It’s been a few years — and then some — since we began following plans for a mixed-use project at the site of the Rebekah Baines Johnson Center, a senior housing development completed in 1972 on an 18-acre site southeast of downtown, and major updates on what’s planned have been scarce for years. Until now, that is.
This week, Momark Development and Southwest Strategies Group, the site’s owner/developer team, had their general contractor line up subcontractors for the project — meaning actual construction isn’t too far down the road. According to various documents outlining the RBJ Center’s redevelopment, the first phase of the project is referred to as Block C, with its site located on the southeastern end of the existing campus. Austin-based Davies Collaborative is this project’s architect, with Blu Fish Collaborative handling landscape architecture.
When all is said and done, further phases of development described in these documents could eventually bring 787 new residential units to the site, with affordable senior housing and market-rate units included, but for now, the Block C project appears to be the first stage of construction we can expect in the near future. A recent feature about developer Momark in the Austin Business Journal seems to confirm what we’ve found:
Momark is helping to rehabilitate the 16-story RBJ Center to add more affordable senior housing, plus mixed-income apartments, condominiums and 25,000 square feet of commercial space. The long-awaited project is in its final stages of site development after more than three years of addressing permitting hurdles surrounding heritage trees, impervious cover issues, water quality and legal access, said Terry Mitchell, principal with Momark. Construction on the RBJ Center is expected to start in June, Mitchell said.
Block C consists of two significant structures — a five-story, 181-unit, wood-framed apartment building, along with a detached 4.5-level, 109,540-square-foot parking garage containing 336 total parking spaces and fronting Comal Street on the structure’s eastern side.
The parking garage structure also includes 62 apartment units that are wrapped around the garage on the east and south at ground level, on three sides on floors two and three, and where the building faces the main apartment building on the fourth level.
The garage will also have work and conference rooms, bike storage, a dog wash room and the leasing office. Both buildings will be connected by a skybridge that will include three apartment units on the third level and a pedestrian walkway above.
The main apartment building height steps up, going from four stories by the skybridge to five stories on its west side.
The apartment mix will consist of 13.5 percent studios with one bath; 62.3 percent one bedroom/one bath; 22.1 percent two bedroom/two bath; and 2 percent of three bedroom/three bath. The average area per unit is 749 square feet, but the range goes from 468 square feet for studios to 1,505 square feet for three-bedroom units, according to the building matrix. The total area for the apartment building is 182,739 square feet.
Other features in the main apartment building include a central courtyard with pool, a roof club terrace, a ground floor club and a yoga studio next to the fitness center.
The apartment and parking garage buildings also include roughly 5,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, facing a new internal street that connects to Comal Street. The new street is identified on design documents as Dilly Drive. The lone entrance and exit for the garage is from Dilly Drive.
It’s from the perspective of the new Dilly Drive that the renderings seen above and below are oriented.
One unusual amenity includes landscaping improvements that cut through the city parkland at the corner of Comal Street and Nash Hernandez Sr. Road. There are plans to turn a section of that parkland nearest to the garage and apartments into a dog park.
Beyond the details seen in these plans, we don’t have much to work with, but it’s good to see development at this site actually moving forward after years of uncertainty. The RBJ Center is a one-of-a-kind piece of land in terms of its size and proximity to downtown, so here’s hoping whatever’s on the way does it justice.