The 17-story University of Texas office tower known as Block 164 currently under construction on a portion of the 14-acre former Brackenridge hospital campus is now officially topped out, and we don’t even need anyone associated with the project to confirm that for us — as of this week, there’s a tree sitting up there. If you’re familiar with the whole ancient pagan tradition (no, seriously) of “topping out,” you’ll know this indicates the building has now reached its highest level.
This project, designed by the folks at Gensler Austin and overseen by general contractors Zapalac/Reed on behalf of UT-associated nonprofit developers the 2033 Higher Education Development Foundation, broke ground months before the start of the pandemic, and was never in any danger of not being completed — especially considering the institutional money funding the redevelopment of the Brackenridge site. Still, we’re glad to see another soon-to-arrive downtown tower — especially one overlooking a certain reimagined downtown park just across Red River Street — hitting this next milestone towards completion, since it’s really only step one.
What’s set to take place beyond this tower’s completion concerns the remaining acreage of the former hospital, where UT and Dell Medical School plan to establish an “Innovation District” containing multiple new buildings containing both additional academic space and room for private tenants in the medical and health technology fields. Owned by low-income healthcare providers Central Health, the Brackenridge tract recently received council approval for a planned unit development that could potentially bring a wide mix of uses to portions of the site from different developers, including housing and commercial, over a 10 to 15-year period.
If 14 acres wasn’t enough, directly south of the Brackenridge tract is the former 1.7-acre HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital site, where developer Aspen Heights Partners is planning a two-tower project containing residential and office uses along with a possible 100 affordable units, a park, and substantial retail space — after all, with Waterloo Park on the verge of reopening just across the (soon to be realigned) Red River Street, this district is suddenly kind of a catch.
It’s a lot to keep up with, and we know this for a fact since we’ve received a few inquiries from readers asking us what this tower’s deal is, which doesn’t often happen since you folks are a plugged-in bunch. Plenty of details remain up in the air regarding the future of this emerging, uh, Innovation District, which we’ll be happy to follow as each one hits the ground — but for now, isn’t that a nice tree?