Downtown Austin saw a few projects fall through or downscale their ambitions significantly during the pandemic’s freshman and sophomore years, but after months of nail-biting we’re thrilled to report that the 48-floor Republic office tower planned by real estate giants Lincoln Property Company bringing 800,000 square feet of office space and 19,500 square feet of retail to a parking lot at 401 West Fourth Street just south of Republic Square is showing some serious signs of life — as it turns out, this project might actually be closer to moving forward than we thought.
Several downtown insiders have told us in the last few months that the tower plan is steaming ahead, but we’re not just relying on gossip — a large number of development permits related to the project were filed this week, with updates to the tower’s site plan recently approved after city review. While the tower still has a few mysteries up its sleeve, this new level of activity and the info therein is the most solid evidence in years that the Republic plan survived the pandemic intact, without even losing its approximate height of 710 feet as announced back in 2018.
The main question still floating around the Republic we pondered back in January was an update to the tower’s site plan mentioning the addition of what’s described as a museum use alongside its existing office and retail space. Considering the history of this specific site as an ultimately scrapped new location for the Austin Museum of Art (now known as the Contemporary Austin) back in the 1990s, which would have sported a design from iconic architecture duo Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, we’re curious to see if this addition somehow honors that legacy.
Anyway, we’re unabashed fans of this tower’s design from the folks at Duda Paine, a national architecture firm best known around here for the iconic Frost Bank Tower, not to mention more recent projects like the divisive but irrefutably striking 405 Colorado. With local help from Dallas-based architects HKS and landscape design from our friends at TBG Partners, the Republic would still cut an imposing figure on the skyline despite all the other towers announced since it first appeared on the scene in 2018.
Along with its striking faceted design and what appears to be some ace exterior lighting features, there’s a lot of placemaking potential in the tower’s 20,000-square-foot outdoor plaza facing Republic Square — the two spaces could possibly even connect as a contiguous public environment for events worthy of closing the stretch of East Fourth Street running between them, with the street itself bound for some significant pedestrian improvements as an axis of Project Connect. That’s a lot of balls in the air, but a symbiotic relationship between the tower, the gem of downtown public space at Republic Square, and the upcoming transit possibilities in between could really coalesce into a fabulous urban environment if pulled off correctly.
That’s looking a little further into the future than we’d prefer for this tower to celebrate its groundbreaking, and with these latest permits on the books it doesn’t sound like we’ll have to wait that long. Honestly, we’re just glad the Republic project’s still breathing — there’s no accounting for taste, but even with its 16-odd floors of parking that we’re destined to complain about until the city gets its act together and tweaks some rules, we think this tower’s looks and public potential could go toe-to-toe with anything currently planned downtown.