How Will Luxury Hotels Change Downtown Austin?

Two new luxury hotels are coming to Downtown Austin. The 2,000+ hotel rooms that will come online by 2015 are good news for SXSW revelers, the convention economy and are of uncertain value to nearly everyone else.

The Fairmont Austin. Courtesy of Gensler Architects.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell had been pressing for the two convention hotel, along with the existing 800-room Hilton Austin, saying more hotel rooms are needed to make full use of the expanded Austin Convention Center and to help Austin attract more — and bigger — conventions.

The Fairmont Austin
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is expected to break ground on a new, 50-story, 1,000-room luxury hotel in early 2013. The $350 million project will be at the site of what is now a surface parking lot located on East Cesar Chavez and Red River Streets near the Austin Convention Center.

The hotel will stand at 50 stories, and at 580 feet tall, it will be the second-tallest building in Austin’s skyline when it opens for business in 2015. (after the 56-story Austonian). Fairmont operates another Texas hotel in Dallas, The Fairmont Dallas, its only other location in the state.

The JW Marriott Austin. Photo courtesy of White Lodging.

JW Marriott Austin
Development on the 33-story, 1,000-room JW Marriott is expected to begin this month. The hotel will be replace an existing parking lot on Congress Avenue and Second Street two blocks from the Austin Convention Center. It’s expected to open in 2015.

What’s next
Will Austin become another soulless convention city?

Developing Austin: 47 Stories and a Planetarium

With Austin primed to enter another boom in downtown high-rise construction, news of a new skyscraper in the works is to be expected. After the non-profit Austin Planetarium and developer KUD International announced plans to build a state-of-the-art 47-story mixed-used development last week that will include the “largest planetarium in Texas,” even the most jaded of Austinites took a pause.

Courtesy HOK.

The $240 million Austin Planetarium project would include a 157,000-square-foot facility located across the street from the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum with a planetarium, an interactive science museum and a technology center, as well as residences, restaurants, retail and 1,000 underground parking spaces. The project is awaiting approval by the Texas Facilities Commission for a ground lease on the property located at North Congress Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which is currently a parking lot. Developers are aiming to break ground in late 2013 or early 2014.

The Planetarium development would be by far the tallest structure north of the Capitol, and at 47 stories would be among the tallest in the city. A possible downside would be increased traffic on Guadalupe on the Drag, which has been at capacity for years.

‘Statesman’ May Sell Lakefront Office Complex in South Austin

The Austin American-Statesman sits on 19 acres of lakefront property in South Austin, but for how much longer?

The Statesman from the Congress St. Bridge

Owner Cox Media Group is apparently open to selling the land after receiving multiple unsolicited offers. The paper itself is not currently for sale, but it’s clear that building is not an efficient use of the space. Occupied by the Statesman since 1980, the drab and boxy building is 300,000 square feet and three stories tall. Located just south of upscale Travis Heights and on Lady Bird Lake, the land has been appraised for $40 million, but possibly much more.

Austin American-Statesman

I presume it’s only a matter of time until a buyer comes forward. I hesitate to speculate further until more information becomes available, but it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of 19 acres opening up for smart development in what’s essentially downtown.

Urban Rail in Austin: City’s Expanded Plan

With a possible vote on the first segment looming in November, the City of Austin has added 10 miles of track to the 16.5-mile, $1.3 billion urban rail system proposal that has long been public. The newest map released by Capital Metro imagines rail lines extending south, west and north of the urban core and Central Business District:

North of the Colorado River, the map shows two westward extensions to MoPac (at 5th St. and 35th. St.), and a extension to the Crestview MetroRail Station in North Central Austin. In South Austin, rail will run down Congress Avenue to Southpark Meadows. Additionally, a line would run east-west on West Riverside Drive past Auditorium Shores. Previous versions have been criticized for being too downtown-centric and for bypassing the vital north-south Lamar/Guadalupe corridor. Here’s what the old map (from 2009):

Proposed Urban Rail System. 2009.

Proposed Urban Rail System. 2009.

According to the new map, the city intends for rail to cross Lake Lady Bird on a new bridge near Waller Creek. Whereas the plan previously considered using the existing Congress Avenue, Austin Transportation’s Department now envisions a “statement bridge” reserved for trains, buses, bikes and pedestrians.

