Austin: Design Panel Favorably Reviews 53-Story High-Rise Proposed for Rainey Street
Featured Illustration (above): The proposed 90-92 Rainey Street mixed-use tower is to feature a zipper-style exterior among an increasing number of new and planned multi-story developments in the Rainey district. Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–The city’s Design Commission on Dec. 16 got a look at Austin developer Urbanspace’s plans for a 53-story mixed-use tower on Rainey Street–that’s 198 apartments atop a 424-guestroom hotel with 5,825 square feet of ground-floor commercial space.
Studio apartments at the titled 90-92 Rainey Street project would make up 22% of the 225,507-square-foot residential component, with 42% of the apartments containing one bedroom and the rest containing two bedrooms. The residential component also features 19 affordable studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments, totaling 9,175 square feet.
The hotel and residential sections stand atop a podium-style base that will include hotel meeting rooms, a fitness center, restaurant/bar, and a 5,570-square-foot swimming pool and terrace bar on the seventh level. The developers are discussing to what extent the seventh-floor outdoor area will be open to the public.
A 3,565-square-foot sky deck for residents will crown the tower. A multi-level parking garage containing 140 spaces will be built underground, and include space for bicycles.
A view of the 90-92 Rainey Street high-rise at the corner of Rainey (going right) and Davis Street (going left). Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
Local firm Nelsen Partners is the lead architect, and the company dwg. is the landscape architect. The plans do not presently contain an estimated construction timeline, delivery method or total cost.
Commission members agreed 90-92 Rainey Street substantially complies with criteria in the city’s Downtown Density Bonus Program, which would permit Urbanspace to make the tower one of the tallest in the immediate area.
At a minimum, 90-92 Rainey is supposed to meet three requirements in the bonus program: substantially comply with the city’s urban design guidelines, provide improvements meeting the Great Streets program standards, and commit to at least a two-star rating under Austin Energy’s Green Building program.
But commissioners also suggested that Urbanspace incorporate additional community benefits, aside from the affordable housing, before the development plan goes to the planning commission and then City Council.
Amanda Swor of the law firm The Drenner Group represents the project team in the city’s permitting and zoning processes.
Proposed residential developments in the Rainey Street District that a certain height are required to have a minimum percentage of affordable housing. The proposal for 90-92 Rainey meets the bare minimum with four units.
Carson Nelsen of Nelsen Partners said the lower-level amenities section of the building will include space for a small business, perhaps with food to go, at the corner of Rainey and Davis Street. This, he said, would help provide an atmosphere of openness and engagement with passers-by and other members of the public.
The Rainey Street side of 90-92 Rainey will feature, at the least, rebuilt Container Bar, a mural and a corner food-to-go space (far left). The terraces above Container Bar may host another bar or some other function open to the public. Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
Renderings presented at the commission meeting show canopies and balconies that extend that sense of engagement between the interior and exterior of the building at the street level.
“I think it’s a unique choice to give that much space, but I think it represents an economic vitality to the area in allowing a business owner who’s here already to continue to do business as they are as well as providing a space for cultural opportunities, musical performances and other ways,” he added.
The tower’s design incorporates the Container Bar – with its iconic former shipping containers – on Rainey Street level. An earlier designed put the Bungalow Bar above the Container Bar.
But the city’s planning and urban design working group, which studied the plan, disliked that concept, so now the design proposes keeping the Container Bar on the bottom level and two levels above that as terraces.
The developers have indicated a new bar could be introduced into one of those spaces above the Container Bar in the future.
The sidewalks around Rainey and the intersecting Davis Street would be outfitted with trees, bike racks, pavers, and small benches and tables close to the structure’s base. These elements help the project meet Great Streets standards.
Vehicle access to the tower will be on Davis Street only. While the neighborhood south of downtown is becoming increasingly commercialized with multi-story residential and mixed-use buildings and bars, the city envisions it being more friendly to alternative forms of transportation, such as bikes, pedestrians and rideshare.
The working group also suggested some kind of public space, like a small plaza, as part of the building’s footprint. Swor said the developers feel a stairwell among the lower level bar and terraces will provide residents, hotel guests and visitors to the building with a chance to engage Rainey Street.
A look at the seventh-story pool and terrace. Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
“That’s our attempt to create this public space in a vertical fashion when we don’t have the space to create a plaza,” Swor added.
Commission member Melissa Hanao-Robledo asked how would community members know about public accessibility of the seventh-floor pool or the terraces above Container Bar.
Daniel Woodroffe of dwg. said it’s too early in the development process to give detailed plans about wayfinding or signage.
Some commission and group members commended Urbanspace’s plan for a sub-grade parking garage, but expressed concern as to how all residents and hotel guests will be able to get to the building if they are not able to park on site.
Urbanspace CEO Kevin Burns said most of the planned apartments, for example, are going to be marketed to people working in the immediate area and are likely to use mass transit or other transportation modes.
“A lot of these (planned) residences are small and are being designed to be affordable even though they may be a little bit more expensive than the 80% (Area Median Family Income), they’re still reasonably price for residents who are working in the district and walk to work,” he added.
With the Convention Center and other event venues and hot spots being close by, Burns added that “a lion’s share of the people coming to stay in the hotel are going to use some form of rideshare to get to the hotel.”
90-92 Rainey Street is joining an increasing number of residential and mixed-use high-rises immediately south of the central business district. Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
In his memo to fellow commissioners and city staff, Design Commission Chair David Carroll wrote that Urbanspace has a ways to go toward making the project more interactive with the neighborhood.
“Since this project is seeking a (floor-to-area ratio) that is more than double the maximum allowed under the Downtown Density Bonus Program, the working group believes the applicant should provide more community benefits than the affordable housing and fees being proposed, including mobility and streetscape improvements as example,” Carroll wrote.
The working group suggested, for example, incorporating a mural and native plants along the Rainey Street base of the building.
The developer, Urbanspace, specializes in residential real estate, project sales and marketing, and interior design and furniture. The firm is responsible for numerous Austin developments, such as 6th and Brushy, Corazon, Milago, Spaces 2525, and Sabine on 5th.
First floor plan and one elevation of the proposed 90-92 Rainey Street tower. Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.