Reported by Austin Business Journal on Sept. 27, 2019
A massive apartment, condo and hotel project in the Rainey Street area is moving forward after some changes to its design at the street level.
Dallas-based Genesis Real Estate Group wants to build a two-tower development called The Travis at 80 Red River St. The 2.3-acre site at the corner of Red River and Davis streets was the former home of the Villas on Town Lake condos, which were demolished earlier this year.
Members of the Design Commission voted Sept. 23 that plans for The Travis substantially comply with the city's urban design guidelines. That stamp of approval, which developers need for a density bonus, came about a month after commissioners criticized parts of the project such as a lack of retail.
Drenner Group Principal Steve Drenner, who is representing the development team, said the project has a "new look" at the pedestrian level, adding they had previously focused too much on the Red River-Davis intersection. The developers are now focused on features on the property's northern and western edges that can draw people down to Waller Creek and riverfront trails.
Updated plans call for plaza space at the street level that would gradually slope down to outdoor retail, public art and a food truck and dog park area.
"It's not just a pass-through space. It can be a space to meet people or to gather," said Mike Fraze with Studio Outside Landscape Architecture. "The intention is really to try to blur the line between the trail and the program within the building so it's a seamless experience."
"I see a lot of improvements to the project overall, a lot of great moves that have been done," Commissioner Bart Whatley said. "I really appreciate what y'all have done on the west and northern sides and how people on the trail can engage the building."
"Having the cafe there is really great, but I think it's going to lack ... a destination driver without additional retail spaces there," Frail said.
In their recommendation for approval, commissioners suggested that the development team add more public restrooms, open more dog park space to the public and coordinate with Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority on nearby transit service.
The project's size stands at 1,236,806 square feet — 662,636 gross square feet of apartments, 377,247 gross square feet of condos, 194,523 gross square feet of hotel space and 2,400 gross square feet of ground floor retail space.
Under current plans, the first tower featuring the apartments would be 575 feet tall — while the second tower with hotel rooms and condos would be 695 feet tall.
The site is entitled to a floor-to-area ratio of 8:1— but the developers want to go to 13:1 through the Downtown Density Bonus Program. Through that program, the developers would provide 24,518 square feet of affordable housing and another $2.1 million in fees-in-lieu for affordable housing.
Planning and zoning staff are ultimately responsible for approving downtown density bonus requests using the Design Commission vote as part of their decision
As reported by the Austin Business Journal on Sept. 3rd, 2019
The Travis will be located on 2.3-acres in the Rainey district where the Villas on Town Lake were located. It will be a 45-story tower with a possible second tower later. There will be 414 apartments and they hope to break ground in 2019. Recent renderings from Genesis Real Estate Group / Nelsen Partners / Page show the impact of the 3 tower projects in the Rainey District.
The project's total size now stands at 1,236,806 square feet — 662,636 gross square feet of apartments, 377,247 gross square feet of condos, 194,523 gross square feet for the hotel and 2,400 gross square feet for coffee and bar retail space on the first floor. "It's primarily going to be residential, both condo and multifamily" apartments for rent, Bojo said.
Ip told commissioners the design aims to draw passersby from the Rainey Street area and nearby trails with amenities like the coffee shop, public space and bike and kayak storage. "We've tried to dot this area as much as we can for pedestrian connectivity," he said.
But some commissioners weren't impressed, saying the small amount of retail — including the lack of a restaurant on the hotel's ground floor — would fail to interact with people who aren't living or staying at The Travis. Commissioner Samuel Franco said the project seemed like "the most exclusive and secluded project" to come before the Design Commission.
"I think it's basically here only for a very select few amount of people who can afford to be inside of that space," Franco said. "I'm not seeing any chance whatsoever for the public, in general, to really take advantage of that building, let alone the beauty of the green space that is their river." Some commissioners praised changes that were made to the project over the course of the summer, such as adding bike rental amenities and more trees along some of the pedestrian walkways. "I see great improvement on the plan and appreciate that," Commissioner Aan Coleman said.
Others fell somewhere in the middle on the project's merits.
"You have such a unique site and it obviously has inherent challenges, but it also has great opportunities just because of the adjacencies to the trail," Commissioner Beau Frail said.
The Design Commission is expected to later this month again weigh whether or not to recommend The Travis for the Downtown Density Bonus Program. City Planning and Zoning staff have the final say on whether projects qualify for the program.
The site is entitled to a floor-to-area ratio of 8:1 — but the developers want 13:1 with a maximum height of 695 feet for the second phase of the project with the hotel and condo units. The first phase, featuring rental residential units, would be 575 feet tall.
In a benefit that could be provided through the Downtown Density Bonus Program, the developers propose providing 24,518 square feet of on-site affordable housing space with almost $2.1 million in additional fees-in-lieu to support affordable housing elsewhere in the city.