Photo by John Anderson
The main piece of downtown real estate that once housed the Austin American StatesmanThe newsroom and print shop moved closer to redevelopment last week as Council at its April 7 meeting unanimously approved at first reading various land use changes requested by the land owner.
Owned by the Cox familywho retained ownership after selling the Statesman itself in 2015, the 18-acre lot faces Lady Bird Lake and anchors the 118-acre estate known as the South Central Waterfrontfor which the Council adopted a high-level master plan in 2016. Insiders call the project the Statesman POUD (i.e., the development of planned units, like Mueller); formally it is 305 South Congressthe address of the Statesman Building, known for years in this newspaper as the Batcave.
Developer Endeavor Real Estate Group works with architects from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and with Armbrust & Brown’s lawyer Richard Suttle to guide the PUD through the city’s land use work. Plans for PUD include approximately 1,378 residential units, a 275-bed hotel, 1.5 million square feet of office space and approximately 150,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, contained in six towers in three different zones allowing maximum heights of 250, 480 and 525 feet.
The plan also includes approximately 8 acres of open space – parks and publicly accessible plazas along the lake. (The proponents are committed to maintaining public access to the bat viewing area near the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.) The designers also plan to work with the city to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to and on the site and a future Project Connect Blue Line station at the southeast corner of the site.
While presenting the case to council, the Zoning Director Jerry Rusthoven described the site as “the most important location” he has worked on in his nearly three decades in the city’s ever-evolving planning department. “I and all of the other city staff who have been working on this case for 2 1/2 years, [we’ve] kept that in mind,” he told Council, before outlining what he sees as key elements of the development agreement still being negotiated between Endeavor and the city.
These include a commitment that 95% of 4,000 parking spaces built for the project will be underground (currently it is four stories of underground parking; the SCW plan called for six to eight stories of parking above ground level). Other conditions highlighted by Rusthoven include a minimum of one office building and three residential/hotel towers, with at least 40,000 square feet of pedestrian uses (such as retail, bars or restaurants) to ensure a “genuinely mixed-use project”.
“Our hearts are heavy because this is not the result we wanted tonight. But know that we will continue to tirelessly advocate for the needs of our community. – Board Member Vanessa Fuentes
Despite the City’s best negotiating efforts, the PUD as proposed includes very little on-site affordable housing – about 55 units, available for families of four earning 60% of Austin’s median income, or about $59,340 a year. Kathie Tovo, whose District 9 includes the Statesman PUD, is pushing to more than double that number (to 10% of all units), or include 5% of all units for sale at 80% of median income. Tovo also wants limited-income units to include a “variety of room mixes” to accommodate families with children.
Those details, as well as how to fund the open public space, will be worked out as Congress 305 South seeks approval at second and third readings in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, staff and the Board continue to work to flesh out the vision for the rest of the SCW.
Elsewhere on the agenda, the Council did not approve a resolution of the Council member Vanessa Fuentes, which would have slowed plans to expand jet fuel storage capacity in Austin Airport. The resolution, which would have required staff to identify three alternative locations to store 6 million gallons of jet fuel over the next 15-20 years (in addition to the staff’s preferred location opposite residences on McCall Lane) failed on a draw 5-5 (CM Anne Kitchen, Pio Renteria, Chito Vela, and Tovo voted with Fuentes on the resolution; CM Natasha Harper Madison did not attend the meeting and missed the vote). “Our hearts are heavy because this is not the result we wanted tonight,” Fuentes said after the vote. “But know that we will continue to tirelessly advocate for the needs of our community.”
This means AUS staff can proceed as planned with the construction of two 1.5 million gallon tanks at the preferred site – despite urgent pleas from people living on McCall Lane to find another location out of fear for their security. The expansion of the fuel depot and the rest of the airport will continue with the help of a new “Green team“proposed by the Mayor Steve Adler (who voted against Fuentes’ resolution). The team will include community volunteers, businesses and municipal staff focused on “the airport’s overall environmental stewardship” throughout its expansion.