Exactly six months ago, we rolled out what little we knew about Project Catalyst, a massive potential mixed-use project at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road, basically next door to Oracle’s new Lakeshore campus. Since then, it’s been nothing but radio silence from the usual suspects, including real estate firm JLL and investment outfit Nimes Capital, which owns the various tracts of land in the area assembled for the project.
Over these last six months, whenever I asked anyone with skin in the local real estate development game about this mysterious plan, they were happy to admit that they knew more than they could tell me on the record. The punch line, however, was always the same — keep watching Project Catalyst. Now, I think I understand why.
This week, we’ve uncovered a series of rezoning applications and other documents associated with the various Nimes-owned properties currently occupied by the Ballpark Apartments, which will eventually be demolished as the individual tracts are assembled into a piece of land roughly 97 acres in size. If you’re having trouble visualizing that, it’s about one-third the size of the entire Domain. Here’s a handy comparison between the two:
Though the name doesn’t appear in these documents, they clearly outline phase one of what was previously called Project Catalyst, a mixed-use development described as an “urban village” and “dense employment node” independent from the downtown area and bolstered by the presence of Oracle next door.
And that’s just the first phase — as implied by some of the promotional material seen in our previous story, additional phases definitely seem possible. Here’s a map of the current tracts seeking rezoning:
The properties listed above all fall within the East Riverside Corridor Zoning District. The developers, through law firm Armbrust & Brown, are seeking to rezone all four tracts to the Corridor Mixed-Use (CMU) designation of the corridor plan, in order to standardize what they can build on the assembled land.
More importantly, this would make the properties eligible for the corridor’s development bonus standards, which grant new projects the right to exceed the zone’s normal required floor-to-area ratios and height limits in exchange for including certain amenities like affordable housing units and publicly-accessible open space.
That’s a lot of words just to say that if the rezoning happens and the project receives the development bonus, this 97-acre tract will be able to build to a maximum height of 160 feet. That’s not ridiculously high or anything — about 10 floors, give or take — but it’s taller than anything else in the area, and would seriously increase the density on this side of town.
Speaking of density, there’s one more thing. In addition to these rezoning documents, we’ve found a Traffic Impact Analysis application filed with the city for the project. To perform this sort of analysis, you’ve got to know how many apartments, offices, stores, hotel rooms, and so on are planned, in order to estimate how much a given development will increase the number of cars on surrounding roads — which means we now know these numbers too.
If built as described in the document, Project Catalyst’s first phase will consist of:
- 4,709 apartment units
- 600 hotel rooms
- 3,987,300 square feet of office space
- 436,250 square feet of general retail space
- 60,000 square feet of medical/dental space
This, as you might have already noticed, is absolutely bonkers. What we’re describing here is a development larger than Plaza Saltillo, larger than whatever shows up at the Statesman site, even larger than the first phase of the Domain that delivered back in 2007. It’s possible that this first salvo simply reflects an optimistic best-case scenario for whatever version of Project Catalyst we end up with — but then again, if the developers are filing these numbers with the city for a traffic analysis, it would stand to reason that they reflect whatever’s actually being planned.
The expected net total of trips per day listed in the document, by the way, is about 70,000 — seven times the existing traffic generated by the Ballpark Apartments. I’m sure that’s going to be a major point of contention for those who might oppose this rezoning, so the project’s definitely not out of the woods yet. Still, the city’s got plans for improving the East Riverside Drive corridor — confusing, strange, possibly mismanaged plans, but it’s something.
The affordable housing provided as part of the development bonus requirements could certainly provide an opposing argument in favor of the project, though the developer might avoid this requirement by paying a fee-in-lieu for affordable housing built elsewhere. Additional benefits of the development as described in these documents include the reclamation of up to 9 acres of space previously classified as impervious cover, along with additional connectivity to the Country Club Creek Trail leading into the adjacent parkland.
Still, we’re working with extremely incomplete data here until we get our hands on some actual plans, since looking at the numbers can only get us so far. I guess that means, for now, Project Catalyst remains mysterious — but it’s a little less mysterious than it was six months ago.