How new towers are reshaping downtown Austin living

By   –  Staff Writer, Austin Business Journal

Two more residential towers could start construction in downtown Austin in the first half of the year, reflecting how the immense demand for housing across the entire metro is manifesting in the city’s urban core.

Public records indicate that Symphony Square, a 30-story mixed-used high-rise at 1104 Sabine St. near Waterloo Park, has a proposed construction start date of Feb. 15. Records also show a proposed start date of April 1 for The East Tower, a 41-story residential tower at 84 East Ave. off Rainey Street.

However, Pearlstone Partners, the developer of The East Tower, said dirt would likely move at some point during the summer. The project is in the final stages of entitlements for permitting.

Symphony Square, named for the historic site that the new tower would rise around, could be completed by January 2024, according to paperwork filed Jan. 13 with the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration. Plans call for 385 apartments plus 129,484 square feet of office space and 54,327 square feet for co-living, as well as 9,930 square feet for restaurants and retail. The developer, Greystone Real Estate Partners, did not immediately respond to a request for project updates or details.

The East Tower, according to paperwork filed Jan. 18 with TDLR, could be completed in September 2023. It would have 284 units — including 11 offered as on-site affordable housing — and occupy 347,530 square feet. One- and two-bedroom condos would be available for purchase at prices from $499,000 to $999,000. The average unit would be about 1,000 square feet in size; individual units would range between 700 and 1,800 square feet. STG Design is the architect, Wuest Group is doing civil engineering, McCray & Co. is handling interior design and AECOM Hunt is a pre-construction consultant.

General contractors have not been named for either project. Combined, they would add 668 residential units in downtown Austin, an area that historically hasn’t been rife with housing options. In 2019, the area had an estimated 11,828 housing units, according to the latest State of Downtown report from Downtown Austin Alliance, up from 5,670 at the start of the decade.

Yet the housing shortage is already dire across the entire metro. Inventory hit a record low of 0.6 months in December, according to Austin Board of Realtors data.

After three major condo towers opened in 2019 — The Independent, 70 Rainey and Austin Proper — no major high-rises of any kind were completed in 2020. So the start of construction on two new towers, as well as continued work on a handful of big buildings closer to completion, will be closely watched.

Construction pipeline

A couple of residential high-rises started construction in 2020, with hard hats making progress at 44 East and Natiivo.

The city of Austin issued 20,253 construction permits for new residential units in 2020. Less than one month into 2021, 501 construction permits for new residential units have been issued by the city. Most of the new construction permits issued last year were for projects with “five or more or more family buildings,” followed by single-family houses, mixed-use, secondary apartment and two-family buildings.

There are 2,500 apartment units being built right now in downtown Austin, according to CoStar Group, about 50% of the city’s current inventory. Only one submarket, in the Washington, D.C. area, has more apartment units — about 4,000 — under construction.

In addition, 564 condo units are under construction in Austin, with another 991 in the pipeline, according to data shared by Urbanspace.

Rainey’s continued rise

Less than a quarter of a mile away from The East Tower is the proposed River Street Residences, expected to rise 48 stories at the corner of Rainey and River streets.

Two buildings already under construction in the Rainey Street Historic District are Natiivo, a 33-story condo-hotel project developed by Pearlstone at 48 East St., and the neighboring 44 East, a 49-story condominium high-rise being developed by Intracorp.

UrbanSpace Real Estate + Interiors, meanwhile, is also planning to build a residential high-rise — 9092 Rainey — in the neighborhood, though the project’s hotel component was ditched last year.

Over the past decade-plus, Rainey Street evolved from a quaint neighborhood in the shadows of downtown into an area bustling with bars and restaurants and now into a hot spot for high-rise residential development.

Intracorp President Brad Stein said the Rainey Street area is one of the most unique neighborhoods in Austin. The area’s proximity to the lake is a major attraction, he said, and Rainey also mixes the old with the new, as gleaming high-rises tower over old bungalows, many of which have been converted into bars and restaurants.

Kevin Burns, broker and CEO of Urbanspace, was one of the first real estate professionals to see the potential of the Rainey Street Historic District. The neighborhood received Central Business District zoning in 2005, the same year the Milago condo building opened with Burns’ help.

Burns said this rezoning worked out well since it allowed for more residences to be built in the area. He said Rainey now has “a more balanced mix of residential, hotel and hospitality uses.”

“You started to see more apartments come to fruition,” Burns said. “As these towers emerge, they are not necessarily taking away what’s on the ground level, they are just evolving.”

He added the mix of residential and hotel towers are helping revive the vibrancy of the neighborhood, transforming Rainey from a place that was solely active in the evenings and weekends into a neighborhood with daytime uses, such as coffee shops and restaurants.