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New Travis courthouse could be part of massive development

Thursday, August 18, 2011 by Michael Kanin

The firm behind the master plan for Travis County’s central campus project presented the Commissioners’ Court Tuesday with a set of potential concepts for its new Civil and Family Courthouse building. The grandest of these schemes imagines a complex punctuated with a 72-story tower that would hold nearly 1.4 million square feet of lease space.


“These options maximize…the density of the block based on the Downtown Austin plan,” said Travis County’s Planning and Budget Office Executive Rodney Rhoades. “It by no means locks you into saying that is where you are going; it is simply for illustration purposes.”


Indeed, Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber was careful to highlight that fact. “I want to see some language…that makes it very clear that this is a concept that is subject to theme and variation and we don’t want to limit the creative abilities (involved),” she said.


Though the court has moved to examine the possibility of developing the new courthouse site via a public-private partnership, Huber and Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez have offered vocal opposition to the speed at which that effort has proceeded. (See In Fact Daily, April 14, 2011)


Huber and Gomez cited issues with the construction of the county’s criminal justice center. I think what may have happened 10 years ago is that there was some planning – but I don’t know how much,” said Gomez back in April. “And then it got put on the ballot because there’s always that rush of needing to get it done, and when that occurs, you leave a lot of things uncovered.”


Tuesday’s presentation came from Stephen Coulston of Broaddus & Associates, the company responsible for the master-planning portion of the county’s future downtown cluster of offices. In it, he offered court members four potential stacking schemes that would account for Broaddus’ vision of the use of the county’s freshly acquired lot at 3rd and Guadalupe Streets.


The designs included height options of 46, 72, 69, and 58 stories. Each version holds a similar amount of lease space.


Coulston repeated Rhoades’ assertion that the options represented only the maximum use potential of the site. “The concepts you see before you are based on what is anticipated in the Downtown Austin Plan, which would allow for up to a 25-to-1 floor-area ratio development potential for the site.”


The Downtown Austin Plan has yet to be finalized. The Austin City Council is set to receive a briefing on the subject this morning.


The tallest current structure in downtown is the Austonian apartment building. Completed in July 2010 after three years of work, it stands 60 stories above its Second Street and Congress Avenue location.


Real Estate Council of Austin Director of Outreach Nancy McDonald told In Fact Daily that, should the project produce around 1.4 million square feet of space, it would be welcomed. “There is a critical need for office space downtown,” she said.

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