First look: New renderings of Rainey condo tower 44 East

The Rainey Street Historic District’s next tower is a step closer to becoming a reality.

The 44 East project would bring 322 condos and ground-level retail space to the corner of Cummings Street and East Avenue.

The Austin Design Commission voted March 25 to recommend the project be included in the city’s Downtown Density Bonus Program. The density bonus request now heads to the city’s Planning and Zoning Department for approval.

City documents outlining the project’s current plans indicate the 570-foot tower would contain 439,665 square feet, including 363,490 square feet of multifamily space and 3,527 square feet of ground-floor retail.

The tract, which is zoned Central Business District, sits on a 29,311-square-foot lot.

The Drenner Group’s Leah Bojo said the project is expected to be about 49 stories tall. In a recent interview, executives with developer Intracorp Projects Ltd. said they were aiming for 50 stories and want to complete construction by fall 2022. Go here for more from the Canada-based company and why it is so bullish on Austin.

The development team wants to almost double the floor-to-area ratio — from 8:1 to 15:1 — under the Downtown Density Bonus Program, which allows developers to pay fees or provide community benefits like affordable housing in order to build denser than otherwise allowed at a site.

The developers have proposed providing 14 affordable apartments meant for lower-income residents, as well as paying about $1 million in fee-in-lieu payments.

Page Southerland Page Inc. Senior Principal Larry Speck said the tower would be a good fit for the surrounding skyline as drivers approach the area on I-35.

“This will be a building that kind of greets you and introduces downtown,” Speck said at the March 25 Design Commission meeting. “This is very much a site-driven building. It’s on a spectacular site and it just tries to live up to that.”

Some residents spoke against the proposed tower’s density bonus, arguing that their concerns with traffic need to be viewed in the context of other high-rise developments going vertical in the booming Rainey Street district.

“Instead of just looking at the tree every time a developer comes to this group, we really need to look at the forest and the impact that that tree has on the forest,” said Michael Abelson, who lives in the neighborhood.

Before their unanimous vote, commissioners largely praised aspects of the project including streetscape improvements, public amenity space through the tower’s shaded plaza and space for multiple retail tenants.

“I really appreciate that,” Commissioner Martha Gonzalez said. “We always look for that because most of the time it’s one large restaurant that tends to be a little bit [of] a higher price point.”