Development

Photo courtesy capitalareastatues.com

It’s been another busy week for the Austin City Council, with a Tuesday work session delving into geographic representation, and then another installment in its procession of Austin Energy rate discussions. But today council stares down a 93-item long agenda. We’ve culled a few highlights:

Don’t Bogart that Statue: Item nine on the agenda authorizes the acceptance of a seven-foot, bronze statue of Willie Nelson, to be placed nearby the staircase leading to the Austin City Limits studio. It seems a smart fit, as the city already honorarily christened the statue's home, Second Street, as Willie Nelson Boulevard.

Does Green Mean Go?: Item 10 would see the city signing off on plans to develop the site of the former Green Water Treatment Plant, a block east of City Hall. The city would sell the downtown plot to developer Trammell Crow for approximately $42 million; as KUT News previously wrote, Trammell Crow has proposed 826 apartments and 200 hotel rooms, plus retail, hospitality and office space.

Shoup photo courtesy shoup.bol.ucla.edu; parking photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

There’s no such thing as a free lunch – and no such thing as free parking, according to an influential author speaking in Austin today.

The Urban Transportation Commission and City Council Member Chris Riley are hosting a conversation this evening with Donald Shoup. Shoup’s 2005 book, The High Cost of Free Parking, argues that on-street parking is a valuable commodity in cities, and should be priced accordingly to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution.

KUT News spoke with Shoup this morning. He noted the University  of Texas campus was a perfect example of some of the arguments he’s made.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Travel down one-way Colorado Street will be restricted though the end of June, as the city readies $6 million worth of improvements.

Only one lane will be open between Third and Fifth Street, while the Colorado Street Reconstruction Project gets underway.

Approved by the Austin City Council in December, the initiative is part of the city’s Great Streets project, creating pedestrian-friendly streets similar to those on Second Street, seen above. 

Image courtesy City of Austin

A $500 million development may bring new housing, retail and underground parking to the southwest quadrant of downtown Austin.

Today, the City Council was briefed on the sale of a plot of land facing Lady Bird Lake. The land is the former location of the Green Water Treatment Plant, bordered by Cesar Chavez and Third Street, San Antonio Street and Shoal Creek.

Austin’s first treatment plant, the City Council voted to demolish Green in 2006 to promote taxable development more compatible with downtown.  

Under the terms city staff presented today, the city would sell the plot to TC Austin Development, a subsidiary of development firm Trammell Crow, for $42.4 million.

Photo courtesy of Valencia Group

A company from Houston is getting ready to build a retro motel at the Domain that is reminiscent of motor courts of the 1950s, an era when TVs and coin-operated radios were major selling points.

But in keeping with the 21st century, the hotel is also said to include “high-tech amenities.”

Photo courtesy flickr.com/baggis

The future of Waller Creek – if not downtown in general – is being drafted in a design competition.

Waller Creek, winding through the Eastern portion of downtown Austin, has received sporadic attention and investment over the years. The creek is prone to flooding during heavy rains, which has occasionally claimed the lives of homeless citizens sleeping along its sparsely-traveled banks.

Efforts to address Waller Creek received a boost in in 2006, when the city partnered with the county to fund a tunneling project. Currently underway in Waterloo Park, the tunnel will create a steady flow in the creek and pull nearby land out of the floodplain. But while engineering and construction of the tunnel continues, the city is facilitating a design competition to determine the function and aesthetics of the downtown areas along the creek.  

Construction of affordable housing downtown could start in less than a year.

At a meeting tonight, Austin nonprofit Foundation Communities is making a pitch for their Capital Studios development – 135 apartments to be located on what's now a parking lot at 11th street and Trinity.  A Foundation Communities spokesperson tells KUT News Capital Studios will be the first truly affordable downtown development in the last 40 years – and with rents ranging from $400 to $650, all bills paid, it’s hard to argue.

The low rents are designed to attract Austinites that work and play downtown, but can’t afford to live there – primarily young adults making $27,000 annually or less. Ten of the units will be reserved for working musicians and artists. Another 27 units will provide permanent supportive housing for clients transitioning out of homelessness, processed through agencies like Caritas, the Trinity Center, and the ARCH.

Image courtesy City of Austin/McCann Adams Studio

Is density an urban benefit, in and of itself? Or does density’s costs outweigh its inherit benefits?

