On Halloween earlier this week, we learned that Cox Media Group, owners of the Austin American-Statesman since 1976, have put the newspaper up for sale. It’s not a particularly spooky news item unless you’re a journalist concerned about the uncertain future of Austin’s paper of record, but it draws attention to another interesting possibility: the development of the Statesman’s current headquarters and printing facility, a site occupying nearly 19 acres (that’s roughly 10 city blocks!) of prime land just south of the river from downtown at 305 South Congress Avenue.
Cox Enterprises, the parent company of Cox Media, sold the property back in 2015 to an entity comprised of members of the Cox family, sparking rumors that development of the site was on the horizon. In January of this year, the owners announced their choice of local developer Endeavor Real Estate Group as a partner for future redevelopment. You may remember the folks at Endeavor from…well, just about everything in town, but their most prominent development might be the Domain, which continues to take over North Austin year after year with more growth coming.
The Statesman site alone adds up to 18.9 acres, but the office properties just south of the plot and north of East Riverside Drive could also be in the crosshairs. The buildings are currently occupied by the Texas Department of Transportation, and sit on about 11 additional acres just next door to the newspaper. They’re also owned by a single entity: Mae Crockett Partners, LTD. The possibilities of either a sale to combine both plots or a partnership to develop the roughly 30 total acres held between the two owners is hard to ignore.
(By the way, in a previous life I was an intern at Texas Highways Magazine, TxDOT’s travel publication, which then operated in one of the agency’s East Riverside Drive office buildings. Great gig, but I’m not going to shed many tears for the possible loss of those buildings — they were a dump.)
The Statesman site itself is the largest single component of the South Central Waterfront Initiative, a planning effort by the city to create and adopt a vision plan for the future of the area’s development. Speculative drawings and maps released by the city in its final version of the plan, which was adopted by the Austin City Council in 2016, show the Statesman site hosting a mixed-use planned unit development.
People have thrown around the potential of a redeveloped Statesman site for quite a while, but lately I’ve fielded more emails and questions from random folks about the future of the property than ever before. There might be a couple of reasons for that in the news cycle, but I dunno. Although I’m still riding for Project Catalyst being Austin’s best shot at the Amazon Legion of Doom, there’s a good chance the Statesman site was included in the multiple potential locations offered up in the city’s bid.
It may fall a little short on acreage, but you literally couldn’t find a larger site this close to downtown — even if HQ2 lands elsewhere, any anchor tenant of a large mixed-use project here will inherit a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shape the future look of downtown Austin as density spreads south of the river. And don’t forget the additional potential of the nearby Hooters PUD!
Refresh your memory on the possibilities by checking out the speculative drawing at the top of this article, then ask yourself — are we dreaming big enough? Or, to put it another way, are we dreaming tall enough? Spaces this good don’t come along every day, and we certainly wouldn’t want to kneecap ourselves with a bunch of five-story buildings. Go big or go home, right?