Remember when there weren’t any major Austin condo or office towers west of Guadalupe Street in downtown? It’s kind of quaint to look back on now — I’m not old, but I’m old enough to remember the opposition to the 7Rio condo tower proposal at Seventh and Rio Grande Streets back around 2007, which eventually lost about half its height and became the SEVEN Apartments.
Back then, a 400-footer was uncharted, potentially frightening territory for some folks in the neighborhood, so I can only imagine how they must feel now with Austin’s two tallest tower designs planned only a few blocks over at 308 Guadalupe Street and 600 Guadalupe Street. (That’s the Republic and 6 X Guadalupe towers, respectively.) People just love to talk about Austin changing, and that’s thankfully not always bitching and moaning — but it really is striking what’s happened to the west end of downtown, thanks to the aforementioned projects and others like the Seaholm Residences, Spring (a truly underrated building if there ever was one), and the upcoming Block 185, which looks like a flat-out stunner from the limited drawings we’ve seen so far.
Speaking of those two tallest tower designs, the Republic and 6 X Guadalupe, have you noticed where they’re planned? From north to south, there’s the Extended Stay America motel that will soon become 6 X Guadalupe, the former downtown post office site, Republic Square Park, and finally the parking lot where the Republic will hopefully rise.
That’s four contiguous blocks running from north to south, and though we have no idea what will be built at the post office block — beyond knowing based on the lack of constraints on the site that it’ll probably be fairly tall — it seems silly not to recognize the incredible potential this assembly of blocks could represent for creating their own sort of connected downtown district, anchored by Republic Square’s plaza and enhanced by the ground-floor design of the three buildings likely headed for the other blocks.
Yeah, they’re all owned by different people, and there’s nothing forcing them to play nice together, but if you’re designing a building that respects public space at the human level with improvements like the city’s Great Streets program, you’ve going to see those connections emerge on their own in a lot of cases. I already suggested how great it would be to close the section of Fourth Street dividing the Republic tower and its north-facing outdoor plaza from Republic Square and turn the road into a pedestrian zone, and apparently the city shares my crackpot idea — I’ve heard that the possibility of doing this, at least for special events if not 24/7, came up at last week’s Design Commission meeting.
Emboldened by the legitimacy the city has provided for this idea not being completely absurd, I’ve decided to dream bigger. What can we do to connect the blocks divided by the stretches of Fifth and Sixth Streets between San Antonio and Guadalupe Streets? You can’t really get away with shutting those roads down, but could you lower them and build parks over them?
It’s doubtful that something like cut-and-cap would ever work in this part of downtown without requiring a truly nightmarish amount of underground utility relocation. I suppose you could build parks over the street, with some kind of “rolling hills” scenario, but the space is tight. Perhaps the best option would be two green pedestrian bridges over each street — check out this design from Vancouver, which I think is ridiculously cool:
Regardless, we can’t really know what to expect until we find out more about what’s planned for the post office site north of Republic Square. It’s been absolute crickets on that front for what feels like a million years, but if anyone out there reading this is designing a building for that block, please give it some public space running from north to south allowing for easy access to Republic Square.
Think of it as an amenity! Put the building on stilts and build a park under it, I don’t care. I just want to walk from 6 X Guadalupe to the Republic without ever experiencing any risk of death from a car, and I think there’s potentially a couple more people out there who share my dream.