Update: the Episcopal Church announced on April 24 that it has chosen Cielo Property Group to develop the Block 87 site. The project, according to the church, will include the expected archive space and an adjoining mixed-use project.
We also received a statement from Kate Morton, a public relations assistant to Cielo, regarding the specifics of the project:
“Neither Cielo nor the Church has decided on which uses will be included in the project or how much square footage each will have. The numbers quoted from the Emerging Projects presentation was pulled from the Church’s marketing material dating back to the beginning of the process in 2015. They do not accurately reflect current plans for the project, which are still evolving.”
Yesterday, engineering firm KBGE filed a site plan with the city for the construction of a multi-use building at 711 Trinity Street, a 1.75 acre space currently occupied by a parking lot. The surrounding site, at the intersection of Seventh and Trinity Streets, is perhaps better known as Block 87 — one of Austin’s last privately owned, undeveloped downtown blocks.
The filing by KBGE is the first real news we’ve heard regarding the site — which was purchased by the Episcopal Church in 2009 — since 2015, and development has seemingly been in limbo for years beyond that. We’re still unsure of the project’s developer, but details will inevitably emerge as filings for the site continue.
The project name on yesterday’s filing is simply “Episcopal Archives,” which appears to reflect the church’s original plans for the site: An archive for its historical materials, along with meeting and event space. But in 2015 the church stated its intent to partner with a developer to build a mixed-use tower on the site, which along with the original archive would include office and residential space, plus possible commercial tenants, adding up to more than 600,000 square feet of potential space.
“The block is made up of several components, intricately pieced together to maximize the usability of the site. These components are: an Archives building, two office buildings, underground parking, ground floor retail and the Residential tower. A Capitol View corridor over most of the site, and surrounding sites, allows only a small corner could extend upwards beyond 5 floors. The project is planned to have 67,000 s.f. archives, 210,000 s.f. office space, 42,000 s.f. retail and 317,000 s.f. of residential.”
In other words, real density could be headed to this currently underused part of town, including possibly the first residential development this close to Sixth Street in something like a decade.
As seen in the rendering below, much of the site is capped for development no higher than 75 feet due to the Waller Creek Plaza Capitol View Corridor. However, there’s space on the southwest corner of the site that’s unencumbered by the corridors, allowing for a section of the building to rise significantly higher.
Earlier this week, I spoke with the Rev. Canon Lang Lowrey III, an asset manager handling the site for the Episcopal Church. He told me that the church has been “very thoughtful and deliberate” about planning the future of Block 87 — and though he couldn’t comment further, said that it’s possible we could hear a new announcement about the project in a month or so.
Although we’re probably all happy to see the parking lot go, the site of the Block 87 development has lived some interesting past lives.
The earliest records of the block describe a livery stable and wagon yard existing there in 1906, owned by prominent Austin businessman Scott Wear. By 1921, the site also served as fairgrounds for the Travis County Livestock and Poultry Exposition.
From roughly the 1930s to the 1970s, the Austin Gospel Tabernacle church sat on the northeast corner of Seventh and Trinity, with several single-family homes sitting behind it on the north end of the block.
A view from 1958 and 2017 at Seventh and Trinity Streets, looking east. Photo courtesy of the Austin History Center.
With all this history in the rearview, it’s great to see a possible future for the block that includes a little more than parking. We certainly hope the Episcopal Church has found a developer with big plans for the site — it would be a shame if one of the city’s final undeveloped blocks didn’t go at least partially vertical.
Editor’s note: We originally published this article with a headline describing Block 87 as downtown’s last undeveloped privately owned block, as per the marketing materials on the project’s site. We’ve since learned that a few other locations exist that could be described in the same manner, including the former post office site at 510 Guadalupe Street, so we’ve altered the headline slightly to give ourselves an out. Our apologies for any confusion!