Three long years ago, Houston-based developer Allen Harrison Company showed off a few renderings of a residential tower designed by local architects and tallness enthusiasts Rhode Partners for the shuttered site of longtime downtown Italian restaurant Carmelo’s at 504 East Fifth Street, a plan that attractively balanced new development with both the preservation needs of the historic building on the property and the effect of an overhead Capitol View Corridor on a potential tower’s geometry.
Though loved by plenty of locals, Carmelo’s only dated back to 1985, while the building itself rose in the 1870s and finds its historic merit as reportedly the state’s first railroad station, later serving as a boarding house known as the Depot Hotel.
The sale of Carmelo’s in 2017 to Allen Harrison for an anticipated tower redevelopment wasn’t exactly a surprise, as marketing documents for the property that existed long before the announcement of the restaurant’s closure showed off a rendering of what might be built here under the site’s unique constraints:
Less than a year after presenting its plans for the site to the city’s Historic Landmark Commission, Allen Harrison sold off the property to local real estate figure Nate Paul’s firm World Class Holdings, which at the time was often described with adjectives like “impressive” and “brash,” but by 2021 found its word cloud dominated by less superlative terms including “embattled” and “besieged.” Paul insisted a tower groundbreaking was eminent here through the thick and thin of his business interests, with architects Rhode Partners hired by World Class to conduct new studies in late 2018 for a tower design at the site that built upon their original work for Allen Harrison’s apartment tower plan back in 2017 — due to the view corridor passing over part of the tract, the form of nearly every tower imagined here is roughly the same:
Even at the time, World Class buying the property was considered by most of the Austin real estate galaxy to be a sign that nothing was getting built here until the address changed hands, and though we didn’t necessarily expect that to happen by force, the foreclosure sale of the Carmelo’s site to Austin-based real estate investment firm Stonelake Capital Partners late last year blew the vaporware off this tract and brought its future back into serious conversation. Now that we’re nearly a month out from the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by World Class over the acquisition of the property, Stonelake’s making its next move with a permit filed this week for a residential tower development atop the site, currently going by the name 5RR due to its location at the corner of Fifth and Red River Streets.
No further details are available for the project at the moment, but we’re expecting to see discussion of its preservation plans once again if they’ve changed substantially from what was presented back in 2018. Anyway, it’s the first real sign of development-related life at this property in years, so you’ll forgive us for a little excitement — particularly since this tower would represent one of the closest residential projects to the embattled (there’s that word again) section of East Sixth Street we’re hoping will see increased revitalization and preservation efforts after a series of violent incidents that we believe shine an even brighter light on the needs of this downtown district.
Before its current condition as a Bourbon Street-lite of identical shot bars owned mostly by the same people, East Sixth Street’s stretch of historic buildings once hosted an eclectic (and racially diverse) selection of local businesses including restaurants and retail shops alongside its bars and music venues, which meant despite its admittedly often-seedy atmosphere that people enjoyed visiting the area for more than having drinks and watching street fights. One of the best ways to renew that kind of investment in a downtown district is by making it possible for people to actually live there, provided they’re willing to accept that the live music ought to stick around — and though it’s hard to believe if you read too much whining on Nextdoor, some people actually consider being close to that kind of thing as a selling point.