Thursday, January 13, 2000 by

300 West Sixth office tower gets thumbs up from Downtown Commission

420,000-square-foot structure to rise 22 stories

A new 420,000-square-foot office building called 300 West Sixth was unveiled last night before the City of Austin's Downtown Commission. Jeffrey Pace, managing director of CarrAmerica Realty Corp. in Austin, displayed an artist's rendering of the structure being designed by Page Southerland Page of Austin with help from HKS Architects of Dallas. Plans call for the 22-story portion of the building to front 6th Street, with the rear portion dedicated entirely to parking at a much reduced height.

The building will cover the entire block bounded by West 6th Street, Lavaca Street, West 7th Street, and Guadalupe, except for the three-story Masonic Temple at the corner of 7th and Lavaca. The seven lower floors of the building will be dedicated to parking, 1,255 spaces in all, or three per 1,000 square feet. Although that is a higher ratio of parking spaces than many downtown office buildings, Pace says it is permitted as long as it is within the confines of the structure. The higher parking ratio is being driven by the desire to attract and keep high-tech firms that tend to grow quickly and give people less space than other organizations. Vehicular entrances to the building are planned for both Lavaca and 7th streets, with exits on those streets and Guadalupe. "No one wants a parking garage to look like a parking garage," Pace said, and the design is being worked out to accomplish that by keeping ramps to the interior, extending limestone to a height of 40 to 50 feet, and covering the higher portions with a special material.

"We're trying to achieve the Austin feel," Pace said of the design. "We want the building to be simple, efficient and really comfortable, with a little bit of elegance also. We want a timeless design." He said the dominant exterior materials would be native limestone and granite. Cornices will pick up on the design of the Masonic Temple and the University of Texas System building immediately east of the site. "We're trying to pay attention to scale so it has the rhythm of the rest of the city," Pace said. While the typical floor of an office building has 17,000 to 20,000 square feet, Pace said, this structure would offer a rectangular floor of 28,000 square feet with "not a lot of lost space."

Ground-floor retail is to account for 18,000 square feet, including 6,000 feet wrapped around the corner at 6th and Lavaca for a restaurant and the same amount wrapped around the corner of 6th and Guadalupe. "We're worried about the demand (for retail) but we're going to go ahead with it," Pace said. Some of the retail may not be glamorous but will be designed to serve people in the building, such as dry cleaners, he said. Other ground floor amenities that ought to welcome pedestrians include mature trees around the entire block except in front of the Masonic Temple, large awnings to provide shade in front and on the sides, and sidewalk pavers surrounding the entire block. There will also be ground-floor storage facilities for bicycles, he said. "We've shown great deference to the ( Downtown) Design Guidelines," Pace said. All this should be music to the ears of Design Commission members, who took a strong stand against the Gotham condominium project for its lack of pedestrian-friendly amenities, including ground-floor retail. Pace said he will be presenting the plans for 300 West Sixth to the Design Commission Jan. 24.

Pace said CarrAmerica got involved in the project when a major law firm asked the firm and eight other developers to do so two years ago. "We won the competition," he said. He did not disclose the name of the law firm but a Dec. 6 article in the Austin Business Journal reported that the major tenants at 300 West Sixth will be the law firms, Clark Thomas & Winters and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Pace told the Downtown Commission the building is 40 percent preleased with attorneys. "I'd like the other 60 percent to be like the rest of us, and we'll focus on high-tech." The mix, he said, "should be suits, shorts and Birkenstocks."

Schematic designs are completed and four months of construction drawings are done. On-site utilities will be moved in March and construction is expected to start in May or June, Pace said. A site plan is hoped for in the first week of February, he said. "The city has been wonderful," Pace told the commissioners. "It's different in the suburbs but it's been really pleasant here."

Pace said he is making presentations on the project to interested groups right now and getting comments before issuing a press release on the project late this month.

The Downtown Commission reacted favorably to Pace's presentation. Architect Stan Haas said, "The project represents a lot of common sense in trying to do retail on the ground floor, in its orientation to the street and its scale." Although the matter was on the agenda for an update, the commission nevertheless voted 8-0-1, with Perry Lorenz abstaining, to support the project.

CarrAmerica Realty Corp. is a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Washington, D.C. CarrAmerica owns, develops and operates office properties in 14 markets throughout the United States. According to the company's web site, CarrAmerica and its affiliates currently own a controlling interest in a portfolio of 258 operating office properties and have 28 office buildings under development in 11 key growth markets. CarrAmerica's markets include Atlanta, Austin, Boca Raton, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles/Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and metropolitan Washington, D.C. Hoover's Online reports that CarrAmerica's properties are about 95 percent leased.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the greenest utility of all?

By the end of the year the answer ought to be Austin Energy

Austin Energy aims to be the Jolly Green Giant, not by selling green peas but by selling more green power than any other electric utility in the nation. To help meet that ambitious goal, Austin Energy is looking for 20,000 residential electric customers willing to pay 4-10ths of a cent extra for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) on their electric bills each month, about $4 a month for the average customer using 1,000 kWh of electricity. The income of about $1 million a year from subscribers would help Austin Energy pay for 40 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy being purchased under contracts for new wind power and landfill gas projects under its new GreenChoice program.

Austin Energy officials are boldly claiming this commitment to spend $7.8 million a year for the next decade on renewable energy will put Austin at the top of the heap for renewable energy programs in the United States, based on a summary of "green pricing" programs listed on the U.S. Department of Energy's web site . "We will be the standard bearer for providing renewable energy," said Austin Energy's general manager, Chuck Manning. "We will be the utility that all green power programs are measured against."

