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UT System approves downtown administrative building

Friday, November 16, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

Travis County is about to get a new downtown neighbor. The University of Texas System plans to demolish two existing university-owned buildings and construct a new $102 million nine-story tower with a six-level parking garage on Seventh Street, between Lavaca and Colorado streets.

The University of Texas board of regents approved the plan on Thursday to consolidate University of Texas System offices, which are spread across five downtown buildings. In an announcement, the UT System said the 258,000-square-foot building would replace inefficient and antiquated facilities with a single efficient office space. Construction is scheduled to be completed by spring of 2016, with the two buildings demolished starting in 2014.

The new office project, plus the parking garage for 650 to 700 vehicles, is designed to save the system money through decreased maintenance, repair and energy costs, plus revenue generated from leasing space in vacated buildings.

The new building will be located on Seventh Street, between Lavaca and Colorado streets, near the 700 Lavaca Building that Travis County purchased and now uses for many county functions, including the Commissioners Court. 

“Several locations in the Austin area were considered for a new building, as were several different construction scenarios and the possibility of leasing existing space,” Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said in a news release. “After taking all the data and staff feedback into consideration, the construction of a single building on existing UT System land to house all of our business units made the most sense financially and organizationally.”

The UT System owns five buildings downtown: O. Henry Hall, Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall, Ashbel Smith Hall and the Lavaca and Colorado buildings. According to the university system, the average age of the buildings is 76, with the O. Henry Hall being 131 years old.

Despite their ages, none of the buildings have been landmarked as historic, at least not through the city process. Under the UT System’s plans, the Lavaca and Colorado buildings will be demolished. The Lavaca Building is located at 220 W. 7th Street. The Colorado Building is located at 704 Colorado Street.

“The university is not subject to our historic preservation ordinance,” said Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Alyson McGee. “So any work that they would do on a historic or potentially historic building would not be reviewed by the city’s Historic Preservation Office.”

Contacted for comment, the Heritage Society of Austin had no immediate statement about the importance of the buildings in question. Executive Director Jacqui Schraad said the group had yet to review the plans.

UT is not subject to a review of Austin’s land commissions, either. The only standard the system must abide by is the state-mandated Capitol View Corridors.

UT said it would finance the building with Revenue Finance System Bonds, so no tuition dollars or state funds will be used. The building, with six parking levels, will provide more than 258,000 square feet of office space, with 200,000 square feet devoted to university system offices, and 58,000 square feet available for lease space.

The ground level of the new building will be available for retail leasing. In addition, the ground floors of the remaining buildings will be available for lease, which the system points out will add tax base to the city.

A long-term facilities study by UT System financial and real estate staff, and reviewed by J.P. Morgan, suggested the consolidation of system assets would yield a savings of between $60 million and $240 million over the next 30 years. Regents directed Cigarroa to use the savings to boost graduation rates across the university system.

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