Argument over growth is nothing new in local politics, but once redevelopment of downtown Austin took off over a decade ago, the debate gained a new wrinkle: Are developers erecting tall buildings downtown doing the city a favor by curtailing sprawl? Or should the city share in the financial benefits developers reap from building past traditional height limits?

Those issues get a thorough vetting in the Atlantic Cities blog today, which delves into the controversy surrounding the Downtown Austin Plan, and one of its most hotly debated components: a Density Bonus Program.

Image courtesy White Lodging Services Corporation

It’s rare a place can be so controversial before it even breaks ground, but such has been the case with the JW Marriott hotel, slated for an opening in downtown Austin in 2015.

Part of the reason lies with what the hotel displaced: beloved tex-mex eatery Las Manitas, located at Second St. and Congress Ave. A popular and inexpensive lunch spot with politicos, downtown workers and the bleary-eyed alike, Las Manitas’ closing in 2008 – precipitated by the knowledge a new convention center hotel would be opening on its grounds – prompted another round of soul-searching for what the true “Austin experience” was, and whether it was in danger. The Las Manitas quandary was even prominently featured in a book on Austin’s “weirdness.”

The Austin City Council even considered offering incentives to the restaurant to move, before the proposal was rebuffed in the face of mounting controversy. Still, disagreement over the city’s stance towards the JW Marriott development persisted into 2011, when the council debated whether to waive millions in construction fees. Opponents depicted the waivers as a loss in needed revenue, while proponents pointed to the millions of dollars in taxable property base and hotel occupancy fees the 2,500 room hotel will produce.

The YMCA of Austin has made quite a splash with proposals for a massive pool and aquatics center along the shores of Lady Bird Lake. But their pitch for city investment in the proposal appears to be treading water.

Image courtesy City of Austin

We wrote yesterday about plans for an art wall in the emerging Seaholm District in downtown Austin, and its potential to influence development in the area. So it’s worth highlighting how those designs are only one part of the city’s plans in the area.

Earlier this month, the city released an updated map for development in the Seaholm area, highlighting projects in various stages. Some are completed, like the first phase of apartment construction off Lamar, and the Pfluger bridge extension. Others are underway, like a nearby federal courthouse. But some of the most ambitious projects are decidedly far off, including construction of Seaholm’s centerpiece, a new central library.

Photo by BOKA Powell

If you were wondering what they were building in the northeast corner of the I-35 and Riverside Drive intersection, wonder no more! Developers announced today the construction of what they are calling the “first high-rise residential development” on the southern shores of Lady Bird Lake.

The development is called RiverView. It’s 280,000 square foot project with 302 apartments. Developers are seeking a LEED Silver rating with the building’s water saving plumbing fixtures, use of recycled materials, storm water collection, and other environmentally friendly features.

Image by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

A local blog sponsored by the real estate firm Urban Space claims sales of condominiums in Austin increased by a whopping 50 percent in 2010. 

AustinTowers.net delved into MLS listings and said sales increased from 112 condos in 2009 to 168 in 2010. The average price increased from $330,344 in 2009 to $343,983 last year, a gain of four percent.

Image courtesy atmtx http://www.flickr.com/photos/atmtx/

The company that manages most of the retail space in the Second Street District downtown says it expects to reach a high water mark this year. AMLI Residential says 80 percent of the square footage is currently rented, and that should grow to 92 percent "by the end of the second quarter," according to AMLI retail manager Carrie Holt.

Parking lot
Image courtesy Google Street View

Travis County Commissioners didn't take any moves to block the planned purchase of a lot in downtown Austin, clearing the way for the deal to close tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock.

As KUT News reported two weeks ago, the county will pay $21,750,000 for the downtown block next to Republic Square Park.

County Judge Sam Biscoe says that’s half a million more than the appraised value.

“But I think that the location, more than justifies that. Plus it’s the size that we need,” Biscoe told KUT.

Cowboys Stadium
Image courtesy Cliff Baise http://www.flickr.com/photos/cliffbaise/

HKS, an architectural firm in Dallas, announced this morning that it will lead the team assembled to build a new Formula One track in Austin. HKS designed and built the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington and the Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

Dinosaur bones under I35 in downtown Austin
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Thousands of people drive over the I-35 bridge in downtown Austin everyday, and many are probably wondering about the large metal beams poking from underneath. Some people have compared them to dinosaur bones or whale bones.

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