The power will be generated by a new wind farm in Upton County with a dozen turbines generating enough power annually to supply the needs of 600 homes. In addition, biogas will be used to generate power at six landfills, one at city's old airport at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, two in Houston, one in Galveston, one in San Antonio and one in Hutchins. All these facilities should be built and operating by the end of 2000.

The announcement was greeted with praise from key environmental and consumer groups. Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen Texas, says, "We think this is a real good opportunity for the people of Austin to put their money where their mouth is. They're constantly complaining about air quality, and this is a way we can make a real contribution to clean up the pollution caused to provide us with electricity. Our individual electric consumption produces more pollution than our automobiles on a monthly basis."

Jim Marston, Austin-based director of the Environmental Defense Fund, says, "We worked on this issue of giving individual customers the opportunity to buy renewable energy around the country, and this is clearly the best green marketing program in the country." Marston ticked off three reasons why Austin Energy's program is a winner:

• Most cost-effective–He said (and the Department of Energy web site confirms) the TU Electric program costs subscribers 10 times as much, a full 4 cents per kWh. As a result, a smaller percentage of people sign up. "They're not getting nearly the benefits Austin will get," Marston says.

• No price hike–If you pay more now to avoid the use of fossil fuels, you get the benefit in the future of not suffering a price spike when the cost of coal and natural gas jump up. "You're buying an insurance policy for $4 a month," Marston said.

• Delivers new resources–A lot of programs offered by utilities merely rebundle existing generation facilities. "People think they're buying new windmills and gas-recovery facilities and they're not," Marston says.

Marston also says Austin Energy's credibility is boosted by the fact that those who subscribe for GreenChoice will not be billed until the new power sources are on-line and delivering renewable energy.

Mark Kapner, manager of conservation and renewable energy for Austin Energy, says the 40 MWs of renewable energy will be purchased regardless of the number of subscribers who sign up for GreenChoice. "The power is going to come into the system. Unlike other utilities which want to see how many commitments they get before committing, we have committed already," he said.

Kapner is confident, based on the extensive surveys conducted for green pricing programs locally, and on the results achieved for such programs elsewhere, that Austin Energy can attract the necessary number of subscribers. "This is a very ambitious program that expresses the confidence of Austin customers in renewable energy," Kapner says. "As soon as we exceed the level of these contracts, we will buy more."

Austin Energy currently operates a voluntary program known as Solar Explorer, in which customers who sign up pay $3.50 per month for each 50 watts of power they wish to purchase from the utility's 28 solar power installations in Austin. Kapner says a letter is going out to the approximately 1,000 customers enrolled in Solar Explorer to ask them to convert to GreenChoice. He says Austin Energy has stopped selling Solar Explorer, but there will be a solar power component to GreenChoice. Several solar projects are being explored with Page Southerland Page and Barnes Architects as integral parts of buildings, to replace walls or roofs with photovoltaic cells in the Convention Center Expansion Project, as well as the new Civic Center and the retrofit of Palmer Auditorium. Kapner says, "Each roof or wall would provide power for the building. We'll pay the incremental cost of the wall or roof to make it a source of power that would be used in the building to reduce the amount needed from the grid."

The $7.8 million annual cost of the program would be funded through $4 million from Austin Energy's savings on fossil fuels by replacing conventional energy with green power, $2.8 million from Austin Energy profits, and $1 million from subscriptions to GreenChoice.

Kapner stresses that 20,000 residential customers will not be needed for GreenChoice if commercial and industrial customers get on board. "We're talking to them and they're interested," Kapner says of the larger customers. None have signed up yet, he says, because discussions didn't start until fears over Y2K glitches were behind the utility. "It'll be big news when it happens," Kapner says of signing up big electric customers for GreenChoice.

The City Council previously set a goal of having 5 percent of Austin Energy's power supplied by renewable sources by 2005. GreenChoice would raise Austin Energy's renewable power from 0.5 percent to about 2.5 percent.

Of the programs listed on the Department of Energy's web site, which is maintained by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., Austin Energy's program will dwarf those of other utilities. In Texas, TU Electric's green power program's capacity is 6.6 MW and West Texas Utilities' is 1.2 MW. TU asks 4 cents per kWh and WTU asks 2 cents per kWh. Around the country, Public Service Co. of Colorado is the next largest program with 15 MW, Madison Gas & Electric has 11.25 MW, while Florida Power & Light, Gainesville Regional Utilities, Gulf Power Co., and the City of Tallahassee each have programs of 10 MW. Of the 50 entities listed, no others reach the 10 MW level and most are minuscule.

Austin Energy customers can subscribe on-line at the GreenChoice web site . For more information, call 499-7827.

Aquifer district spurs Longhorn…The board of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District yesterday voted to approve a resolution that concludes the Finding of No Significant Impact in the Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Longhorn Partners Pipeline is not warranted. "We therefore urge that a full Environmental Impact Statement be undertaken for the Longhorn Pipeline project," it says. The district remains unconvinced the mitigation measures proposed are adequate to protect the aquifer. "If the existing pipeline is issued an operating permit, supplemental mitigation measures must be required in addition to those already outlined in the draft EA, in order to reduce the risk of significant harm to the aquifer," the resolution states… District seats up…The terms of three members of the board of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will be up for grabs in the May 6 election. Board members serve four year-staggered terms. Board Chair Roy Dalton and Board Members Lois Franklin and Jack Goodman must step down or face reelection this year. The terms of Vice Chair Craig Smith and Board Member Don Turner expire in 2002.

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