The South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan (“SCW Plan”) is a community driven plan that was adopted by the Austin City Council in June 2016 which “sets a path to create a district wide network of connected green streets, parks, trails and public open spaces as well as achieving new affordable housing units.” The area that encapsulates the approximately 118-acre South Central Waterfront District is bound by South First Street to the west, Bouldin Creek and East Riverside Drive to the south, Blunn Creek to the east, and Lady Bird Lake to the north.
The SCW Plan establishes a framework for allowing density in exchange for on-site and districtwide community benefit contributions such as 15 acres of public open space and approximately 530 units of affordable housing. The SCW Plan states, “Every increment of investment by the city and its partners will contribute to making this a great new district by”:
Establishing a lively, attractive pedestrian environment
Expanding open space and creating great public space
Enhancing connections to and along the waterfront; and
Our current plan is to replace the existing 289,000 square foot Austin American Statesman building, which will be vacated in January 2022, with a mixed-use community consisting of over 8 acres of public waterfront park, trails, open space and plazas, and approximately 3.5 million square feet of office, residential, retail/food and beverage, and hotel space in six distinct buildings.
More specifically the project is currently planned to include:
Two buildings consisting of approximately 1.5 million square feet of office space
Four buildings accommodating 1,378 residential units and 275 hotel rooms
Roughly 150,000 square feet of food and beverage and retail space on the ground floor throughout the six buildings
A 6.53-acre waterfront park that will be dedicated to the City
A minimum of 1.59 acres of additional plaza and landscaped open space accessible to the public
Newly built roads, including the extension of Barton Springs Road through our site to East Riverside Drive
Pedestrian improvements throughout the entire project, all of which will be accessible to the public
Working with Capital Metro and the Austin Transit Partnership to accommodate the alignment of a proposed Project Connect Blue Line rail line and/or station
The SCW Plan recommends that the City of Austin create a public financing mechanism to pay for public infrastructure, park improvements, and affordable housing throughout the South Central Waterfront District. Austin’s City Council has recently approved a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (“TIRZ”) that encompasses the 118-acre South Central Waterfront District and enables the city to utilize Tax Increment Financing (“TIF”) to realize the community benefits contemplated in the SCW Plan.
TIF’s allow local governments to borrow money to fund public improvements that will help spur development in a designated zone. The increase in annual taxes to the City generated by redevelopment in this zone then pays back the City for its initial investment.
As it relates specifically to 305 South Congress, the SCW Plan calls for the TIF to pay for the cost of new roads, the waterfront park improvements (we will contribute the land for the park), plaza improvements within public park easements, and certain utility infrastructure improvements on the site. Our project will require the TIF to fund these costs to be financially viable.
Yes, the SCW Plan prescribes that 4% of the residential units at 305 South Congress should be affordable to people who earn 80% of the Median Family Income regarding for-rent units and 120% of the Median Family Income regarding for-sale product, which results in 40 on-site affordable housing units. 4% of the residential units in our current plan will also be affordable to those who earn 80% of the Median Family Income regarding for-rent product. As requested by City Staff, the applicable 4% of for-sale units will be subject to a $450,000 per unit fee-in-lieu or we will provide 4% of the total ownership units in the form of an equivalent number of deed restricted for-rent multifamily units within the South Central Waterfront District at 80% MFI. Because we are planning to build more total housing units on our site than was contemplated in the SCW Plan, we plan to provide 55 affordable housing units as opposed to the 40 affordable housing units contemplated by the SCW Plan.
We have determined that we need the approval to build as much as 3.5 million square feet of commercial space in order to achieve the objectives of building a community that is both financially viable and achieves the SCW Plan goals of creating a lively and attractive pedestrian environment, expanding open space and enhancing connections to and along the waterfront. Since we are planning to develop 3.5 million SF of vertical improvements on only 7 acres out of the 18.9 acre site, we are required to build taller and thinner rather than shorter and wider buildings to reach the density threshold necessary to make the project viable.
We have provided all of our estimated project costs and revenue streams associated with our plan for 305 South Congress to the City of Austin staff. The city has engaged an outside consultant, EcoNW, to fact check the accuracy of our numbers. The consultant concluded that the projections we provided to city officials are accurate, and that if the project is less dense than 3.5 million square feet, an additional contribution from the city, above what is already contemplated in the SCW Plan and associated TIRZ/TIF, would be required to enable the project to be financially viable.
