It’s been a long and winding road, development-wise, for the residential tower planned at 48 East Avenue on the edge of downtown Austin’s rapidly-growing Rainey Street District. First announced as a 35-story apartment tower by local developer Robert Lee of Pearlstone Partners back in 2014, the 48 East building underwent some significant design changes in the years since, with its developers formally announcing the project’s transformation to a 33-story condo building nine months ago.
Though the tower hasn’t even broken ground as we trudge forward into the new year, we’ve found ourselves staring evidence of another extremely significant change to the project right in the face — some off-the-record tips, a few facts, and plenty of mystery.
Based on our research, we strongly believe the 48 East Avenue residential project will soon be announced as the third location of Niido, a “homesharing” development concept by Airbnb with existing communities in Orlando and Nashville.
Here’s the description of the Orlando Niido project, straight from Airbnb and its development partner, the Miami-based Newgard Development Group:
Airbnb, the world’s leading hospitality company, and Miami-based Newgard Development Group today announced that they are collaborating to support home sharing in new apartment buildings that will be optimized for home sharing and flexible living. The first project, a 324 unit building in Kissimmee, Florida, will be branded as “Niido Powered by Airbnb.” Residents will have the opportunity to share their units for up to 180 days per year and access a range of tools provided by Niido, including a new app that is integrated with Airbnb and supports checking in and assisting guests.
The project is considered the first in a series of developments by Newgard that will support home sharing in communities across the Southeastern United States. Under the partnership:
Airbnb and Niido will work together to design new units and buildings that include features like keyless entry and shared common spaces that make them optimal for home sharing. Niido will fully support the costs of construction and retain full ownership of the buildings.
Niido tenants will sign annual leases and will be permitted to homeshare individual rooms or their entire units through Airbnb for up to 180 nights per year. Tenants who choose to share their homes will be part of Airbnb’s Friendly Buildings Program, in which hosts and landlords share revenues generated from home sharing.
Niido tenants will have access to a new app fully integrated with Airbnb. The App will enable tenants to manage guest stays remotely by triggering services provided by a “MasterHost” at each property who will assist with items like guest check-in, cleaning and linen service.Airbnb Press Release, October 12, 2017
Though our sources for this information in the local development community — one of which includes a major developer in the Rainey Street area — are currently unwilling to go on the record about 48 East’s transition to an investor-owned, Airbnb-branded property, we’ve heard that Pearlstone Partners CEO Robert Lee actually discussed the shift at a recent real estate investment event held by Carmo Companies — unfortunately, the $2,000 ticket price prevented us from attending ourselves. We asked Lee directly via email whether his firm’s 48 East project would be a Niido-branded property, and received a very specific response that he could neither confirm nor deny that this was the case. Curiouser and curiouser!
Still, at the end of the day that’s just a load of gossip, so let’s move on to the stuff that makes us think it’s true. First, here’s a site plan correction request filed with the city back in November 2018, describing a revised land use for the building — from multifamily residential, to hotel. That tracks with the way Niido/Airbnb runs these kinds of projects, which they call apartments, but also describe as having “hotel-like” amenity packages for guests.
Back in April 2018, the domain name NiidoAustin.com was registered by NGD Homesharing, LLC, an entity associated with Newgard Development Group, the Miami-based real estate outfit founded by Niido CEO Harvey Hernandez. Newgard developed both existing Niido communities in Orlando and Nashville, and along with the Austin domain, NGD Homesharing LLC is listed as the registrant on domains like NiidoPortland.com, NiidoSeattle.com, NiidoDenver.com, and NiidoChicago.com. That certainly fits the “agressive growth strategy” Niido mentioned in the press last year, but the developer could just be registering domain names en masse to ward off enterprising squatters.
Still, there’s something different about Austin — Niido CEO Hernandez is listed as an officer in several other curious entities registered late last year that follow the same naming conventions as other Newgard LLCs, including NGD Austin, LLC and NGD Pearl, LLC. That second one is what we’re interested in — it was registered on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, with two officers: Niido’s Harvey Hernandez; and Pearlstone Partners’ Robert Lee.
Evidence of a joint venture between these two developers — along with the building’s change of use application, Lee’s oddly specific non-denial, and the information we’ve heard from the development community — is more than enough to convince us that this is probably what’s happening over at 48 East. Still, no one’s going to confirm it outright until an official announcement, so we’ve got to hedge our bets a little.
It’s possible that the change of use filing for a hotel at 48 East Avenue is just a coincidence, or that Pearlstone and Newgard are collaborating on a Niido-branded project elsewhere in the city — perhaps at Pearlstone’s existing West Campus apartment building 21 Pearl — but it all seems a little too convenient, doesn’t it?