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Developer expands plans for Fifth and Congress complex

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

New revised – and even bigger – plans for a mixed-use development on the block that includes Congress at Fifth Street were presented last night at the Design Commission meeting.

Developer Tom Stacy announced his plans, back in 2004, to develop half the block on Congress between Fifth and Sixth streets, to create a second tower next to the existing Bank of America tower. Even as late as last year, Stacy was committed to a 47-story hotel, condominium and retail tower that was intended to be open by 2009.

Stacy was at Design Commission last night with attorney Richard Suttle. He now has picked up the southern half of the block. Therefore, in total, Stacy now controls the Bank of America tower, the four-story Bank of America annex, the existing Littlefield Building parking garage and the former Bank of America valet parking garage.

“The whole block has been assembled so we had to rethink how we could design it and how we could make it work, knowing that the Bank of America tower is going to stay in the mix,” Suttle said.

Plans are still preliminary, more the drawing of a footprint with an elevation than a fully formed project. The concept for this broader development is the proposed hotel-condo tower – which would look familiar to anyone who had seen last year’s concept – plus an additional shorter office tower on the block. Towers will occupy three corners of the block, with the intention of creating a public plaza at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue.

The total coverage, including the existing tower, will be 1.6 million square feet of mixed-use space on the same block. The concept will require a number of variances and changes.

What would be seen on the block, going east to west, would be a 500,000-square-foot 32-story office tower on Fifth and Brazos Street, with retail on the first two floors. The taller 820-foot hotel-condo tower will be located at Sixth and Brazos, built on a parking platform, with 300 hotel rooms, plus 200 condo units on top.

As Commissioner Perry Lorenz noted, height is really no longer a significant consideration for projects in downtown. Especially, Chair Girard Kinney noted, if you were simply squeezing one portion of the block to add height to another part of the block.

Stacy is planning more than 2300 parking spaces, with the intention of creating an internal circulation space for loading and unloading, as well as moving from one office building to the other. The hotel-condo tower will not have a common circulation pattern with the other buildings.

The most significant variance being sought would be for floor-to-area ratio on a portion of the block. Actually, Suttle refers to it as “blending the FAR on the block” because the overall massing will be no more than what would be allowed on the block overall. The Bank of America office annex and valet parking garage both have 30-to-1 FAR. The Littlefield Garage has 8-to-1. The goal is to shift some of the massing on the block to provide an overall 16-to-1 FAR.

In addition, an alley on Brazos Street on the south side of the property will have to be vacated. That alley is going to lead into an interior loading dock area that will be between the various buildings on the block. The Urban Transportation Commission will be looking at that aspect.

And there will be a request to change a portion of the Sixth Street Historic District, Suttle said. Initially, the plan was to carve out a portion of the block on Congress. Now the plan is to simply lift the height limitation.

The project will come back for a subcommittee review. Likely issues alluded to in last night’s discussion will include treatment of the parking garages, massing of the buildings, the function and activity among the buildings and the use of green space.

Developer Lorenz declined to serve on the subcommittee, noting that this project was simply “too much like my own” and would therefore create a conflict of interest. Subcommittee members who will be reviewing the project will be Kinney, Eleanor McKinney and Phil Reed.

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