likely to increase the call to action they are placing on District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen. Kitchen made South Lamar improvements one of her campaign platforms.

The city is responding accordingly and launched a study last year to look at improving the South Lamar area between Lady Bird Lake and Ben White.  Another major project, like the Lamar Flats, lends inertia to the effort to bring a lot of same bike and pedestrian friendly designs that are now downtown into the South Lamar area.

southlamardevelopment2

Structures with Stories – 119 E 6th and the Tides of Changing Commerce – Downtown Austin Real Estate

Structures with Stories – 119 E 6th and the Tides of Changing Commerce – Downtown Austin Real Estate

119 E 6th St-large-012-Street Signs and Exteriors-1476x1000-72dpi

The concept that buildings tell stories is nothing new.  There are several books written on the idea (we have some in our brokerage office), and this is a founding principle on which many historical and preservation societies and the like are based (it’s certainly one of the more satisfying aspects of being involved in the real estate and development business). And, in this way, the building at 119 E Sixth street is the same as other towers in downtown Austin – but that’s paradoxically also what makes it different than every other tower in downtown Austin.  While every tower in downtown Austin has a story, this particular site and structure’s story is uniquely its own.

What initially piqued my interest about 119 E Sixth is its recent conversion from a lower-end, off-the-grid apartment community with a slightly scary convenient store at the ground floor to a higher-end short term rental complex atop a shiny new 30,000 square foot Gold’s Gym. The lot is owned by Stream Realty, who, in partnership with vacation rental company, Top Trip Rentals, has done a nice exterior remodel of the building, working with local companies like Sixthriver Architects. The interiors are also being updated, and some units are currently available for short term rental through Top Trip – many at lower prices than nearby hotels (they’ve provided us with many of the photos below).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Funnily enough, Top Trip Rentals also manages an STR right out of the historically rich (and outright awesome) – Graeber house, which is only a couple blocks away from 119 E Sixth.  Our firm listed this remarkable home a couple years back for the Graeber family. There’s a pool in this house, y’all – and it’s RIGHT on E Sixth and you wouldn’t even KNOW IT!  Don’t believe me? Take a look at our photos from a couple years back (the home is also listed on the Top Trip site – it’s furnished differently now).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My original intent in researching the site was to provide a vanilla, informational piece on the building’s current use as an alternate option to a hotel, and to contextualize the building’s use within an industry vertical that’s climbing towards a fever pitch in downtown Austin. I also thought there may be something interesting to be learned about the short-term rental market in Austin in a general sense with some tie back into many condo HOAs’ refusal to entertain such use within their buildings, and how other buildings have embraced STR use to their advantage.

But, last week, after visiting the building and speaking with the knowledgeable vacation rental proprietor of the 24 rehabbed units at 119 E Sixth, Chereen Fisher, I couldn’t help but become fascinated by the site’s history, partially outlined on the plaque outside of the building.

Littlefield-Building-Plaque-Downtown-Austin-Real-Estate

119 E 6th is the site where commerce started in Austin.  This location has seen a plethora of timely uses, starting as a dry goods store, then transforming into a grocery store, a fire department, a bank, a trailblazing commercial coffee roasting facility, and a wholesale operation.  Chereen also told me that, in 1979, the original structure was demolished and an apartment complex with a parking garage was built as part of a large-scale effort to save the neighboring Driskill hotel (apparently, more parking was needed for the hotel to profitably continue operation). And there it sat until the tides of commerce shifted yet again as a new variation of the hospitality industry was born in Austin.

Gray, S. A. Mercantile and General City Directory of Austin, Texas---1872-1873., Book, 1872; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth38126/ : accessed July 17, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

Gray, S. A. Mercantile and General City Directory of Austin, Texas—1872-1873., Book, 1872; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth38126/ : accessed July 17, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

Screenshot 2015-07-17 13.23.16

The Capitol of our great state, Austin, Texas, Book, 1915; (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth41246/ : accessed July 17, 2015), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, http://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, Austin, Texas.

