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Design Commission advances new hotel project on downtown parking lot

Friday, October 2, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

The Design Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend a density bonus for a proposed 17-story hotel project at 617 Colorado St. in downtown Austin.

The site is currently a surface parking lot at the southeast corner of Seventh and Colorado streets. The tract, only about 10,000 square feet in size, is zoned Central Business District.

Rendering of the 617 Colorado St. project contained in city documents.

Developer Turnbridge Equities wants to build a 17-story hotel with 344 rooms on the lot. Most of the building’s proposed 132,655 total gross square footage would be hotel rooms and lobby area, said Drenner Group’s Leah Bojo, the applicant.

The development team wants to increase the site’s 8:1 floor area ratio up to 13:1 under the city’s downtown density bonus program. Bojo said they would meet the program’s gatekeeper requirements by achieving green building standards, making streetscape improvements and substantially complying with the city’s downtown design guidelines.

Conners Ladner with the project’s landscape architect firm, Design Workshop, said the sidewalks along the property would feature benches, bike racks and trees.

Turnbridge Equities’ Roger Plourde said a second-floor coffee and bar lounge area is one of the most important parts of the project’s design.

“Our objective with this floor is to create the … most active use that we can,” he said. “We want this floor to be alive and we want it to be alive, really, 24 hours a day.”

Plourde said the team also wants to offer day passes so local teachers may use the lounge area for its Wi-Fi as well as special events.

“We wanted to find a way to be interactive with the community,” he said.

Bojo said the project has no on-site parking so guests would have to rely on other modes of transportation such as transit or rideshare services. She added that they’ve been working with the Austin Transportation Department and Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has bus stops on both Seventh and Colorado streets, on how the site can “function well for all the ways that people will get there.”

Design Commission Chair David Carroll and Commissioner Evan Taniguchi expressed concerns about a potential logjam of hotel guests being dropped off, but Bojo said the passenger drop-off and loading area would be located to the side of through traffic.

Commissioner Josue Meiners said he appreciated the project’s incorporation of public art.

“I love that you have a nightlife concept,” he added. “So many people are concerned that our nightlife is just going to disappear post-pandemic.”

Meiners said he hoped live music could be folded into the project around the spring festival season.

Commissioner Melissa Henao-Robledo said she was excited the building’s facade had “color and personality and vibrance.”

“I hope this happens,” she said.

Commissioner Jessica Rollason said she appreciated the “layers of activity” that the project includes.

“I think it’s a beautiful design … with a really ambitious desire to have that sense of place,” she said.

Rollason noted that she’d prefer a different design for benches on the streetscape, referencing benches designed to prevent people, including those experiencing homelessness, from lying down. She suggested designs like the stone benches outside of Austin’s Central Library.

“I just wondered about whether something more creative and inclusive could be utilized on the street,” she said.

Bojo said they’re limited on bench designs on the streetscape, but an additional bench inside the entryway “is a place where we could be a little bit more creative.”

Carroll added that the day pass program was a good idea, but only if it was widely promoted to local teachers.

The Planning and Zoning Department is ultimately responsible for approving requests to participate in the downtown density bonus program.

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