Posted: Jan 25, 2009, 7:17 PM
Join Date: Jul 2002
[Austin] - University Park Development
There may already be a dedicated thread to Austin's East Avenue development, but I thought I'd start one anyway. Even with the national and regional economy as it is, the development appears to be moving forward at full speed.
See the article below for the latest updates and renderings; from Community Impact Newspaper - January 2009 Central Austin Edition
East Avenue development grows on Neighborhood
Written by Patrick Brendel Friday, 16 January 2009
Residents of the Hancock Neighborhood in Central Austin recognize the ramifications of transforming the 23-acre former campus of Concordia University into a $750 million urban center with buildings rising more than 100 feet above the ground. However, a conciliatory approach by developers has neighbors looking forward to the creation of new shopping, restaurant and office space within walking distance of their homes.
In early 2007, neighbors protested initial East Avenue development plans, calling for several buildings of nearly 300 feet in height on nine blocks just north of the University of Texas, said Bart Whatley, retiring president of the Hancock Neighborhood Association.
“It was a pretty bold request,” said Whatley, an architect.
Location, location, location
Though a national recession is holding back some Austin projects, the 2.5 million sq. ft. East Avenue development is progressing on schedule, lead developer Andy Sarwal said, crediting that to its proximity to UT, St. David’s Medical Center and state government — three entities expected to thrive despite the downturn.
“There couldn’t be a better place for it, frankly. The location screams for something like this,” Sarwal said.
To the north of East Avenue is the booming, sprawling Mueller Development. Sarwal described it as a locomotive and his development, by comparison, a scooter.
“But it’s a nice, expensive scooter,” he said. “We’re in between them and downtown. And that’s where we want to be.”
Striking a compromise
Neighbors argued that Planned Unit Development zoning was allowing developers to construct massive structures without regard for nearby residents. Sarwal does not like to talk about that period of strife, simply saying his East Avenue Investment Group follows the “3 Cs”: culture, community and conservation.
His group hired an attorney to represent the neighbors and brought on ROMA Design Group as a third-party mediator. As a result of that process, East Avenue IG scaled down the project and placed the largest buildings away from existing homes.
“I think they came up with something more responsible to the community and the surroundings,” Whatley said.
Green building practices helped developers win over neighbors. The old Concordia University buildings on site were dismantled, rather than demolished. Developers encouraged neighbors to retrieve old bricks to reuse in their homes. They also donated building materials to local schools and nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and reused materials in the new development.
Sarwal said 85 percent of the building materials that made up Concordia have been recycled. For example, pulverized concrete from the old structures will compose much of the new streets in the development.
“In the age we live in, it’s increasingly more important not to take for granted things like that. We aren’t trying to fill up the landfill,” Sarwal said.
The entire East Avenue development should be complete by summer 2010, he said. When finished, East Avenue will have 1,450 residential units, 210 hotel rooms, 600,000 sq. ft. of office space, 325,000 sq. ft. of retail space and two parks. Developers are aiming to garner LEED green certification not just for the buildings, but for the entire project. If they are successful, East Avenue will be one of the first ever to earn that designation site wide.
Lying beneath the concrete of the development and its namesake corridor will be East Avenue’s secret gem, and another environmentally friendly first: an underground water runoff detention and filtration system.
To meet environmental standards, most projects have big surface ponds. Instead, a subterranean river will flow beneath East Avenue into underground detention tanks and a large pond. The water will undergo treatment and cleaning before being returned to the environment.
In the coming months, passersby will notice the taller buildings rising first, followed by the smaller structures which can be built at a much more rapid pace. Construction has already begun on a 17-story, Hyatt-brand hotel, Andaz; an eight-story office building that will be the new home for Texas Monthly magazine; and a 64-foot, 315-unit AMLI apartment complex.
The first floor of every building except Andaz will have retail space leased by East Avenue IG. Developers are in talks to attract a higher-end, locally owned movie theater; several restaurants, including two that serve Tex-Mex and American bistro-type cuisine; a coffee house; and a specialty grocer, which will not be a Whole Foods. The development will also have medical offices for rent and townhouses for individuals to buy.
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