AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austinites can get more of a glimpse at the new, sail-shaped high-rise slated for the heart of downtown thanks to renderings shared at the city’s Design Commission meeting Monday. The building’s architects said in the meeting that the building will be 575 feet tall at its highest point (though the building plan lists its height at 598 feet — which would make it the third tallest building in Austin). 

“We view this building very much as being a gateway to downtown, as one would approach the central business district from the west along Cesar Chavez,” explained Bill Butler,  Principal with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, at a courtesy briefing before the city commission. 

“The site is located in a very key fulcrum position within Austin. It sits uniquely positioned with two waterfront edges, that of Shoal Creek as well as Lady Bird Lake,” Butler continued, noting that the form of this development “compliments” the existing skyline “but also stands out as being unique.”

The project is currently being referred to as Block 185. It is bordered on the south by Cesar Chavez Street, Nueces Street to the east, Second Street to the north, and Shoal Creek to the west. The site is that of the former Green Water Treatment Plant, located across Shoal Creek from Austin’s new Central Library. 

According to background documents on the project, this development is slated to be complete in early May 2022. 

Butler explained that the facade of the building to the south overlooking Town Lake has a series of terraces and balconies.

“I’d venture to say this is the first office building in Austin at which there is an outdoor terrace at every single level,” he said.  

Butler added that to account for Austin’s climate, “the western facade is one that has a self-shading device where both the vertical and horizontal mullions project both 18 inches to protect from the sweep of the western sun.”

“Through parametric modeling, we found very little sunlight to really come through the plan as such,” he added. 

The building is divided into five units with a total office area of 793,883 rentable square feet. 

It is designed to be 35 stories tall with ten levels of above-ground parking as well as six levels of below-ground parking. 

The ground floor level will have restaurant and retail space as well as a lobby. 

Crews broke ground on this project in February of 2019. 

The plan accommodates for 611 above-ground parking spaces and 644 below-ground parking spaces. 

“We very carefully screened the parking,” Butler told the commission. “We actually have one of the lowest of all parking ratios for any office building in downtown, believing that indeed mass transit will ultimately provide and augment that need in service “

The developers have pulled the building face back 8.6 feet at the street level on Second Street to increase the width of the sidewalk and extend the city’s Great Streets program. 

Cameron Campbell, the landscape architect on the project, explained to the commission that with this development, “one of the important things was providing new connectivity from Cesar Chavez, the bridge along to Second Street.”

Campbell explained that there will be a shaded promenade around the building with a continuous sloped pathway for bicycles and pedestrians to connect to Second Street. He added that the project aims to create a series of terraces both on Cesar Chavez, on Second Street and the mid-level area between to “celebrate the shade of the existing live oak there.”

While the developers have a site plan for excavation that has already been approved, the site plan for the building will have to be approved along with all the necessary building permits, explained Greg Kiloh, Redevelopment Project Manager for Austin’s Economic Development Department. 

He explained that the developers’ decision to give a courtesy briefing to the Design Commission on Monday wasn’t mandatory, but it is recommended as Block 185 is on formerly city-owned land. 

Kiloh said that Block 185 does not require a density bonus because Council upzoned the property before they had a density bonus program.

“There is a voluntary density bonus built into it,” Kiloh explained, noting that the Block 185 developers will pay a fee in lieu of a density bonus because “they are not providing the minimum number of affordable units.”

Outside of getting the site plan and building permits approved, Kiloh doesn’t see any other major hurdles to this project becoming a reality. 

The Austin-American Statesman and other publications have reported that Google is reported to be leasing the entire tower at Block 185. Kiloh acknowledged he’d heard that reported, but said, “as far as I know, it’s only a rumor, I’ve never seen any documentation of that and it’s never been provided to me.”

Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects is working with STG design and Trammel Crow Company on this project. KXAN reached out to Trammel Crow about this project, but a spokesperson replied that they are unable to comment at this time. 

Jim Schissler, Vice President of Civilitude, is a civil engineer on the Block 185 project. He explained that this project is significant as it is the last piece of the redevelopment of the Green Water Treatment Plant. Schissler explained that Trammel Crowe was the highest bidder for the development project back in 2008 and he has been working with them since 2012 to complete the development of the land the city sold off. He noted that the master development agreement was signed with the prior city council. 

Currently, crews on the site are putting in a six-story wall underground, Schissler explained. He noted it will take several months to build the wall, and once that’s finished crews will come back and excavate the site. That excavation will make room for the six levels of underground parking. 

“It’s more complicated [than other downtown projects] because it’s next to the lake,” Schissler said. 

“We are hitting our timelines on everything so far,” he said, explaining that this is likely one of the larger downtown projects happening on land the city has sold. 

“I think the Seaholm District will shift the center of town a bit to the west when this building shows up with three or four or five thousand employees,” Schissler said. 

The changing face of downtown Austin

The Downtown Austin Alliance explained that while they can’t weigh in on the Block 185 project specifically, they can confirm that they are hearing about more and more downtown developments aiming to go for the same balcony-friendly, pedestrian-and-cyclist friendly approach. 

She noted that in a city like Austin where people love to be outdoors, the idea of having terraces and balconies has become increasingly popular for developers. 

“We do see a demand for office space, continued demand for office space, and different types of office space,” explained Michele Van Hyfte, Vice President of Urban Design with the Downtown Austin Alliance. “This diversity and a mix of more types of office space is very good for downtown businesses and very good for downtown Austin’s economy and it’s prosperity.”

“I think we will see more developments that are interested in making sure that their building is helping to contribute to a more multi-modal mobility system downtown,” she said. By multi-modal, she means finding ways for people to get around without riding alone in a car. 

Van Hyfte explained it’s a priority for the DAA to find more ways to allow people to get around downtown, whether through overhauling Austin’s land use code or working engaging in the discussion around Austin’s Strategic Mobility Plan. 

But outside of public efforts, she noted there are things developers and businesses downtown can do to get more people walking, biking, or even scooting through the heart of the city. Van Hyfte said that businesses can look add things like lockers and showers which encourage bike commuting or even offer consultation about the best ways to commute through downtown. 

It seems there will be plenty of room for more developments like Bock 185. 

According to DAA’s statistics, downtown Austin has already developed around 60 million square feet and has the ability under current zoning laws to double that volume of development.