Back in July, we saw our first rendering of Travis County’s new civil and family courts facility planned at 1700 Guadalupe Street atop a city block bound by Guadalupe, San Antonio, 17th, and 18th Streets. Now, thanks to the project’s application to Austin’s Downtown Density Bonus Program through the city’s Design Commission, we’ve got a better understanding than ever of what to expect at this site, which is being developed by Hunt Development Group and Chameleon Companies.
Currently occupied only by two parking lots and a small apartment and office structure at 408 West 17th Street, for many years the future courthouse site was home to beloved campus pub the Dog and Duck — so, in a sort of roundabout way, you could say this block’s been a contributing factor in divorces for quite some time, and now it’s just going pro. The bar’s generally kinda low around here for local government buildings, so even though this project’s not reinventing the wheel, it’s nice to see in these renderings what appears to be some thoughtful design for the facility courtesy of the folks at Gensler and TBG Partners:
Sharp-eyed readers will note that the rendering above has gained another tower since the last time we saw it. Here’s a handy-dandy little gif comparison of the new rendering and the same angle from back in July:
That second structure, seen on the left in the rendering below, is a 14-story office tower that will potentially be built at the site as part of a Phase II configuration:
For now, the 12-story courthouse building on the right side of the above rendering is what we can count on, with the space occupied by that possible office tower to be built out as a large public plaza space, according to the project’s density bonus application. There’s also apparently a street-level cafe space planned for the facility, though its location at the site is unclear at the moment.
Overall, according to the application, the completed project as configured with its two towers will comprise more than 725,000 square feet of space and 25 courtrooms, along with 390 parking spaces in a four-level underground parking garage, which is contained within a raised podium at the base of both structures. This design element is visible in all renderings of the project, though more prominent in the street-level views seen below:
As part of the density bonus program, the facility will receive a 4.5:1 increase in floor-area-ratio, exceeding the site’s typical DMU-zoned limit of 5:1 to reach a proposed total FAR of 9.5:1. To meet the program’s gatekeeper requirements, the project will improve the streetscape along all public frontages to Great Streets standards, and seek to comply with the rest of the city’s Urban Design Guidelines. The development also must commit to a minimum 2-star rating with Austin Energy’s Green Building Program.
The Design Commission’s Planning and Urban Design Working Group expressed some objections to the building’s design regarding how well the project’s streetscape and elevated parking structure enabled a good pedestrian experience along its frontages. The group also voiced concern about the building’s lack of visibly environmentally-friendly features, and the area along the west side of San Antonio Street potentially being included in a National Register Historic District, which the building apparently does not compliment.
Despite these initial criticisms, after discussion with the project’s development team at last night’s Design Commission meeting, the project was ruled in compliance with the city’s Urban Design Guidelines by a unanimous vote. The facility, its cost to the county recently estimated to the tune of $344 million, should open by 2023. Additional information about the courthouse, its features, and the estimated timeline of its construction can be found at the county’s website for the project, tccourts.com.