FAR is a measure of density and represents the number of square feet of floor space in relation to the number of square feet of land on a particular site. For example, a FAR of 4 to 1 means there are 4 square feet of floor space for every 1 square foot of land on a site.
Our plan requires a FAR of 4.27 to 1. For comparison, FAR downtown is 8 to 1 by-right and could be increased to 25 to 1 if a developer provides certain community benefits desired by the City. Additionally, by way of comparison, in 2018 the Austin City Council approved a FAR of 6 to 1 for the River South office building one block west of our site (401 South 1st Street).
Yes, we will be dedicating a minimum of 6.53 acres of waterfront parkland to the city in phases upon receipt of certificate of occupancy for each phase. Phasing of the park is a life safety issue due to ongoing staging of materials and construction of the project, so the phasing of the park will align with the location of the adjacent project phasing.
We also will be putting a park easement over a minimum of 1.59 acres of open plaza space, both of which will make these areas accessible to the public. We are in on-going discussions with the city to determine how the park and open space will be maintained, programmed, and operated.
Our plan is to contribute the land for the Project Connect station and/or the rail line at no cost to Capital Metro. The cost of the station is to be paid by Project Connect/Austin Transit Partnership.
The SCW Plan was adopted by Austin City Council as an amendment to Imagine Austin in June 2016. Since Austin’s Land Development Code Rewrite failed to come to fruition, it does not allow property owners to “opt-in” to the zoning outlined in the SCW Plan. As such, a PUD zoning process is the only mechanism to obtain approvals for the project.
Protecting the bats is a priority for every phase of this project. We have spoken to and are working with multiple bat conservation groups including Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation, Bat Conservation International, and Austin Bat Refuge on best practices to ensure the safety of the bat population under Congress Avenue Bridge. A few safety measures that we will be committing to in our project are as follows:
The project will ensure that major structural components of bat habitat are maintained and/or improved including the preservation of the bald cypress fringe along the shoreline critical for bat navigation at night
Use dark sky compliant lighting within 75 feet of the shoreline as defined in our PUD zoning
Incorporate bat education through signage, art, and/or technology throughout the project
Incorporate language in the park operation and maintenance agreement about limiting live music and direct sound and light in the direction of the Congress Bridge during the mating season
At least 800 square feet of riparian vegetation will be planted adjacent to Congress Avenue Bridge between the trail and the lake to keep the area open for bats and to add plant diversity. The planting will include at least 300 plants (1 gallon) planted in clumps 18” on center to reduce weeds and will include physical barriers to help minimize trampling
The project will include at least 30 native pollinator and prairie species (both planted and seeded) in green stormwater infrastructure that covers roughly 0.75 acres of the site. This diverse vegetation will create a full ecological cycle that pollinators and other insects will thrive within and allow bats to then feed on these insects
The SCW Plan consists of 2.9 million square feet of above grade improvements including 2.1 million square feet of commercial space plus roughly 800,000 square feet of above grade parking garages. Our current plan entails 3.6 million square feet of above grade improvements, including 3.5 million square feet of commercial space plus 100,000 square feet of above grade parking, and approximately 4,000 underground parking spaces. This design will eliminate the oversized above grade parking garages that are in the SCW Plan and are prominent downtown, open view corridors between buildings and make the overall pedestrian experience more attractive
The building heights in the SCW Plan range from 90 feet to 400 feet and the building heights in our current plan range from 215 feet to 525 feet
The SCW Plan calls for 38% (0.72 acres) of the extension of Barton Springs Road from South Congress to Riverside Drive to be on our site, and our plan accommodates 100% (1.92 acres) of that road on our site
The SCW Plan envisions a 6.70 acre waterfront park with an additional 2.59 acres of hardscape and plaza area accessible to the public for a total area of 9.29 acres of park and plaza space. Our current plan includes a 6.53 acre dedicated park with a minimum of 1.59 acres of hardscape and plaza area accessible to the public for a total area of 8.12 acres of park and plaza space
The main cause for the difference in open space is that we are accommodating 1.92 acres of the Barton Springs Road Extension on our site versus 0.72 acres as delineated in the SCW Plan
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