Ever heard of the downtown Austin “Panhandle?” We’ve used this charmingly western-tinged name from time to time for the weird little peninsula of the 78701 ZIP code between I-35 and Lady Bird Lake south of Cesar Chavez Street, most of which is occupied by the Rainey Street District. Look, it’s a little panhandle!
This minor geographic anomaly makes the panhandle the southernmost section of downtown, and the development foretold for the Rainey Street and East Avenue area will significantly extend Austin’s skyline all the way to the bottom:
with the announcement of a 51-story condo tower at 44 east avenue, it's time to update the ol' rainey street district near-future skyline renderinghttps://t.co/UTVTytKlU9 pic.twitter.com/SJv5H5A5vY
— James Rambin (@JamesRambin) October 3, 2018
Speaking of the bottom, as you can see from our (highly speculative) massings of the future Rainey Street District skyline in the tweet above, the last tower planned at the southern tip of the panhandle right before you fall into the lake is titled “One Austin.” We’re not sure that’s even the real name, since city filings and other info stretching back to 2013 have thrown around a lot of titles and at least one previous, shorter and way more boring design for what’s now described as a 30-story, 226-unit apartment project — “North Shore Lofts” (whoops, that one’s taken now), “Town Lake Lofts,” “East Avenue Apartments,” and finally “One Austin.”
Whatever the hell its name ends up being, the building is a venture by national development and property management outfit the Richman Group, supposedly the seventh-largest residential apartment owner in the country. The firm’s also allegedly planning a nine-acre multifamily development at 6125 East Ben White Boulevard, out in far East Austin near the “Ramp of Mystery.”
The tower is designed by local architects Rhode Partners, who knocked together a pretty great physical model of the 353-foot building and its surrounding area back in 2016 for the project’s density bonus application:
We’ve followed this tower with a lot of interest over the years, not only because its location means it will become the absolute southernmost tower in the downtown Austin skyline (pretty cool, right?), but also because of all the constraints its design must address due to that location, which is supremely weird. Some of these challenges include surrounding parkland that can’t be developed on, the single curb cut permitted for its garage entrance by TxDOT regulations due to the site’s placement along the I-35 frontage road, and part of its land falling within a 100-year floodplain — we’ve gone into detail on all this before, but it’s worth catching up on.
Situated atop a .36-acre scrap of land directly south of the Town Lake Holiday Inn, the site’s shockingly irritating address is technically 16 N IH-35 SVRD SB, but for our purposes you really just need to know it’s near the spot where East Avenue dips underneath the I-35 bridge:
Despite first appearing in 2013 and securing its density bonus by unanimous vote from the city’s Design Commission in late 2016, the site’s sat dormant since then — but between some recent city documents and our own digging, we’re able to pretty confidently say this development is shifting back into gear. A construction permit for the building was filed earlier this week — using the name “East Avenue Apartments,” for what it’s worth — describing a 566,891-square-foot project valued at $100 million.
In addition to this week’s new permit, the property’s owner (an LLC connected with the Richman Group) executed a restrictive covenant in February 2019 requiring development at the site to follow the city’s Great Streets design standards and attain a minimum two-star rating with Austin Energy’s Green Building Program.
These two considerations are part of the gatekeeper requirements for Austin’s Downtown Density Bonus Program, and filing the restrictive covenant is a step in that process — but considering the project gained the approval of the Design Commission years ago, the timing of this new document seems to only further imply things are finally moving again down here in the panhandle.
Though we’ve historically been unable to get a reply from the developers themselves regarding the timeline of construction or other details, sources from other firms associated with the project have confirmed to us this week that the tower is moving forward with essentially the same design as before — meaning the tower model and other images seen in this article are generally accurate regarding its appearance.
For what it’s worth, those same images of the model were recently added to Rhode Partners’ online portfolio, though they’ve actually been kicking around since the building’s density bonus application back in 2016. Consistency, in this case, is a good thing — towers that see significant design changes after their first renderings are shown off don’t typically get better, if you catch our drift.
Those same unnamed sources tell us the cause of the delay in construction was at least in part due to our friends at TxDOT, who apparently had some concerns to hash out regarding the project’s location along the I-35 frontage road. We’re reading between the lines here, but that might have something to do with the upcoming improvements — well, let’s call them “changes” — to everyone’s second least-favorite Austin highway. Is there anything I-35 can’t slow down?
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