With the official announcement earlier this week that Texan private equity firm Stonelake Capital Partners recently purchased the half-acre assembly at the southeast corner of West Fifth and Colorado Streets and has taken over the task of developing a tower at the site from Ryan Companies, we are forced to acknowledge the untimely passing of the office project formerly planned here known as Tower 5C.
Stonelake has elected to take the project in a different direction than the 41-floor design from Gensler Austin that first appeared under developer Ryan Companies’ tenure back in 2019 — a genuinely unique tower allegedly inspired by a sci-fi alien spacecraft and fashioned with the curved “squircles” of high-end consumer electronics, perhaps a little divisive (its detractors compared the look of the structure to an expensive air purifier), but a charmingly offbeat building nonetheless, running at glorious full tilt against the currents of Austin’s prevailing risk-averse downtown architecture. It was too weird to live and too rare to die, but it’s dead now anyway.
It’s not that there’s anything exactly wrong with Stonelake’s new proposal for the site, which comes to us from Ziegler Cooper Architects, the Houston studio behind the Quincy. If the building were announced anywhere else, we’d be thrilled to see it, but as a replacement for Tower 5C it’s difficult to avoid the unflattering comparison to the previous design. This new tower, named 5th & Colorado for the moment — and not to be confused with the other tower at the intersection called either Colorado Tower or, uh, 5th + Colorado — is now a mixed-use project with 318 residential units and 100,000 square feet of office space, its floor count increasing from 41 to 50 stories.
However, despite its higher floor count we still believe this version of the project will actually be shorter overall than the all-office 5C design, since office levels have higher ceilings than residential buildings. This new design appears to lack Tower 5C’s ground-floor retail space, something we were pretty excited about for such an active corner — though the developers may see pushback on this issue from Austin’s Design Commission while seeking a density bonus. The new structure also takes less effort to hide its parking podium, an extra touch that took 5C’s looks a long way.
Finally, the side-core layout of 5C, which pushed its elevator shafts, stairwells, and other mechanicals to the southern end of the tower instead of a central core like most tall buildings, allowed for more open floor plates — you can see how this worked in the site plan above, but the Stonelake tower doesn’t seem to keep this feature.
Ziegler Cooper is also responsible for the design of the nearby Austonian condo tower, and they’ve returned to a similar well for the Stonelake project — the tower has an “eyebrow” crown reminiscent of the Austonian along with other vaguely familiar exterior features, but it’s too chunky to capture that project’s elegance. To us the new building looks quite a lot like a hybrid of STG Design’s unused proposal for a tower at 308 Guadalupe Street (the site now hopefully hosting the Republic, someday), and the design from GDA Architects for a residential tower at 300 Colorado Street before plans changed and the development became an office building by a different architect.
The audacity of Tower 5C’s design makes it a hard act to follow for almost anyone, and with the market uncertainties of the pandemic we’re not surprised the folks that took the reins of this project decided to scale the office component down in favor of residential space — and, perhaps more crucially, scale the design down to something cheaper and safer. As advocates for economic growth and density downtown, we’re happy to set our superficial aesthetic disappointments aside and instead simply be glad a tower’s still planned here. We just wish we didn’t have to choose.