Plans firm up for costlier Concordia site
Developer will show renderings and hold neighborhood party on Saturday.
By Shonda Novak
Friday, June 08, 2007
The vision is now complete for East Avenue, a major mixed-use project that has become bigger and more costly than initial estimates.
Plans call for 1,450 condominiums and apartments, 600,000 square feet of office space, 325,000 square feet of retail and a soon-to-be-announced 250-room luxury five-star hotel, said Andy Sarwal, head of East Avenue Investment Group LP.
East Avenue is leading the team behind the redevelopment of the Concordia University campus at Interstate 35 and 32nd Street, just north of downtown.
The price tag has grown from a reported $500 million to $750 million.
Envisioned as a dining, shopping and entertainment hub, the project would be one of the tallest and densest outside downtown.
Rents for apartment units will start at $1,350 a month, and the condos will start at $600,000, Sarwal said.
He said 80 of the condos will be atop the hotel.
Although the total square footage remains unchanged at 2.75 million, the current combined office and retail space, 925,000 square feet, has increased from earlier estimates, which varied from 545,000 square feet to 700,000 square feet.
Construction is expected to begin late this year, sooner than earlier estimates of mid-2008.
The project is expected to take three to five years to complete.
Sarwal will show renderings and offer the public a chance to learn more at an event he is billing as a "neighborhood appreciation party" from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the site.
The party coincides with the kick-off of marketing efforts for the project, which aims to transform Concordia's 22-acre campus into a chic, pedestrian-oriented urban village.
Lehman Brothers funded the site-acquisition loan; the East Avenue Investment Group owns all of the equity in the project.
Concordia, a private Lutheran university, plans to relocate within two years to the former Schlumberger Ltd. business campus off RM 620 in far Northwest Austin.
Although Sarwal declines to identify the individual developers who make up East Avenue Investment Group, he said the team includes a diverse group of business people with more than 50 years of development experience, including in the hotel and apartment sectors.
The team is led by Sarwal, the former senior vice president of business development and real estate for San Marcos-based Grande Communications, who has a background in venture finance and real estate.
The initial vision for the project included a USA Swimming training center for Olympic hopefuls and other swimmers, but those plans never materialized.
East Avenue will feature "many forward-thinking land planning concepts, in addition to many of the latest 'green' technologies," Sarwal said.
They include green-building planning and architectural concepts to minimize land consumption, traffic, and energy and water use. The residences will be built within walking distance of the shops, stores and public transportation to prevent sprawl and minimize traffic, Sarwal said.
Walkways and public spaces, including a sun calendar plaza, are being designed to create a community-friendly environment. High-tech lighting will face downward to keep the night skies dark.
The Austin City Council approved new zoning for the project in late March, capping nearly a year of often tense talks between the developer and residents of the nearby Hancock and Eastwoods neighborhoods.
Residents were concerned with such issues as traffic and building heights of up to 20 stories. Negotiations ultimately yielded reduced heights, contributions for park improvements and requirements to provide some affordable housing units.
After the zoning passed, Bart Whatley, president of the Hancock Neighborhood Association, said the two sides were "light-years from where we began."
Sarwal said the party is his way of thanking the surrounding neighborhoods for their "constructive approach to tackling tough issues" and their ultimate support of the project.