First announced in 2018 and breaking ground in January 2020 right before everything went sideways, the office development at 701 Rio Grande Street celebrates its official “topping out” today. We’re not sure whether its developers Diana Zuniga and Jason Berkowitz, pursuing the project under the name B&Z Development in partnership with global investment management firm Barings, are bothering with the “tree” aspect of the topping out tradition, but if they do they won’t have very far to haul it — the building is only five floors tall, with a total of 120,983 occupiable square feet.
This admittedly places the building outside of our traditional crosshairs of tower obsession, but its construction (courtesy of general contractors Hensel Phelps) taking place almost entirely during the pandemic, with all the era’s added uncertainties about the future of commercial real estate, makes every step of its progress something to note in our opinion — you wouldn’t necessarily say its developers had the best timing in the world, but in a post-pandemic office market it might actually be easier to find a tenant for this more boutique, lower-trafficked space. (For example, do we know what the Parsley / Pioneer buyout means for the 300 Colorado tower’s supposed anchor tenant? That’s a mighty nice new building y’all got there.)
701 Rio’s design from Barnes Gromatzky Kosarek Architects includes tenant amenities like a rooftop terrace, fitness center, showers, and bike storage — and all of these features, along with its average 27,000-square-foot contiguous floorplates, will be easy to market, as we’ve seen from other buildings with similar timing, in the adjusted language of post-pandemic social distancing and sanitation.
One advantage of the building’s low height is its fully-subterranean garage, managing a parking ratio of 2.57:1000 without dominating the streetscape with a multi-story podium. The economics of excavated parking change the taller you go, so even as density fanatics we’re always happy to see the positive ground-level impact of midrise projects taking the hit to bury the ugly parts. It’s certainly an upgrade from the site’s previous use as a single-story office park, as seen in the street view above from 2018.
Thanks to tweaked zoning and an abundance of historic architecture, the west end of downtown is less friendly to height than the rest of the area — developers Zuniga and Berkowitz previously considered an office tower at another site nearby, but state that the area’s lower-density zoning and neighborhood opposition led them to chase down a midrise here instead. It’s not necessarily the highest and best use, but the growth trend on this side of downtown seems headed in a positive direction just the same. The 701 Rio project, per its developers, is currently on track for delivery in July 2021.