As the Austin skyline undergoes exponential growth, sometimes it feels like plans for new towers downtown show up every week. If you like that sort of thing, there’s never been a more exciting time to live in this city — and judging by the name at the top of this site, you can count us as fans of new development.
That being said, it’s hard to take every announcement seriously, since we’ve tracked projects downtown for long enough to see plenty of promising ideas fall through the cracks. The notion of vaporware, a term originally used in the software industry, describes a product announced to the public and promoted by a company but never actually released — or officially canceled, for that matter, existing in an uneasy state of limbo (kind of like vapor, I guess?).
Tower vaporware (skyscraporware?) is particularly interesting due to the public nature of such a building’s construction, along with the various stages of civic red tape that must be navigated before anyone breaks an inch of ground. Large buildings that actually get built require years of work before the start of visible construction, but developers often announce towers and release promotional renderings long before the end of this design process in order to generate interest.
That’s all well and good until a few years go by and the building never shows up. We’re excited about projects like the 600 Guadalupe tower and Block 87, but until someone turns some dirt it’s always a good idea to hedge your bets. We’ll show you why, with these five tower projects that have either failed to materialize or changed so much in the design process that they might as well be different buildings than what was originally announced.
Everybody hop on board the sadness train, because this graveyard of ideas will probably depress the hell out of you. Choo choo, baby!
1. 5th & Congress Tower(s)
Back in 2006, local developer Tom Stacy tickled our ears with plans for a massive, 800-foot mixed-use tower at 501 Congress Avenue, designed by superstar architecture firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, perhaps best known for the iconic Petronas Towers in Malaysia.
Fast forward to 2011, when the same developers started talking about building two towers at the site, along with a parking garage. Construction on the first phase was supposed to start in 2012, and, well, nope. It’s a shame, because that original rendering is wild. It actually looks a lot like a slightly sillier version of the Avenue, one of my favorite upcoming projects that I really, really hope isn’t vaporware.
2. 416 Congress Hotel
In 2011, the Austin City Council approved zoning for a 26-story, 130-room hotel designed by Dick Clark Architecture, to be built as a “sliver tower” atop the historic 1893 James H. Robertson building at 416 Congress Avenue. It’s one of the best methods of preserving original facades while still increasing density downtown, so we’re always hyped on concepts like these.
After years and years of limbo, the developers applied for a 3-year extension of their plans in 2015. That’s basically the last we’ve heard of the project.
3. Hotel Van Zandt
Sure, the Hotel Van Zandt exists, and it’s one of our favorite downtown buildings. But the version we got is so different from the developer’s original plans, its first incarnation deserves a spot on this list.
Back around 2007, plans described a 29-story tower that included hotel rooms and 55 condo units, “The Residences at the Hotel Van Zandt.” But the economic crisis of 2008 totally murked any possibility of financing for a huge number of building concepts downtown. The Van Zandt was actually one of the lucky ones, downsizing its plans to 16 stories and emerging as the stylish hotel we know today.
We miss the height and all, but what we got is pretty sweet — plus, the Shore Condos directly behind the building serve nearly the same purpose, with some of its units even sharing amenities with the hotel.
4. 21C Museum Hotel
In the glorious pre-crash days of 2007, a group of developers announced plans for a 44-story tower downtown at Third and Brazos Streets that would combine a hotel, condo units, and what was described as a “world-class contemporary art museum” with free admission. The 779,000 square foot building was ballparked at a fairly impressive $200 million, and these plans naturally cratered fast enough to make your head spin as soon as the credit market collapsed.
Later in post-crash 2008, developers abruptly announced the building would actually go up at Red River and Cesar Chavez Streets, seemingly on the site of the existing Fairmont Austin or the parking lot directly south of it across the street.
On top of the relocation, new plans described a complex of two buildings instead — a 16-story hotel and a 49-story condo tower, with the art museum somehow integrated into the hotel component.
But wait, there’s more! A third iteration of the project popped up in late 2009, and by 2010 developers had dropped the condo portion and seemingly the museum as well, with new plans for the complex including a 31-story, 350-unit apartment tower and a second 12-story building housing a hotel, spa, and restaurant.
None of this exists today, as you might imagine. Rest in power.
5. Ovation Tower
In 2009, the partnership between developers Novare Group and Andrews Urban that gave us the 360 Condo tower announced a second project known as Ovation, which would bring 37 stories of condos and street-level retail to the long-defunct downtown post office site.
But by 2010, the project was in trouble, signaling its first death knell with revised plans describing two towers on the site instead: a 28-story condo tower and 16-story office building. No renderings came out for the revision, and we haven’t heard anything since. The post office site remains vacant to this day — jeez, can we do something about this?