A towering future for the full block at 701 Trinity Street bound by Neches, Trinity, Seventh and Eighth Streets could finally take shape, after years of speculation and modifications to a challenging design in a challenging location. What’s known as Block 87 in the original downtown Austin plan, now home only to a parking lot, was originally purchased by the Episcopal Church all the way back in 2009 — as in, 11 years ago — as the future site of a planned building to house the church’s archives.
That building wasn’t very tall circa 2012, with another aborted 2015 plan bringing the notion of more height to the site. By 2017 we had a plan with design from Gensler Austin backed by developers Cielo Property Group that would have brought us a 37-floor mixed-use tower containing the Episcopal Church archives, restaurant space, several floors of offices, a hotel, and condominiums.
Those last two would occupy the structure’s much smaller tower portion on its southwest corner, its triangular footprint designed to avoid the path of Capitol View Corridors passing over the vast majority of the property — in other words, there were some constraints you had to work around to even begin designing a tower suitable for this location. But about this time last year, the church ended up selling the property to its developers Cielo outright, seemingly no longer interested in placing its archives there and ready to cash out on a property that likely sold for a lot more than its reported taxable value of roughly $12.7 million.
Now that Cielo’s taken the reins in earnest, we’ve gotten our hands on the latest plans for what the developer has in store for the site — and though this building sports an all-new design from enormous international architecture firm Perkins & Will, what we see here is fairly similar to the previous tower’s orientation, owing to the design constraints of the view corridors over the tract. It’s also 31 stories tall now, not 37.
The most immediately obvious tweak to the project’s architecture visible in the fairly limited illustrations seen here is the curved edges of its triangular tower component, rather than the sharper corners we saw in illustrations of the previous design. It may not sound like much, but between the similarly curved corners of Tower 5C and the gorgeous sail-like curves of Pelli Clarke Pelli’s Block 185 tower underway across town, this design touch almost feels like an emerging local trend.
You’ll also notice there’s a seemingly open-air central courtyard labeled in the site plan illustration above, found smack in the center of the building’s podium. The previous Gensler Austin design for Block 87 included a “market” space of some kind inside the podium, and though it’s unclear if that idea will stick around, it’s obviously something the developers have thought about a lot over the years — this could be a new take on that, or something entirely different, but the courtyard feature is new.
Exterior elevations for the tower are light on detail, other than showing the height of the tower’s podium and the tower itself. Still, even with those balconies on the edges it’s pretty clear we’re looking at a curved tower, especially when you compare the illustrations to the shape of the tower’s footprint on the site plan. Pour one out for Block 87’s old “sharp wedge of cheese” look, but the curves are way more interesting.
The largest change in use outlined in these plans is the elimination of the project’s hotel component, with only residential, office, and retail/restaurant uses identified. We’re now working with 360 residential units across 17 floors of the building’s tower section, 381,400 square feet of office space spread between nine floors, and 15,700 square feet of ground-floor retail space.
There’s also 13,100 square feet of additional commercial space on the ground floor specifically designated with a restaurant use — which makes us wonder if that separate retail space implies the previous tower plan’s market component lived on in some capacity. There are 1,145 parking spaces included in its five levels of below-grade garage, plus 64 spaces for bikes, which take up way less room than cars.
Even if the tweaks to the building are minor, they’re certainly interesting — and we won’t know exactly how much the tower actually differs cosmetically from what was planned before until we see 3D renderings instead of these illustrations, something we can look forward to when the project seeks its density bonus from the City of Austin’s Design Commission. Though we don’t have a timeline for its construction at the moment, the development’s site plan is currently in review — meaning we could get a better view sometime this year. After more than a decade, we’d take almost anything.