Committed readers of this blog might recall the 2019 demolition of the widely-disliked Extended Stay America hotel at 600 Guadalupe Street in downtown Austin was the first step toward the development of the Sixth and Guadalupe tower that’s currently the tallest building in the city — and at the risk of looking like we have some kind of beef with this completely innocuous budget hotel brand, we’re pleased to announce that same kind of big change could once again start with the demolition of an Extended Stay America in South Austin, setting a new benchmark for density and height south of the river in the area known as the South Central Waterfront.
The roughly three-acre tract occupied since the late 1990s by the Extended Stay America hotel chain at 507 South First Street is now up for an unusual rezoning case. Technically it’s a modification of a Planned Development Area (PDA) agreement dating back to the 1980s, which would allow a new building at this site, described in planning documents as a residential tower, to rise to a maximum height of 490 feet. That’s well past the 30-floor mark, and nearly reaches the 535-foot height maximum planned by Endeavor Real Estate Group for the redevelopment of the Statesman site — in other words, we’re looking at a potential new benchmark in density for the immediate area.
The history of the site is somewhat convoluted, but essentially the property is part of a Planned Development Area entitled in 1983 for the development of the building that would become the City of Austin’s Development Services Department headquarters at One Texas Center, which is located next door to the hotel and replaced a music venue called the Armadillo World Headquarters without any local controversy whatsoever. While the city owns that property and an adjacent surface parking lot, the hotel site is privately owned, purchased in 2021 by Austin Bouldin Creek LLC, an entity seemingly linked with Houston-based investment firm Broadview Capital.
It appears the site’s development is still governed by the special terms of this 1980s plan, meaning the hotel owners can seek an amendment to that plan that would more easily provide additional height and density for a redevelopment — this whole situation metaphorically captures the surreal experience of building anything under Austin’s 1980s-vintage land development code, but in this case it means we might get some pretty good height out of a currently unremarkable property.
The Property is an ideal location for a residential project of this scale: it is located on S. 1st Street, an ASMP Transit Priority Network Roadway and Core Transit Corridor; it is located within 1/8 mile of two other Core Transit Corridors; it is located within walking distance of two planned Project Connect lines (Gold and Orange); and it is located one-half mile from the Central Business District. Additionally, as part of the ongoing discussion regarding the South Central Waterfront, this area of Austin has been identified as a high priority location for increased height and density to support the city’s growth. Our proposal aligns with these goals and is consistent with other projects, both completed and in process, in the South Central Waterfront district.
— PDA Amendment Request, Armbrust & Brown PLLC
While the rezoning case has yet to appear on any city agenda, even just our dinky “green box” massings of what 490 feet represents for this site are enough to get us thinking it won’t be long until the South Central Waterfront has a skyline worthy of a mid-sized city all its own. If you’re looking for a familiar comparison, consider this — 490 feet is approximately 26 feet shorter than the Frost Bank Tower, and not so long ago people around here thought that was tall.