Austin: Sees Improvements to Twin Tower Project in Rainey Street District
Featured Image (above): A conceptual of The Travis along the Colorado River and Waller Creek. This would involve rental apartments (left tower) and condos for sale, a hotel and retail/cafe space in the other tower. Image: GDA Architects/Studio Outside Landscape Architecture
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–A double high-rise, mixed-use project involving new apartments, affordable housing, a hotel and some retail off Rainey Street is one step closer to getting final approval from the city.
The Austin Design Commission met Sept. 23 and agreed that The Travis project at 80 Red River St. complies with the city’s urban design guidelines, recommending the development for eligibility for the downtown density bonus program.
The Dallas-based developer, Genesis Real Estate Group, envisions 1.23 million total square feet of vertical construction on a 2.29-acre lot that once hosted the Villas on Town Lake condominium complex, which was demolished last winter.
The new high-rise buildings would dwarf relatively new multi-story residential, office and hotel developments that have sprung up in the Rainey Street neighborhood the last few years, such as the Van Zandt Hotel and The Shore condo complex.
The Travis site also overlooks Waller Creek, the Colorado River, Willow Street Park, and the Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
A photo of condominiums in the Rainey Street district before they were demolished. The Travis mixed use high-rise will be located here. Image: Google Streets
When first announced earlier this year, Genesis promoted the development as single-tower residential with apartments for rent.
The second tower was added to accommodate condos for sale, a hotel and ground-level retail.
The Travis would unfold in two phases, with Phase 1 focusing on a 575-foot-tall, 662,636-square-foot rental-apartment tower.
Phase II would cover a 695-foot tall tower including 377,247 square feet of condo space, 194,523 square feet of hotel space, and 2,400 square feet of cafe/retail space.
The apartment high-rise would contain 24,518 square feet of affordable housing.
Genesis is experienced at developing low-, mid- and high-rise multifamily residential and mixed-use developments, including The Katy at Victory Park in Dallas.
Representatives for The Travis have touted the development as friendly to the public, something that will activate underused space and lure neighborhood residents, cyclists, pedestrians and others enjoying nearby recreational amenities.
The project aims to add bike storage and rental features, and increase tree coverage around the property.
But at their last meeting Aug. 26, some members of the Design Commission were worried the proposed cafe/bar or other public spaces around the project footprint would not adequately engage passersby or the community at-large.
Genesis and the architects took those concerns to heart and returned to the commission Sept. 23 with tweaks in their design.
The revised concept shows more and enhanced spots all around the buildings’ footprint to better engage passersby.
“Our goal…was to have interior spaces that would be compatible with the types of users that would walk through the area, and to have outdoor spaces that are special,” said Steve Drenner of the Drenner Group, the Austin law firm that is guiding the development team through the city’s review process.
One of the design upgrades is what the architects call the Waterloo Greenway access point, a spacious plaza along the front of the development as it faces Red River. It will have seating and wayfinding signage.
Upper and lower promenades guide people from The Travis down to Waller Creek and surrounding recreational amenities and vice versa.
The upper and lower levels would be separated by a retaining wall made of natural material found in the immediate area near the creek.
Rendering of the main access plaza, Waller Creek overlook, and promenade leading to the creek trail at The Travis. Image: GDA Architects/Studio Outside Landscape Architecture
The Waterloo Overlook, another enhanced design feature, provides people with views of the creek and river.
A staircase guides people down to the creek and trails, and there’d be an adjacent pick-up/drop-off point for visitors.
The same staircase would descend from the overlook to the planned cafe/retail space, which itself would have easy access and views of the creek and trails.
Along the creek, there’d be space for small indoor and outdoor galleries, including room for works by an artist-in-residence and rotating works by guest artists.
This overall space can also be flexible enough to serve as a public art event venue, project partners said.
The art space/venue area would lie next to a small food truck plaza.
Altogether, the public areas total about 11,000 square feet of programmed outdoor/publicly accessible spaces at ground and below ground levels of The Travis, Drenner said.
Most of the commission members expressed satisfaction with how the design additions help to improve the pedestrian experience around the two towers.
“I see a lot of improvements to the project, a lot of great moves that have been done,” Commissioner Bart Whatley said.
A rendering of a space at The Travis that fronts Waller Creek. This includes a dog-friendly outdoor art gallery, seating and a food truck stop. Image: GDA Architects/Studio Outside Landscape Architecture
A few commissioners suggested two more additions: incorporating a Capital Metro mass transit stop at the development, and a small bathroom facility in the public spaces.
Drenner also said one small dog play area will be developed within the rental apartment tower. He added the outdoor public art space, in the other tower, could be dog-friendly.
But a few commission members asked that the latter space be designed more like a mini-play area for dogs, fully available to the public. Drenner and his colleagues said they would consider that.
“We continue to hear good ideas from this group and we’ll take them seriously,” Drenner added of the commission.
No construction timeline or cost is available for The Travis project. In any case, these new twin towers would join a Rainey Street neighborhood that has become a hotbed of new commercial and residential development.
Prominent local bar owner Bob Woody recently bought the last remaining original single-family home on Rainey Street, although he has yet to say what his plans are for the property.
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.