Although our first good look at the Block 185 office tower was obviously the hottest item at last week’s meeting of the City of Austin’s Design Commission, another topic of interest showed up on the agenda — 44 East Avenue, a downtown Austin condo project planned atop a roughly .68-acre plot in the Rainey Street District by Vancouver real estate development outfit Intracorp, which we’ve followed with extreme interest since its fairly surprising announcement last year.
The 570-foot tower, designed by local architects Page with interiors by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture and landscape work by dwg., is described as having 49 stories. That’s notable since the original announcement was for a 51-story building, but it’s a pretty minor downgrade in height. For the district, 49 floors is still pretty tall, though it’s already no longer the tallest tower in the works around here — the ceiling of the Rainey area remains a moving target, it seems.
The latest documents filed with the commission describe 363,490 square feet of condo space between 322 total units, 3,527 square feet of retail split between two storefronts on the ground floor, and 13,318 square feet of resident amenity area, which includes a rooftop deck and pool. In keeping with the Density Bonus Program’s community benefit stipulations, the building will also include 14 affordable units.
At the commission’s meeting last week, a presentation on behalf of the tower’s developer by Leah Bojo of Austin land-use law firm Drenner Group gave us a deeper view of the project’s design, especially its interactions with the street at the corner of Cummings Street and East Avenue. This corner, at the far south end of the booming Rainey Street District, is of particular interest to us — East Avenue, with many dense developments already announced or speculated along its stretch one block east of Rainey Street itself, is one of the more promising pockets for growth in the downtown area, and we’ve got high hopes.
To that point, as part of the Great Streets design elements and other gatekeeper requirements the building must meet to build to the higher floor-area ratio allowed by the Density Bonus Program, the 44 East project’s presentation to the commission showed off a 3,000-square-foot public plaza space, described as facing the parkland just south of the project site across Cummings Street:
That plaza, along with the widened sidewalks and additional trees planned for the sidewalks along both streets at the building’s southeast corner, should significantly improve the pedestrian environment in this region if we get something close to the space seen here.
The Great Streets sidewalk improvements along East Avenue and Cummings Street, along with the public plaza space, will allow pedestrians to have a safe and beautified experience walking to and from the Butler Hike and Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake only a few hundred feet to the south.
— 44 East Downtown Density Bonus Program Application
The current Google Street View of the corner below shows you what we’re working with now — turn it around and compare the sidewalks at the corner to the ones on the south side of Cummings Street, and you’ll see there’s clearly room for improvement:
There are two retail storefronts on the ground floor of the building as shown off in this recent presentation — the spaces total 3,527 square feet, and both appear to open onto Cummings Street and face the corner plaza area.
It would make sense for the identity of these retail spaces to be restaurants or bars of some sort, considering the patio seating arrangements visible in the images of the plaza corner’s open space — along with 70 Rainey’s new crafty cocktail digs, this area is finding a lot of interesting ways to add new bars to its entertainment district even with the limited number of bungalows on Rainey Street proper. For what it’s worth, these documents state that “food service is expected in the retail space provided.”
Even if it’s not a bar, the inclusion of retail at this site has incredible potential for pumping up human activity in a currently relatively quiet corner of the district — if the mysterious tower planned at 48 East Avenue just down the street from here ever gets off the ground and has some sort of retail component as well, the combined effect of both buildings would essentially extend Rainey’s entertainment district several more blocks in this direction.
That’s what we’re talking about when we say there’s a “New East Avenue” in the works — right now, people mostly park there and walk to Rainey Street, but if these developments pull off what they seem to have in mind, East Avenue will gain its own “sense of place,” and it’s fun to watch this vision slowly take shape.
The application packet also includes images and a landscape plan for the resident amenity deck, located on the 10th floor atop the building’s parking podium:
Commissioners voted unanimously at last week’s meeting to recommend the project in compliance with the Density Bonus Program’s gatekeeper requirements, and the only hurdle left for its inclusion is the approval of the Planning and Zoning Department. At the moment, the 44 East Avenue development is scheduled to deliver by late 2022.
Even after following development in the Rainey Street District for years, we’re still surprised by the projects taking shape in this corner of downtown Austin. There’s really no other place quite like it — and the towers just keep coming.