Last week’s breaking news item regarding a potential tower project on the doorstep of the Austin Convention Center was an interesting read, to say the least. Imagined by local developers Manifold Real Estate — the group, if you recall, behind the mysterious tower concept floated for the former Frank & Angies site on West Avenue — the plan could bring roughly 730,000 square feet of office space to the convention district, judging by the few available city documents describing the proposal.
Manifold’s tower, going by these documents, would rise an estimated 600 feet, about 40 floors total, and replace the strip of restaurants including P.F. Chang’s, Fleming’s, and Cafe Blue on the half-block bound by San Jacinto Boulevard, Trinity Street, and East Second Street — that’s on Block 16 of downtown Austin’s original city plan, and thus all filings related to the project so far use that name instead of the charming but terminally goofy “P.F. Chang’s Tower.”
That site, if the list of mediocre tourist-friendly restaurants didn’t already tip you off, is located literally across the street from the Austin Convention Center, making the tower project an interesting play in light of the ongoing plans to expand that facility — some expansion configurations would include this site, and the tower as it’s designed here would get in the way. There’s technically nothing stopping its developers from building out this property, but some of our more cynical unnamed sources say the whole plan could just be an attempt to demonstrate the high development value of the land and potentially entice the city to acquire it via eminent domain.
We generally prefer towers to convention centers, so even if this thing never actually gets built we think it’s worth digging into the design. Though renderings aren’t available for the project at this early stage, we’ve got some illustrations from its local architects at Gensler, and you’ll notice some similarities with that firm’s other tower projects around town, including the Fairmont Austin and 500 West Second Street — but its most striking twin is definitely Gensler’s Domain 11 tower.
Though fairly simple in its design, what’s nice about this concept is its lack of a giant parking podium, which you’ll see in a lot of towers around here to their detriment. It’s sort of like Gensler took the tower section of the Fairmont, the hotel’s most attractive feature by far, and removed the “shoe” at the bottom — making for a sleeker, thinner, and more street-friendly building. Those internal balconies and twin amenity decks don’t hurt either, and it’s worth noting we haven’t seen an office project announced around here for several years without some sort of outdoor patio or rooftop deck for employees. People like to go outside, as it turns out.
That lack of a giant podium doesn’t mean the building contains no parking, of course — as progressive as we are (very) about reducing parking requirements in this city, you’re going to have a hard time building offices without any parking at all. This project provides a whopping 1,455 spaces, with three underground garage levels and 17 floors of parking above the retail space on the ground floor, with an amenity level including the outdoor deck seen in the illustrations above on the 19th floor. It’s offices after that, all the way up to the 40th floor.
Still, there’s good news for those of us feeling mildly exhausted by all this parking. Gensler designer George Blume, no stranger to the intrigue of tower development, confirmed to us today that the top five garage levels in the building are designed with future conversion to office space in mind, should our parking demands change in the future. Though lots of people talk about it, as far as we know this would be the first project in downtown Austin to build a parking structure with this explicit capability.
Blume’s also got a few words of caution for folks like us, who get all hyped up with hot takes about these projects before they’ve even broken ground. For one thing, the illustrations of the tower from city documents seen above are preliminary at best.
“People shouldn’t jump to conclusions, there’s a long road from [city filings] to construction,” he says. “Additionally, the public shouldn’t necessarily start damning a project simply because ‘it’s another box’ — I recommend patience.”
Thankfully nobody’s damning anything yet as far as we can tell, and every building is a kind of box if you really think about it. Still, we’ll be excited to get a better look at this tower beyond black and white line drawings — maybe, just maybe, it’ll be a color other than blue! We have many thoughts on that subject.