There are several problems with this proposed route that are beyond the scope of the post (e.g., Lamar Boulevard), and the Austin City Council has yet to release a price estimate. That should happen within the month, at which point the proposed routes will need to be examined more closely.

Moscow’s Impressive Railway Terminals (PHOTOS)

Russia’s vast network of railroads all lead to Moscow, and the city has rail terminals for long-distance passenger trains that are so vital here. Each terminal is named after the direction served; for example, passengers traveling to the Ukraine must depart from the “Kiyevsky” Terminal. Constructed between 1890-1930, they are located throughout Moscow:

Belorussky Station / Беларускі вакзал
Service to Kaliningrad, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.

Kazansky Station / Каза́нский вокза́
Service to Central Asia, Ryzan, Ufa, Samara and Novorosk.

Kiyevsky Rail Terminal / Кіеўскі вакзал
Service to Ukraine and southeastern Russia.

Kursky Station / Ку́рский вокза́л
Service to southern Russia, the Caucasus, Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.

Leningradsky Station / Ленингра́дский вокза́л
Service to St. Petersburg, Finland, Estonia and northwest Russia.

Paveletsky Station / Павелецкий вокзал
Service to Vornezh, Tambov, Volgograd and Astrakhan.


Rizhsky Station / Рижский вокзал
Service to Latvia.

Savyolovsky Station / Савёловский вокза́л
Service to Kostroma, Cherepovets and Vologda.

Yaroslavlsky Station / Яросла́вский вокза́л
Service to Siberia, Russian Far East, Mongolia and China.

Detroit in Transition: Whole Foods Comes to Town

Anointed the symbol of Detroit’s comeback by national media, the Midtown area took a big step toward in its gradual transition into another post-industrial hipster haven. Whole Foods announced it would break ground on a new 21,000 square-foot store on John R and Mack, two miles north of downtown.

For Whole Foods, which is known for conducting vaunted market research before opening a new location, Midtown will the first time the upscale retailer has expanded into a distressed, inner-city location.

More significantly, perhaps, is that Whole Foods will be the only name, brand national supermarket chains within the city limits. Called a “food desert” in the media, Detroit’s 700,000 residents are underserved by full-service groceries and the food industry in general. This has begun to change slowly over recent years as new restaurants have opened in Midtown and beyond, but the new Whole Foods will, surely, test Detroit’s demand for kale, grass-fed beef and imported cheese.

For Austin, Wheels in Motion for Bus Rapid Transit by 2014

It’s been a little over two years since MetroRail debuted as Austin’s urban rail. Following a trend that started in Latin America and has spread throughout the world, Austin says it is preparing to break ground on a high-capacity rapid bus. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is coming to Austin.

Thanks in large part to Department of Transportation grant that will fund 80% of the project, construction of a two-route, $47.6 million rapid-bus system known as MetroRapid will begin this fall. The FTA’s Very Small Starts program will cover some 80 percent $47.6 million total cost.

Capital Metro says MetroRapid can anticipate at least 20,000 daily boardings after the service opens. Plans include two high-capacity, rapid bus lines that would run north-south across the city for a total of 37.5 miles. The North Lamar Boulevard/South Congress Avenue line will run for a total of 21 miles from Tech Ridge Park and Ride to Southpark Meadows. The Burnet/South Lamar Boulevard will total 16 miles and will run from North Austin Medical Center to Westgate Transit Center.


Like other BRT systems, MetroRapid will feature sleek, modern buses that are more efficient and have greater passenger amenities on the bus and at the station that a standard bus. MetroRapid’s fleet will consists of 60 accordion-style buses is expected to run at intervals of 10-15 minutes from 5am to 1am – much shorter than anything Austinites are used to.

The buses would arrive by 2014, and the lines would open after completion of 70 stations that would be located every mile or so, on both sides of the street. Each of these “Enhanced Bus Stops” with a bench, system map, standard route sign and a real-time digital display of anticipated arrival times.

Austins’s far from the only city in North America looking to BRT. In Texas alone, both San Antonio and El Paso
expect to open their own BRT systems within the next 1-3 years.