Austin: Designers Review Renderings for Statesman Development Plan
Featured Illustration (above): A rendering of a great lawn as part of the envisioned redevelopment of the Austin American-Statesman site. Image: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and CMG Landscape Architecture
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–The architecture firms envisioning redevelopment of the Austin American-Statesman’s waterfront property exchanged observations with industry counterparts on those plans in a meeting Aug. 26 at the newspaper site.
Meanwhile, the prospective developer has begun the steps toward rezoning the prime lakefront property.
According to a Statesman report, the Austin chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Austin) arranged the meeting at 305 S. Congress Ave. where nearly 100 area architects, designers and urban planners were afforded an opportunity to share their thoughts on preliminary redevelopment plans.
The project – tentatively called 305 South Congress – calls for demolition of the Statesman’s current home, a 330,000-square-foot building, in the near future to accommodate nearly 19 acres of mixed-use development. Six of those acres would feature six or seven new high-rises.
Nobody has yet pitched specific proposals for the new towers. But according to Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group, the renowned developer leading the redevelopment efforts here, the new buildings could range from 40 to 60 stories in height and contain a collective total of 3.5 million square feet of new office, residential, hotel, retail and restaurant space.
The remaining 12-plus acres would be dedicated to public spaces, with new recreational greenspaces, plazas, roads and sidewalks cropping up along the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake.
Endeavor and the current property owner, the Atlanta-based Cox family, envision a 7.5-acre waterfront park around the site with a new pedestrian bridge above the Colorado River.
They also envision a boardwalk, an amphitheater, an extended Barton Springs Road across the new development, underground parking, and an enhanced area where the public can better watch the nightly flight of bats from beneath the Congress Avenue bridge.
The proposed redevelopment of the Austin American-Statesman property, at least a couple of years down the road, would include more green/recreation spaces along the lakefront. Image: Google Streets
Cox Media Group agreed in 2018 to sell the Statesman to Gatehouse Media. Austin’s lone metropolitan daily newspaper has been based at the South Congress facility since 1980.
Nowadays, the Statesman runs its editorial operations and other functions in that building. The newspaper stopped in-house printing and packing operations in 2016, outsourcing those functions to Hearst Newspapers facilities in San Antonio and Austin.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill is responsible for basic design, orientation and placement of the envisioned structures and vital infrastructure, such as roads and sidewalks. CMG is planning designs for the open/green spaces and public gathering spots.
The recent Statesman article stated that many professionals who attended the Aug. 26 event were complimentary of the renderings for the planned redevelopment. Many said 305 South Congress would be a catalyst in the city’s South Central Waterfront planning effort.
This long-range effort would entail 118 total acres of new lakefront development in Austin’s urban core where developers would be asked to contribute some projects to benefit the public at large, including the potential for affordable housing.
This initiative also could involve the creation of a new tax increment financing district, local officials have said.
A rendering of a proposed pedestrian bridge over Lady Bird Lake. Image: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and CMG Landscape Architecture
Richard Suttle Jr., an Austin attorney representing the Cox family, filed a proposal with the city, asking to rezone the Statesman property from industrial to mixed use.
The rezoning request on file with the city references the South Central Waterfront vision plan, which “calls for a mix of uses on the property alone with extensive waterfront parks and open space.”
According to the Statesman report, legal representatives for 305 South Congress expect various city departments, boards and commissions to spend about one year reviewing preliminary redevelopment plans, in addition to the the rezoning request, which would have to go to the City Council for final approval.
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.