The 2018 closure of Hill’s Cafe, a longtime South Austin staple for chicken fried steaks and live music with roots on South Congress Avenue dating back to 1947, served as yet another indicator that the city’s dense development was boldly venturing south of Highway 290, anchored by the nearby St. Elmo district’s ongoing transformation from industrial neighborhood to trendier industrial neighborhood. But the mixed-use project announced three years ago replacing the cafe atop its sprawling 14-acre property at 4700 South Congress Avenue ultimately fell through, which ended up being a pretty good deal for the ghost of Hill’s Cafe — an all-new plan for the site by local developers the Sutton Company now hopes to bring the restaurant back.
“It won’t be the same as the old building,” says Sutton co-owner Mac Pike. “But we’re doing our best to revive it.” This revival extends all the way to the project’s name — The Hills at South Congress, which will eventually bring a reported 400 multifamily residences, 100,000 square feet of office space, an 180-key hotel, and 40,000 square feet of retail to the large tract across two phases of construction.
The first phase of the Hills project will build out the west half of the property farthest from South Congress Avenue with the site’s major residential component, while the second phase brings the hotel, office, and retail sections to market. As seen in the first rendering above, a large chunk of that retail facing the street is occupied by space for a reborn Hill’s Cafe, with its classic neon sign preserved.
Developed by Sutton as a joint venture with Irving real estate outfit Koa Partners and New York-based investors Atalaya Capital, early last month the Hills project secured $13 million in acquisition and pre-development financing by Madison Realty Capital — a Manhattan real estate private equity firm also recently known for providing a $278.5 million construction loan for multiple developments by fellow New Yorkers Reger Holdings, including the imminent Linden condo tower in downtown Austin.
Rising to a height of five floors across multiple buildings, the full site’s design is the work of IBI Group, one of the largest architecture and engineering firms in the world. Though we don’t know the precise timeline for the Hills project’s groundbreaking or construction just yet, development-related city filings for the property are ongoing, with the latest dating back to just earlier this week. The now-vacant cafe building and other structures on the site will need to be cleared from the property before anything else moves forward — but unlike a lot of well-known local haunts shuttered over the last few years, this one’s hopefully coming back strong.