Major Downtown Austin Office Project Lands Site Plan Approval

05/06/15 |
Austin Business Journal |
Jan Buchholz
McCourt Global, the development partner on the proposed Waller Creek mixed-use project near Cesar Chavez and Red River streets, said Wednesday that a site development plan has been approved by the city.

What this means for moving the 2 million-square-foot project forward isn’t entirely known, given that financing still must be lined up and the development has yet to receive a formal name. The design and configuration also continue to be hashed out.

Still, Drew McCourt, president of MG Properties, wants people to know that plans are moving forward.

“There’s a good amount of work to be done getting the site prepped for construction,” McCourt said in an email to the Austin Business Journal. “We intend to get that process started in rather short order.”

McCourt, which has offices in New York and Los Angeles and presents a long track record of successful development, was brought on board in early 2014 by local developers Mac Pike and Wally Scott of the Sutton Co. — ostensibly to bring credibility and capital to the project. But given the ultimate cost — somewhere around $500 million — there’s probably the need for a variety of equity and debt sources. That could be a tough puzzle to solve.

Another high-profile proposed development is The Independent condominium tower. Its development team recently released a rendering of the Jenga-styled tower to whet the public’s appetite for avante garde design. However, it also has yet to announce any financing details.

During robust economic times, developments are paraded before the public with great fanfare — and then some of them quietly disappear when the economic cycle heads downward and the channels for capital retract.

Whether the Waller Creek project and The Independent ever get built is anyone’s guess.

As for the Waller Creek project, the high-density development was made possible in part by major improvements underway along Waller Creek — historically an unsightly ditch on downtown’s east side that turns into a roaring river during heavy rains. A costly drainage tunnel is being built by the city that will effectively reclaim about 28 acres of land previously in the flood plain. Ambitious plans for parcels along Waller Creek include the Fairmont Austin hotel, which is under construction, and the proposed Waller Creek project.

The Sutton/McCourt partnership made a significant announcement earlier this year when it purchased an adjacent 1.4-acre parcel to provide more breathing room for three towers — 54, 45 and 26 stories at last count — and real estate to support those buildings. The project includes apartments, for-sale condos, office space, hotel, retail and parking.