Austin Developers Plead Guilty to Conspiracy
Two former Austin developers have agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court to charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Developers Andy Sarwal and Fred Yeo planned to transform the former Concordia University site into a hotel, upscale shops and condominiums. Now, the men are facing justice and project development is up in the air for the mostly vacant 23-acre site.
It’s been four years since Concordia University’s Central Austin Campus was torn down. Since then, only one building has gone up in its place.
Clark Patterson is with the city’s Planning and Development Review Office. He says the site might still be transformed into something similar to the previous plan of the now-disgraced developers. Then again, Patterson says, the new owners have several options for the location.
“Build-up might take five, 10 [or] 15 years. They have the ability to come back and amend the plan,” Patterson says. “Should market forces dictate that office is no longer in demand and multi-family is, they can request to have that changed. But that would have to be done through City Council.”
He says the council has not made any changes to the original plan. So despite the fact that the property has changed hands many times, the site is still slated to become a vibrant, multi-use development.
But that vision has turned sour for some. Elynn Russell is president of Texas Monthly magazine, which at one point was the only tenant in the new building. Russell says that while the original property plan was enticing, reality didn’t match up.
“The building was brand new and we were on the top floor, which was nice,” Russell says. “The proximity to the University of Texas was nice. It wasn’t too far from downtown. But, we moved out in September of last year.”
Texas Monthly’s parent company, Emmis Publishing LP, sued the original developers. Cypress Real Estate Partners of Austin now plans to develop the rest the site. Clark Patterson says their success rests largely on financing.
“When the economy picks up, you’ll see that the plan gets back on track and you’ll see some construction out there,” Patterson says. “And I think that if it gets some financial backing, it’ll turn out to be a great development for the City of Austin.”
So while the future of the original developers rests in the hands of a federal judge, the future of the site – no matter who owns it – may depend on larger economic trends.