Plans for a 3.5-million-square-foot project with offices, apartments, condos, restaurants, shops, and a waterfront park are taking shape for the South Congress Avenue property now occupied by the Austin American-Statesman.
As envisioned now, the mixed-use development — including six or seven buildings — would cover nearly 19 acres directly south of Lady Bird Lake, or the equivalent of about 12 city blocks. The buildings would encompass more than six acres, while the waterfront park would comprise 12.5 acres. So far, there’s no price tag attached to the project.
For the sake of a rough comparison, downtown Austin’s Frost Bank Tower offers about 535,000 rentable square feet. The 3.5-million-square-foot Statesman development would be more than six times the size of Frost Bank Tower, although the waterfront space would be configured quite differently from the space in the Frost building.
The development, known as 305 South Congress, would sit on land owned by the Cox family of Atlanta. The Coxes, who sold the Statesman in 2018 to GateHouse Media, have been working with Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group — the firm behind the immensely popular Domain development in North Austin — to redevelop the land as commercial and recreational space.
Preliminary plans for the Statesman property were presented publicly for the first time at a June 17 meeting of the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board. The board took no action on the proposal. Richard Suttle, an Austin land-use and zoning attorney who represents Cox family, says the meeting marked “the beginning of a conversation” about how the land will be transformed.
Suttle, who practices at Austin law firm Armbrust & Brown, says that within the next couple of weeks, he’ll file paperwork with the City of Austin to rezone the land. It could take a year for rezoning to be approved by various entities in city government, including the Austin City Council, he says. Once the project secures rezoning, it would be another year before construction would start, Suttle estimated.
The Cox family is collaborating with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, a Chicago architecture, urban planning, and design firm, and San Francisco-based CMG Landscape Architecture on the plan for the property. The Statesman building would be torn down to make way for the development.
“Both Endeavor and the Cox family have a deep commitment to sustainability,” Suttle tells CultureMap. “It’ll be a state-of-the-art, environmentally stable development.”
Aside from the waterfront park and trails, outdoor amenities might include an amphitheater and a bat-viewing area. During the warmer months in Austin, hundreds of people flock each evening to the Statesman property and its surroundings to witness the daily flight of the world’s largest colony of urban bats. The 1.5 million bats live under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.
Suttle says critics of the vision for the Statesman property should focus on how green space, along with a vibrant commercial hub, would take the place of an industrial building that dates back to 1980.
“Change always frighten people, and it will be a change,” Suttle tells CultureMap. “What better place for change than in and around our central core. We ought to all celebrate the waterfront and downtown, and make it a place that’s inclusive that everybody wants to come [to].”
Redevelopment of the Statesman property falls under the South Central Waterfront Plan, which the City Council adopted in 2016. The South Central Waterfront district, south of Lady Bird Lake, contains 118 acres. The plan calls for “green” streets, parks, trails, open spaces, about 530 affordable housing units, and commercial buildings.