You may have heard that Austin’s post-pandemic office market is kind of a work in progress. Although our recovery is going better than a lot of folks around the country, there’s still a lot of vacant office space downtown, and the future of new commercial developments coming online is unclear. So the news that Endeavor Real Estate Group is planning a five-story office building with ground-level retail space on a half-block west of downtown at the northwest corner of West Fifth and Walsh Streets might raise your eyebrows a bit. Who the heck builds new offices right now, right at this moment?
But with more than $60 million on the line, you’ll be relieved to learn that the folks at Endeavor are also thinking about this — imagine that, huh? Here’s Endeavor principal Josh Lickteig in the Austin Business Journal last month, speaking with unusual candor on the challenges of the current office market:
“We’re still in the permitting and design process, so we’ll kind of wait it out and see how that goes over the next 12 to 18 months and see if it’s worthwhile to pull the trigger on the building,” Lickteig said. “And if not, then we’ll pivot and do something different.”
Pivoting to something different could mean a number of things, Lickteig said, including shifting away from office and toward other uses such as residential, retail or hospitality.
Factors affecting the office market include fears of recession, layoffs at technology companies and the country continuing to figure out hybrid and remote work in a post-pandemic world, Lickteig said.
“I think demand has slowed to some degree,” he said. “We have a historic amount of supply that’s under construction, and we’re just going to have to be patient and wait this out and see where the market lands. I don’t know if that will take 12 months or 36 months — I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Hey, we don’t have a crystal ball either. But what we do have is a handful of exclusive renderings of the Fifth & Walsh project, which we certainly hope is completed since it’s a really impressive building, standing tall above the majority of office plans designed at this scale. That’s thanks to the combined efforts of architects Lake Flato working alongside local firms Studio8 and landscape designers Blacksmith Collaborative.
Since it was our original hope for the site back when the developers sought a rezoning in 2021, we’d be thrilled if the developers eventually decide to pivot to housing here — but if they’re sticking to offices in an iffy market, we think the smartest thing Endeavor could do is build this project to look precisely as it does in these renderings, without “value engineering” away any of its impressive use of materials like brick cladding and engineered timber seen here. A building that looks this warm and inviting should have no problem finding a design-minded creative office tenant, and that’s the bottom line.
Regardless of what Endeavor eventually decides to build here, it’ll soon be in good company, since there are a number of tracts in this area occupied by small commercial buildings or warehouses that should someday develop to a greater density in such a downtown-adjacent district. For instance, a block away from the Fifth & Walsh site you’ll find the future home of the downright gorgeous Sixth & Blanco project by Riverside Resources and Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, which you’ll note is no longer called “Clarksvillage” after folks complained it wasn’t technically inside the Clarksville neighborhood. So, what do we call this part of town? Someone should figure that out, since no matter what the market does we’re convinced this region’s future involves a lot more buildings like these — and hopefully fewer storage facilities.