In short, this site – a site that many of us probably nonchalantly walk by on our way to some Congress or W Sixth destination – and its uses were / are at the very epicenter of Austin’s constantly developing commercial district.  119 E Sixth provides a tidy historical illustration of the evolution of commerce in Austin, and tells a story of Austin’s ever changing business dynamics from day one of Austin’s commercial existence.

giphy

 

 

Mind = blown.

 

 

A note: I’m OBVIOUSLY just chipping tiny bits from tip of the iceberg of the history of this building and this site. And I know that the story I’m “reading” from this building is just one of many stories that this building tells.  I’d love to hear from readers about anything they know about this site and any interesting, historic stories you may know and want to share.

Remember When There Weren’t Enough Hotels in Downtown Austin?

Remember When There Weren’t Enough Hotels in Downtown Austin?

HA Bar to Cabana

A few years back, the Statesman was reporting on the hotel shortage in downtown Austin (link).

Given the boom of events happening in downtown, it was convenient to frame the “shortage” in the context of the Convention Center lobbying for expansion and how the hotel market had been steadily climbing to a fever pitch.

Notably absent from the discussion were short term rentals in downtown Austin, as STRs are prohibited in just about every single condo building downtown, and city approved STR licenses are limited even within the building that does allow it.

And, while the new inventory should have provided breathing room, it seemed to stoke a fire in the belly of the old guard of downtown Austin hotel operators. Everybody wants the biggest piece of the pie of this expanding market, and they’re ready put some dollars down to get it.

hotels-austin

Construction in downtown Austin right now

When the commercial market began recovering a couple of years back, we observed announcements for one new hotel after another, and mystifyingly there continues to be news of more on the way: the Austin Proper project, a hotel project that will also have a condo component.

Among this new wave of hotels that are now complete, nearing completion, or anticipated to begin construction are:

  • The vast JW Marriott (1,012 guest rooms);
  • The boutique Hotel Van Zandt with its “when we get around to it” approach to construction schedules and its quirky Geraldine’s concept (319 guest rooms);
  • The Fairmont and its innovative “sky bridge” to the Convention Center (delivers 2017, 1,066 guest rooms)
  • The shiny new Hyatt Place at Brazos & 3rd (296 guest rooms);
  • The contentious Hyatt House, Holiday Inn, and Hotel Indigo concepts in the Red River district;
  • The highly anticipated but who-really-knows-when-it-will-get-built Hotel Zaza across from Republic Square Park (160 guest rooms);
  • The Westin –  coyly nodding to locals with the restaurant concept “San Jac” (similar to what Van Zandt and the Radisson seem to be doing) and live music themed décor, (366 guest rooms).
  • Aloft/Element – corner of Congress & 7th Street, (410 rooms)

Westin Interiors / Art First Look & Renderings
(they were still undergoing construction – that’s why the boxes in some of the pics)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Altogether, these new hotel towers are adding a plethora of new rooms for nightly rent in downtown Austin (over 3,000 rooms in the last 10 years, per a Q4 2014 press release from the Hilton), and existing hotels are getting competitive with a renovation arms race.

We’ve recently started to see older hotels significantly up their game with costly upgrades and make-overs.

The downtown Hilton Austin on E. 5th, always ahead of the curve and artfully envisioning all of new shiny hotels on the horizon threw a mammoth, first-class event in the fourth quarter of 2014 to celebrate not only their established 10-year run of business, but also to relaunch their brand (“Capital”) and show-off the $22 MILLION worth of improvements to their 800 guest rooms, executive level, and pool / spa areas. I was at the gala – it was stunning, and effective.  It was clear that The Hilton was a downtown Austin institution, and would not be meekly standing by as the flashy newbies started to pop up. Here are some choice pics of the newly renovated Skyline Spa (previously known as the Tower Spa).  5 Fifty-Five Condos residents who opt in to the amenities also get to enjoy these new renovations.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In their January 2015 story, Community Impact reported that the Hyatt Regency, just south of downtown, revamped their already enormous ballroom and added a new parking garage in 2014. The Omni downtown refreshed their look just a couple years ago, too.

