Austin Headlines: Urban Rail Plan Taking Shape (again)

Source: City of Austin.

Source: City of Austin.

Austin’s urban rail unveiled: Highland Mall to East Riverside DriveAustin American-Statesman

Ben Wear – Officials proposed a nine-mile route that would run from the emerging Austin Community College campus at Highland Mall through the University of Texas, downtown and along East Riverside Drive to Grove Boulevard. The proposal is expected to take final form this summer, where the Austin City Council will decide by August whether to put a bond proposal on the November ballot.

At the moment, there are a host of unknowns: the cost of construction; annual operating costs and what entity or entities would cover those costs; who will run the line; where the train would have its own dedicated corridor; and where stations would be located. A huge question mark is how and when the line will cross Lady Bird Lake. The final recommendation that will be put to the City Council, along with details about stations, train technology, financing and governance of the line, is expected emerge by April.

South Austin’s beleaguered Violet Crown Trail moves ahead despite setbacks – Community Impact

The proposed Violet Crown Trail is a 30-mile network of trails from Zilker Park to south of FM 967 in Hays County. So far, the trail’s first phase — 5 miles of walkways in Zilker Park — has been built. Attention is now focusing on the second phase of the trail, a 7-mile segment that will link Sunset Valley to the Veloway, a popular closed cycling and skating loop, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Construction is expected to get underway by early summer. For more information, see here.

Austin City Council Votes to Lower Occupancy Limits – KUT News

Council took the issue of so-called  “stealth dorms” to task, passing a resolution to lower the number of unrelated adults allowed to live in a single-family home from six to four. Some argue these living arrangements provide affordability for Austinites because of the rising price of Austin real estate, while others say they lead to parking and trash problems that disrupt neighborhoods and lower property values.

‘Streets’

  • Bicycle Bridge Project Begins on Mopac in South Austin – TxDOT
  • Permanent food trailer court to open at 1-acre Barton Springs Road site – The Daily Texan

Bicycling

  • Twice as many people as anticipated have used Austin B-cycle in it’s first two months – Austin Post

Transit

  • Is Capital Metro’s new MetroRapid service leaving bus riders behind? KUT News
  • Capital Metro plans to remove nearly all buses from Congress Avenue – Austin Business Journal
  • Rail or fail: Austin mayor touts urban rail in final State of the City address – Community Impact

Roads/Parking

  • Heading for the hills? West Lake has a vintage bottleneck – Austin American-Statesman
  • Transportation planners could add lanes to Highway 183 in Northwest Austin – KVUE
  • TxDOT proposes closing Woodland access to I-35 to ease congestion – Austin Post

Development projects

Green spaces/Leisure

Around Texas

  • Judge Strikes Down New Braunfels’ River ‘Can Ban’ – KUT News
  • With three new companies, Temple sees fruits of energy boom – Austin Business Journal
  • At DFW, a DART Orange Line connection to downtown Dallas mere months away – Dallas News Transportation Blog
  • TxDOT to Dallas: Elevated highway separating Deep Ellum from downtown will remain for the foreseeable future – Planetizen
  • Turning Urban Blight into Urban Amenity: Houston’s Buffalo Bayou Promenade – Metropolis

Regional Matters

Belo Horizonte: Architecture in Brazil’s First Planned City

Long before Brasilia, Belo Horizonte was Brazil first planned city. The country’s third-largest, it was developed in the 1890s when the state capital of Minas Gerais was relocated from Ouro Preto. Today it is a sprawling city filled with an eclectic mix of neoclassical, modernist and contemporary architecture.

Parque Municipal, Belo Horizonte’s central park, is located at the city center.

Praça da Liberdade

Praça da Liberdade (Liberty Square) is the city’s main square.

Neoclassical Capital City on a Grid
Modern “Beagá” features a mixture of contemporary and neoclassical buildings, and hosts several modern Brazilian architectural icons, most notably the Pampulha Complex. Belo Horizonte was laid out as a neoclassical city, modeled on the grid system, and Aarão Reis sought inspiration in the urban design of Washington, D.C, and Paris. This is evident in BH’s wide, tree-lined avenues and the prominence of parks and squares in urban life. Belo Horizonte has an octagonal urban network cut by diagonals and is “closed” by a circular ring, the Perimeter Avenue.

Museu de Arte de Pampulha, formerly a casino.

Casa do Baile, Pampulha.

Igreja São Francisco de Assis

Igreja São Francisco de Assis. Photo by Pedro Kok.

Modernist Architecture and International Attention
The 1940s and 1950s witnessed the physical and demographic expansion of the city past the original boundaries envisioned by Reis, which was translated into the creation of new suburbs, such as Pampulha and Cidade Jardim, the residential areas of the elite. In 1941, Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira, then the Mayor of Belo Horizonte Brazil, asked his young friend Oscar Niemeyer to design three buildings for a new suburb that Kubitschek wanted to build in Pampulha, a neighborhood named for the attractive lake at its center. Completed in 1943, the project was a trio of buildings set around the lake. The first was Igreja de Sao Francisco de Asis, another a dance hall and restaurant on the lake and the third a large casino. Together they set the tone for the development of that district.

With its hangar shaped design, the Igreja de Sao Francisco de Asis is easily the most impressive. As the first listed first listed modern architectural monument in Brazil, it consists of four undulating concrete parabolas with outdoor mosaics. Niemeyer was inspired by French poet and diplomat Paul Chandel, who called a church ‘God’s hangar on earth.’ The church was not without controversy and would not be consecrated until 1959.

Belo Horizonte

Modern Belo Horizonte.

Urbanization and Economic Growth
Brazil’s third-largest city is well below the international radar compared with Rio and São Paulo. But things are changing in Belo Horizonte, as the economic boom continues to attract major national and foreign investment to the city. The resulting rapid urbanization and economic boom has left its mark on the city’s urban geography, as skyscrapers sprout up around the city and traffic increases.

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?

‘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.