Unlike a lot of downtown Austin developments that kick around in a state of limbo for what feels like a million years before turning dirt, the Texas Facilities Commission isn’t screwing around. Commission documents from earlier this month indicate that construction on the underground parking garage component of the Capitol Complex Master Plan’s Texas Mall project will begin by June 2019, but we won’t have to wait that long for visible evidence that the plan is moving forward. For anyone relying on access to Congress Avenue between 16th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for your daily commute, be advised you’ll need to come up with a new route:
Construction Update: Traffic on 16th, 17th, and 18th between San Jacinto and Colorado will be managed to provide access for employees, deliveries, and visitors to the Capitol Complex. Through traffic will not be allowed.
— Texas Facilities Commission Site
For the hard hat set, the shutdown is going to be epic:
“[The] construction contract period is projected for a term of 1,060 calendar days.”
— Texas Facilities Commission Contractor Solicitation, July 6, 2018
That’s a three-year work schedule that takes the project into June 2022, and that period does not include future work on a fourth block of the Texas Mall. The section of Congress Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets doesn’t get addressed until Phase 2 of the Capitol Complex project.
Officially known as Package 6 of Phase 1, the Texas Mall is, for pedestrians, the most visually prominent part of the massive Texas Capitol Complex project, a makeover of eight city blocks that also includes the construction of two office towers totalling one million square feet. TOWERS has previously reported on the office buildings planned as part of the project, known as 1801 Congress Avenue and 1601 Congress Avenue. The 1801 Congress Avenue building will allegedly be named for President George H. W. Bush, and the parking lot currently located on the site was closed earlier this week to begin excavation, per the Facilities Commission.
The mall itself, with the underground parking garage, comes with a price tag of up to $65.35 million. Project architect Page Southerland Page Inc. completed concept designs in September 2017 and is currently hard at work on construction documents. The Facilities Commission expects to have a construction manager under contract by October — and during the eight months that follow, the construction manager will assist architects and engineers with planning on the final documents.
The Facilities Commission split Phase 1 of the Capitol Complex expansion into six projects, or packages, but coordinated integration between the projects is essential. Roughly one-third of the underground parking complex, for instance, will be constructed below the future office tower being built opposite the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
The Texas Mall, as envisioned, will be a landscaped, pedestrian-oriented civic event space that will serve as a cultural gateway to the Texas Capitol. It will reinvent that section of Congress Avenue, the Capitol’s north axis, by making a more attractive connection between the Capitol and Texas State History Museum / Blanton Art Museum.
The mall will have broad, open lawns with double rows of oak trees to frame the view of the Capitol. The lawns will be framed with paved walkways that crisscross and connect present and future buildings. There will also be an amphitheater in front of 1801 Congress Avenue, the future tower with the wavy facade:
“Nestled between the trees will be opportunities for small sitting areas, and potential play areas for children and families.”
— Page project narrative
While it is hoped that the mall will be an attraction for public gatherings, the lion’s share of infrastructure is going to be contained within one ginormous 4,400-vehicle parking garage. This subterranean man-made cavern will have five levels of parking. Because the site is uneven, the north end will reach two levels lower than the south end.
The majority of this space will be reserved for state employees, but there will be two levels of parking on the end for public parking. During non-office hours, the public parking area can be expanded. There will be entrance ramps to the underground structure for state employees at the east and west sides of the mall on 17th Street, and just south of 17th Street, a food truck area is to be located by the west side of the mall. A third access point to the garage will be located on Brazos Street, this one primarily for the public.
As parking structures go, this one is so massive it seems like the Facilities Commission is missing an opportunity to license the naming rights. Maybe Austinites would be interested in a contest to give it an appropriately Bunyanesque nickname? Of course, as required by any domain for human gophers, there will be vertical portals scattered throughout the parking cave for pedestrians intent on reaching the surface — the engineers actually labeled them “pop-ups,” one of which is visible on the right side of the rendering below: