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High-Rises To Fill Downtown Austin's Few Remaining Empty Blocks

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Earlier this month, Travis County closed on a $430 million deal to lease out 308 Guadalupe, which is currently a parking lot in the heart of downtown.

It’s hard to come by vacant land in downtown Austin these days, and the few empty blocks that remain are quickly being scooped up by developers. One of the area’s latest projects is at 308 Guadalupe Street.

Earlier this month, Travis County closed on a $430 million deal to lease out the site in the heart of downtown. It’s currently a parking lot and takes up an entire city block. The county says it could potentially hold a 25-story tower that includes office space, hotel rooms, retail and apartments.

“It’s kind of the last remaining prime, full city block, and it’s got pretty much unrestricted zoning,” said Jerry Frey, senior vice president of CBRE, the real estate firm that helped coordinate the deal.

The county bought the land in 2010 for $22 million, a fraction of the profit it expects to make from this lease. After voters rejected funding for a new courthouse on the site, CBRE shopped the deal around. Peter Jansen, a regional manager with the firm, said it approached more than 4,000 development firms, ultimately signing a 99-year lease with Austin-based Lincoln Property Co. and Dallas-based Phoenix Property Co.

Jansen said the county will retain ownership of the land.

“A hundred years from now, maybe we’ll be here still, maybe not, but the fact is that that dirt and the improvements will revert back to the county,” he said.

It's the second downtown parking lot in as many months to be slated for new development. In May, the Episcopal Church announced plans to bring a new mixed-use high-rise to a parking lot at East Seventh Street and Trinity. Unlike that site, 308 Guadalupe is unencumbered by Austin’s Capitol View Corridors, which limit the height or shape a building can take to preserve views of the Capitol dome from certain areas. Developers will have to abide by construction worker protections built into the deal, though, requirements like paying a living wage, providing safety training and having a third-party monitor onsite during construction.

"While there is and will certainly continue to be pushback from the development community, because it’s difficult to remain compliant, it’s not an easy program, it’s an important one,” Jansen said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The growing redevelopment and investment in downtown Austin hasn’t happened by accident. In 2011, the city adopted its Downtown Plan, which calls for denser housing, walkable streets and the redevelopment of publicly owned land. The city estimates that as much as 80 percent of property taxes generated downtown go toward services and infrastructure in other parts of Austin.

Syeda Hasan is a senior editor at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @syedareports.
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