308 Guadalupe Street is the address generally used for a future project at the downtown block bordered by West Third, San Antonio, West Fourth, and Guadalupe Streets. That block, located directly south of Republic Square’s snazzy new incarnation and currently only occupied by a parking lot, is one of Austin’s last remaining empty downtown blocks unencumbered by Capital View Corridors — meaning a potential tower development at this location could become the city’s next tallest, if someone had a mind to make it happen.
That was at least the possibility we all imagined when Travis County announced last year that after buying the property in 2010 as part of a plan to build a new courthouse on the site, it would instead negotiate a 99-year lease with firms Lincoln and Phoenix Property Companies, which are working together in a joint venture to construct a privately-financed mixed-use tower at the site, with office, residential, retail, and parking uses. This was the first sign of progress on a project at this location since voters rejected the 2015 bond that would have financed the county’s new courthouse.
For density propagandists such as myself, this deal represents a win-win — there was no way a courthouse building would maximize the potential of this unencumbered block in terms of its height and usage, and the $430 million sum the developers will pay the county over the course of the lease will likely help get a courthouse built elsewhere. Though the amount hasn’t been announced, as part of the project Lincoln-Phoenix will also make a considerable donation to the Austin Parks Foundation, backing the ongoing restoration of Republic Square Park across the street.
— Dan Keshet🚶 (@DanKeshet) October 7, 2017
It’s been radio silence from the developers in the nine months since then, but earlier this week, a permit filed with the city for a project at this address gave us a couple more details, along with a generous helping of mystery.
The project’s current name appears to be The Republic, a bit of a no-brainer considering which square it’s across from. Despite the residential and hotel components described in the announcement last year, this document only mentions proposed land uses of office and retail for the tower. Then again, a single document is hardly a smoking gun, and future city filings may indicate additional usages, but it’s a bit of a nail-biter — if the building’s a straight-up office tower with ground-floor retail, there’s not quite as good of a chance the tower will challenge any height records despite the prime location of its block. We’ve seen these changes before, after all. Still, it’s far too early to tell, so hold your horses.
Since the developers aren’t available for comment on any of this information, those two details — possible name, possible usage — are literally the only information we’ve got at the moment. How did I hit nearly 500 words from two sentences that could have easily been bullet points? Well, I appreciate your patience, since the more interesting part is putting this block into context.
A tower development at 308 Guadalupe Street has been kicked around for several years, with at least two concepts on display to the public on various parts of the internet. Last year, before the Lincoln-Phoenix announcement, we covered a design by architects STG for what appeared to be a mixed-use, roughly 59-story tower. STG eventually confirmed that this proposal wasn’t making it to reality.
Not too long after, our favorite Gensler architect and Instagram hypebeast George Blume posted renderings of his firm’s design for a project at the site — he’s since deleted the post, like the man of mystery he is, but I remember the caption being something about Gensler’s design not being chosen, and him being a little bummed out about it.
Anyway, the images can now be found on a site celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the firm’s Austin office, in a section of project concepts that never got off the ground — which seems to confirm this isn’t what we’re expecting to see at this block. As usual, the mystery continues.
But wait, there’s more!
As you might imagine, the history of this site goes beyond its current parking lot status — all the way back to the original 1853 plan for the City of Austin, as a matter of fact.
When this map was laid out, the designation for the block south of Republic Square wasn’t a number, like most blocks downtown. Instead, it received the label of Courthouse / Jail, with a two-story stone structure containing just that, constructed two years later in 1855.
That structure had a short life, with a new county courthouse completed in 1876, and the original building demolished by 1906. After that, the block housed several facilities including warehouses, car storage sheds and a vinegar factory, all of which were removed in 1952 to make room for the new headquarters of the Austin American-Statesman, which occupied a building facing the corner of Fourth and Guadalupe Streets designed by the architecture firm later known as Jessen Associates — the folks behind downtown’s recently-imploded Ashbel Smith Hall, among other buildings.
The Statesman occupied the building at 308 Guadalupe Street, which also included a large printing facility, from 1953 to 1981, when the paper moved to its current headquarters at 305 South Congress Avenue. By the 1990s, the block was cleared, and became a parking lot shortly after.
Speaking of parking lots, for context’s sake it’s nice to know the history of Republic Square Park across the street from this site. The 1853 city plan designates this block as a public square, which is exactly what it was — in 1839, when the settlement was still called Waterloo, Judge Edwin Waller held the first public auction for lots in what would soon become the City of Austin. The three trees on the southwestern corner of the block that provided the shade for this event would eventually become known as the Auction Oaks.
Despite the historical significance of this space, in 1950 the block was converted into a parking lot — seriously, they actually did it — with only the Auction Oaks corner preserved as green space. But as the United States Bicentennial approached in 1974, local conservationists successfully convinced the city to restore the park to its former glory in time for the 1976 celebration, and this is when the park officially received its current name of Republic Square.
The park fell into disrepair once again in later decades, which prompted its second restoration. Though work is still ongoing, it already looks much nicer than it did before. Here’s hoping that whatever this Republic tower ends up looking like, it pairs well with the park’s revitalization — we’ll probably find out the dollar amount of Lincoln-Phoenix’s donation to the parks department soon enough, and here’s hoping that more details about this building arrive alongside that number.