With the Texas Lottery Commission reportedly completing its move to fresh digs in the George H.W. Bush Building of the Capitol Complex project earlier this summer, it appears yet another downtown Austin block formerly occupied by a state agency is contemplating its future — a site plan filed with the city earlier this week indicates the easily-overlooked Grant Plaza office complex at 611 East Sixth Street could soon be redeveloped by its owners, New York-based private equity firm Empire Square Group.
Built by developers Trammell Crow in 1984 with a fairly unassuming masonry design by longtime local architects Danze & Davis, Grant Plaza occupies a full block in the Sixth Street entertainment district, with the complex’s larger main office structure set back behind two smaller commercial buildings positioned directly against the street, both of which originally contained ground-level retail spaces to provide a more active pedestrian environment — but these days, the only retail presence on the Grant Plaza block is the all-important storefront of Jim-Jim’s Water Ice, with the rest of the block-sized plaza constituting a sort of dead zone, especially now that you can’t sit and watch live Texas Lottery drawings through the studio window at the corner of Sixth and Red River Streets. (In case you’re wondering, public viewing of lottery drawings now takes place at the state’s new studio in the Capitol Complex.)
While the site plan filed this week contains little concrete information about the terms of the site’s redevelopment, the project — known for now simply as “The Grant Building” — is described as mixed-use in character, and we think its owners are likely sharp enough to recognize there’s a lot of potential for additional retail in this zone. A big reason for that potential is the ever-expanding influence of a little firm called Stream Realty Partners, which over the last few years has purchased a truly impressive number of parcels in the Sixth Street area with plans to revitalize the struggling entertainment district with new development and spaces for live music and the arts.
At the moment, Stream owns the entire block of Sixth Street properties between Red River and Sabine Streets north of the Grant Plaza property, with plans to raise infill behind the historic storefronts with heights of 120 feet or more — meaning anything built at the Grant site will also contribute to the district’s new center of gravity assuming Stream’s plans make it past the finish line.
Connor Greissing, vice president at Stream Realty Partners, said there’s huge redevelopment potential for Grant Plaza, a mid-rise office complex just two blocks north of the Austin Convention Center. “That building looks like the ones that rent for the highest lease rates in the city of Denver,” he said. Greissing said the redevelopment of Grant Plaza could be a “great catalyst” for more revitalization along Waller Creek in the Red River Cultural District.
A more practical reason for including substantial retail in this development is the fact that despite the impressive 1.75-acre size of the block, the whole site is covered by multiple Capitol View Corridors, meaning a project here won’t be able to rise very far past what’s there now — so focusing on a vibrant street-level environment rather than sheer height in a new building sounds like the move. Remember, Sixth Street’s entertainment district represents a fairly recession-proof industry!