Though we saw plenty of construction progress on existing projects, no major downtown Austin tower plans have broken ground since the coronavirus kicked off in earnest last year. That cautious approach from local developers isn’t unique to Austin, but what might be unique is the speed of our rebound — as we and the rest of our colleagues have pointed out quite a few times in recent months, we’re still looking at a massive list of downtown towers in varying stages of realization, some of which were improbably announced during the pandemic.
We’re not expecting everything to make it past the finish line intact, but there are currently three tower projects we think are likely to break ground pretty soon — and if all goes well, one could be the first tower to start construction downtown in 2021, not a bad symbol for Austin’s continued economic resilience. Here’s our case for each:
Hanover Brazos Street – 201 East Third Street
This 45-floor, 308-unit apartment tower with a a nicer-than-usual bronze metal screen for its parking podium is planned by Houston-based multifamily developer the Hanover Company for the southeast corner of East Third and Brazos Streets. That’s currently home to an old — but not historic — warehouse structure that will need to be torn down before the new tower can commence.
Clearing the old building from the site doesn’t count as groundbreaking, but as you’ll see in a moment, the other two projects on this list also have buildings on their respective sites that will need to be torn down, meaning the start of demolition at one of these locations doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to win the race to break ground depending on how long that demolition takes.
In any case, permits for the project filed last month list a potential start date for work at this location as early as February 15, with additional permits from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) showing a date of March 1 — if you keep up with these towers and their ever-shifting timelines, you’ll know those dates are about as firm as quicksand, but it’s still significant progress compared to what we’re seeing for other projects around here. For what it’s worth, some of our sources connected with the development say it’s hoping to start by the end of March.
Symphony Square – 1117 Red River Street
With no major updates in over a year, we were getting worried about the status of multifamily developer Greystar’s plan for a 31-story mixed-use apartment and office tower surrounding the historic Symphony Square east of the Capitol in downtown Austin — but this project has come roaring back in recent months, with permit activity related to demolition of the former Austin Symphony Orchestra office building on site and safety review of a tower crane installation within the last month’s time.
Concurrent TDLR filings from last month list a start date of February 15 — remember what we said about quicksand, but it’s still a much more promising sign than anything we’ve seen from its peers. Oddly enough, despite demolition and development seemingly pending there has not been a single rendering released for this project by Greystar of the building’s appearance by R2L Architects, which is why we have to satisfy ourselves with the janky illustrations up there. Boo!
The East Tower – 84 East Avenue
Pearlstone Partners has done brisk business during the pandemic, topping out its Natiivo tower on the edge of the Rainey Street District late last year, but the local developer has a new tower in the works up the street at 84 East Avenue.
The 41-floor, 284-unit East Tower condo project was scheduled, as of late last year, to kick off in the second quarter of 2021, meaning as late as June, while TDLR filings from last month list a start date of April 1. Fences are already up around the site, and the demolition of the small restaurant currently at the address could wrap up a lot quicker than the demos at the Hanover and Greystar sites, at least theoretically.
If this all sounds murky and uncertain, well, it is. We have no idea which of these projects will break ground first, and it’s even possible that the project to start demolition first won’t technically be the first to break ground. But considering the context of the pandemic, that’s precisely why it’s exciting — though the chances always varied based on the size of the developer building them, we didn’t even know if these plans would survive. Now, we’re arbitrarily racing them. Isn’t downtown great?