(You are standing at the southern edge of Republic Square in downtown Austin, gazing south across West Fourth Street at a massive parking lot. In your heart, you know this parking lot could be so much more. Someone starts playing a sad French accordion.)
Ah, ze Republic. A tower like no other. She has many charms, non? Not ze least of which is her fashionable lateness, which has vexed Austin’s skyscraper enthusiasts — sorry, amateurs de gratte-ciel — since the project’s first appearance in 2018.
But after a few breadcrumbs of progress over the last couple of years, including some mysterious (and still unexplained) site plan updates last year and undated crane permits earlier this year, we finally have le pistolet fumant — a permit for the parking lot was filed earlier today by general contractors Harvey-Cleary on behalf of the project’s developers at Lincoln Property Company, requesting the closure of sidewalks all around the tower site, “to allow for the construction of The Republic project located at 401 W. 4th St.” The permit includes a start date of April 18, 2022.
Keep in mind that these dates can always change — ze Republic, she is très slippery! — but over the last few years we’ve seen these closures as some of the most reliable indicators of forward motion on downtown tower projects. Even if a groundbreaking date is unknown, prepping the site and ending its use as a parking lot is huge after four years of anxious waiting to see if the pandemic’s impact on the market would kill the project and its 800,000 square feet of office space outright.
Why do we like the Republic so much, anyway? This 46-floor, 710-foot office tower’s striking faceted exterior by Duda Paine — the same national architecture studio behind the Frost Bank Tower’s iconic look, with additional work from Dallas architects HKS and landscape firm TBG Partners — had us fairly excited from the jump. But after an unexpected height increase and the appearance of more detailed renderings, we started thinking further about the potential of this building to deeply enhance the street-level environment in the area, even for those of us who won’t work in the offices of whichever tech company ends up leasing the whole thing.
The tower’s proximity to Republic Square, combined with a deep setback on the northern side facing the square creating a sort of plaza for its its ground-floor retail space, has a ton of possibilities for event programming and general enjoyment of Republic Square’s open space across the street. The whole thing’s enhanced by Project Connect’s plans to turn Fourth Street into a pedestrian-oriented “green spine” above the new underground light rail line between Republic and Brush Squares — meaning depending on how well it’s pedestrianized, there’s a good chance the public space of the Republic tower will bleed into the actual Republic Square park a bit, creating a pretty great walkable outdoor environment with excellent transit access to the nearby underground rail station planned on Guadalupe.
That’s admittedly a lot of hypotheticals and it’s all kind of confusing to keep track of the moving parts, but we assure you if Lincoln finishes this tower and Capital Metro gets Project Connect’s various infrastructure transformations built out around it, this area will instantly become a contender for downtown’s best public space. For now, you’ll just have to trust us — as Proust once said, “L’esperance est un acte de foi.”
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