Last month, news emerged once again about multifamily residential development on the way at 1155 Barton Springs Road. If that address sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because this site is home to what might be the city’s most spectacularly long-lived example of development vaporware, a project that’s lived and died and been revived so many times over the last 17 years I’m not sure I’ll ever believe it really exists.
Last month’s article, published in the Austin American-Statesman, is only the latest modification to a series of plans that were originally conceived as far back as the year 2000. Another Statesman article from 2007 about the site’s future indicated that developers Elisabeth and Steffen Waltz would build 27 high-end condo units priced from $1 to $6 million, an asking price so wildly optimistic that it remains more than a little excessive even a decade later in a city where people pay eight dollars for coffee.
Construction is expected to begin by the end of the year, and the first residents could move in by the second quarter of 2009.
— Austin American-Statesman, April 28, 2007
Needless to say, some stuff happened in 2008 that wasn’t great for developers in need of millions of dollars in financing. After a fight with the city over the development’s height and zoning along with opposition from the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, the project filed for bankruptcy protection in 2010 without ever even demolishing the existing abandoned building on the site — more on that later. The land actually went up for sale in 2012, but found no luck yet again, it seems.
But the plucky little condo that could emerged from the ashes in 2013, with new site plans indicating a development with an increased unit count of 65, implying that perhaps the developers had adjusted their expectations just a little on affordability.
We made light of the project’s vaporware status a couple of times since then, but other than the developers finally clearing the site in 2014, there wasn’t much to report until early this year, when the project attempted to modify its plan with the city, but was denied with the stated reason being that the structural changes the developer requested were too significant to allow in a revision — rather, the project would need to resubmit a new site plan.
That implied significant changes were possible, a conclusion the latest Statesman coverage of the development confirms:
A site that has sat empty for three decades along Barton Springs Road is poised to be transformed with 74 upscale apartments that would have pricey rents and views of downtown Austin’s skyline. […] Greystar and Dominion Advisors told the American-Statesman that they will jointly develop the project, with plans to break ground in the first quarter of next year after obtaining a building permit from the city of Austin. […] Dominion Advisors had various plans for the site through the years, including a proposed high-end condominium project that was shelved during the economic downturn. […] The project will consist of two buildings — one with six levels and one with four stories — connected by a skybridge. The project is expected to take about 22 months to complete.
— Austin American-Statesman, October 2017
So, what once was 27 condos is now 74 apartments. I guess everyone got a little more pragmatic after the recession dashed their dreams of multimillion-dollar condos.
The development will feature units with an average size of 1,700 square feet and estimated rents of more than $5,000 a month, on average, although final numbers have not yet been determined.
— Austin American-Statesman, October 2017
Then again, maybe not.
Anyway, I’m writing about this because despite covering the project last month, for whatever reason the Statesman article above didn’t include the renderings from the development’s new architects, Houston-based firm Meeks + Partners. After what feels like a million years of plans, I still think they’re pretty neat:
You’ll notice the architects included the rail bridge over Barton Springs Road in the background, if you’re trying to get your bearings. The spot the building sits on is partially used at the moment as an overflow parking lot for Mexican joint El Alma across the street — no word on whether they’re gonna hammer out a deal with the developers for some parking space at the new project, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Before it was a parking lot, and before anyone tried to build condos or apartments there, the land at 1155 Barton Springs Road was occupied by Mackedrick’s Treehouse, a swinging restaurant and bar on stilts with impressive downtown views and nightly live jazz that originally opened in 1978. Back then, its address was 502 Dawson Road:
Although my parents tell me Mackedrick’s was the place to be in the late 1970s, it appears the bad mojo surrounding this site didn’t start with condo development — by 1983, the restaurant had been sold and renamed Lola’s, which quickly closed after water damage from a burst pipe.
The building reopened once again in 1985 as “The Treehouse,” but went bankrupt in 1986. The space was used as a music venue for a brief period, but fell off the map by the end of the 1980s and remained abandoned until its demolition in 2014.
It’s getting kind of sad to see this prime location go to waste, considering its skyline views and great location. After roughly 40 years of misfortune, both as a restaurant and residential project, I’m hoping this latest effort sticks.