Back in May, we covered plans for a hotel bound for the surface parking lot at the southwest corner of West 17th and Lavaca Streets by HRI Development — a New Orleans real estate firm with an impressive portfolio of apartment, condo, and hotel buildings, but none in Austin until now. Clocking in at 0.2 acres total, it’s a fairly teeny piece of land, but the documents we had on the project back then listed a count of 204 rooms for the hotel — implying a fairly decent height for that part of town.
Now, thanks to the City of Austin’s Design Commission and the project’s application to the Downtown Density Bonus Program, which was approved at the commission’s meeting earlier this week, we’ve got our hands on the latest renderings from architect Gensler and additional info for the project. It now clocks in at 214 rooms and 18 floors, with 126,029 square feet of hotel space plus 1,900 square feet of restaurant space, along with a rooftop pool — oh yeah, and it comes with no on-site parking.
I’m pretty sure this is actually the second parking-free development in the immediate area since minimum parking requirements were removed for the region, the first being a pretty interesting adaptive reuse project that added several floors of office space to a building at 1705 Guadalupe Street. Those offices include the headquarters of landscape architecture firm TBG Partners, who are handling the design of the West 17th Street hotel’s pool decks and such. (Delivery app Favor also has office space in the building, which recently changed owners.)
Still, the lack of parking is a notable detail for a hotel project in this region. Yeah, they’re just gonna valet park the cars in a nearby lot or garage, but you’d still expect the no-parking thing at a more central downtown project like the parking-free Aloft / Element Hotel on Congress Avenue. Here, in a part of downtown we’ve often described as a bit of a dead zone, it might be a sign of better things to come for the area.
What do I mean by “better things,” you ask? Hey, that reminds me, let’s take a look at some massings of various tall buildings planned for this region of downtown, which Google Maps confidently calls “The North Side” but might also go by Judge’s Hill or Old Austin in some spots:
In the images above and below, we’ve got massings of the upcoming county courthouse project at West 17th and Guadalupe Streets, the SXSW headquarters at 1400 Lavaca Street, the aforementioned 18-floor hotel at West 17th and Lavaca Streets, and finally the 410 Uptown project at 410 West 18th Street. Like I always say with these massings, their shapes aren’t indicative of what the actual buildings will look like — I’m using property lines more than anything else to lay these out, after all — and their heights, unless already known, are just rough estimates based on floor counts. (Also, they aren’t all going to be green, if I really needed to tell you that.)
Still, it’s kind of a surprise to see the potential of these projects placed together, in an area that historically has felt like a slightly weird gap between downtown proper and the increasingly-tall-and-dense West Campus. Of course, like almost every visual element of a city, there’s an underlying zoning reason for that gap in the skyline — unlike the majority of what we consider “downtown,” much of this area is zoned DMU (downtown mixed-use) rather than CBD (central business district). Here’s an absurdly huge map that spells all this out:
CBD zoning is friendlier to tall development since it doesn’t set a specific maximum height, instead placing a limit (8:1) on the maximum floor-area-ratio of a building. DMU zoning limits both height (120 feet) and FAR (5:1), meaning buildings in these areas are just going to be lower overall — that’s zoning for you, baby! Still, as you can see in the map above, many areas zoned DMU still fall within the boundaries of the Downtown Density Bonus Program, which allows projects that meet the program’s various gatekeeper requirements to raise their FARs and thus rise higher than they normally could under that zoning.
The West 17th Street hotel as proposed will have a height of 220 feet, but interestingly enough, the developer’s application to the DDBP sought the maximum possible height/FAR for the site instead — which would allow for a 400 foot building, nearly twice as tall as what we might be getting. Maybe they’re keeping their options open? Still, even if this project doesn’t go for its full height, I’m not too worried — there are tons of parking lots on this side of town just waiting for their moment.