Omni-downtown-austinExec-Suite-With-King

Omni guest room after renovation

Hotel Ella (previously The Mansion on Judges Hill), sitting on the northern edge of downtown Austin, also recently undertook a complete rebranding and updated their facilities and rooms, along with a change of management. It’s elegant, and if you are looking for a space to host a tasteful, smaller wedding – I would definitely recommend looking into this location.

Hyatt acquired the historic Driskill hotel in 2013 and did an $8MM revamp of the interior, too.

And, though likely not as strategic and certainly not as substantial of a move, the Radisson’s replacement of the majorly lame and exceedingly dull TGI Fridays with the ultra hip, hyper-local and upscale Chavez restaurant concept (UPDATE: Chavez is now Dine). to their hotel space was also an extreme upgrade and statement that made people actually remember that there is a Radisson in downtown Austin.

Chavez Interior Entryway

Chavez Interior Entryway

Additionally, we’ve seen applications for two new renovation permits of existing hotels in just the last couple of weeks.  The Holiday Inn on I-35, adjacent to Ladybird lake near the Rainey Street District has applied for permits relating to exterior facade work, an interior remodel, and a 382 sf expansion of their fitness center.  The Hampton Inn on 2nd and San Jacinto is also apparently planning an interior remodel, along with revamping of its breakfast area.  We’re sure to see more of this on the way.

While all the growth and change can be exciting, we have to remember there are growing pains.

A boutique hotel concept just east of downtown on Cesar Chavez was recently shut down by the City due to 11th hour neighborhood protests, even though there had been initial neighborhood support, the locations were just blocks away from I-35 and nearby existing commercial uses, and owners had reportedly bent over backwards to accommodate each and every request of stakeholder groups.

Then, last week, two revered local music venues, The Mohawk and Cheer Up Charlies, rallied public outcry against the new Hyatt Hotel project construction behind their sites.  (Hyatt – careful that you don’t kill the golden goose.)

The clash between commercial development and local live music / bar venues in downtown Austin is not new. In 2010, DowntownAustinBlog.org wrote an article on Echotone, a film exploring this emotionally charged issue. You can read the 2010 DAB article here.

It can be frustrating to see big-money hotels sprout up throughout Austin, often with a tone-deaf plan that ignores what makes their location interesting.  All the while the most interesting local boutique concepts get shut down by neighborhood groups in the periphery of downtown.

C’est la Vie!  These are first world problems.  On one hand it’s all very exciting, but on the other hand – it’s sometimes like watching how sausage is made. Growth is not always smooth and rarely pretty.

A Fourth Street Flurry of Office Development in Downtown Austin

A Fourth Street Flurry of Office Development in Downtown Austin

Frank-All-Things-Are-Possible

Two major downtown Austin office tower developments were announced this week.

405 Colorado Street, currently a surface lot just south of Frank, is set to be developed by the Brandywine Group. Although we’ll be sad to see the exterior wall art project that Frank and The Blanton collaborate on together be covered – we’re always pretty supportive of dense development instead of surface parking.

Frank-All-Things-Are-Possible

Indeed! Especially when you aren’t restricted by Capitol View Corridors!

The ABJ reports that while many of the details have not been sorted out, that the current intent for the development would be office / retail / and parking.

Meanwhile, at the corner of 4th and Guadalupe, a stone’s throw from the Plaza Lofts, Travis County is massaging its hopeful plans to blight Republic Square Park with a bland and purposely pedestrian unfriendly new civil courthouse. Due to the high-price tag of the proposed project, Travis County is planning on leasing half their lot (purchased for a cool $21.8MM in 2010) to private developers, who would build an office tower on the “back” portion of the lot. Officials say it will reduce the project cost by 20% (taking into account the income from the lease and property taxes). We still think Travis County is missing the point – many folks’ opposition is not about the development cost, it’s about the opportunity cost of building a civil courthouse on that lot.

travis-county-courthouse-downtown-austin

Other office towers are in the works for the area, not the least exciting of which is a 179,000 sf, 18 story tower currently under construction nearby at 5th and Colorado – scheduled for completion in spring 2016. The office tower at 3rd and Colorado has only recently completed, as well.

5th-and-colorado-office-downtown-austin-3-2015-05-26-750

The office tower at 5th & Colorado, picture taken end of May 2015.