Church has development plans for downtown Austin block

Episcopal Church leaders are seeking a developer to partner with them on a mixed-use project on a prime downtown Austin block.

The New York-based Episcopal Church organization owns the site, known as Block 87, which it uses as a revenue-generating parking lot. As one of the last undeveloped city blocks downtown, church officials said it provides “a historic opportunity for development.” The block is bounded by East Seventh, East Eighth, Neches and Trinity streets.

By next year, church officials say, they hope to select a developer to team with on a project on the site, which has the potential for more than 600,000 square feet of development. Church officials envision a building with office, residential, and retail uses, along with a permanent home for the church’s archives.

Height on much of the block would be limited to 75 feet, to comply with rules aimed at preserving Capitol views. However, “there is great opportunity to include a substantial high-rise section for residences or office space in other areas of the block,” church officials said.

“The Episcopal Church has been part of Texas and of Austin since its beginning,” said Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church’s chief operating officer. “We are committed to this development being a benefit to all segments of the community and something of which Austin will be proud.”

Charles Heimsath, a local real estate consultant, said the site should attract “considerable attention from developers across the country due to its location downtown and single entity ownership.”

“A large scale mixed-use development seems very appropriate for the site, and it might provide the catalyst needed to accelerate the redevelopment of the (previously neglected) Northeast quadrant in the Central Business District,” Heimsath said.

Dani Tristan, a commercial real estate agent with McAllister & Associates, said that although Block 87 presents a “rare opportunity” for development, “this part of downtown is the least desirable due to the fact that you have a homeless shelter nearby and the police station. Those two buildings need to go before this area gets the attention it deserves.”

The church bought the block in 2009 from Austin real estate attorney Jimmy Nassour, paying about $9.5 million. The church planned to build a facility to house its national archives and provide space for meetings, exhibits, research and other purposes. It also envisioned other potential uses, such as outreach services to complement those of nearby social services agencies. But the church’s plans have since changed.

The Rev. Canon Lang Lowrey III, who is representing the church in its search for a development partner, said the Trinity block “sits at the crux of three distinct districts: Austin’s creative scene with the Red River District and East Austin, its burgeoning medical district to the north and the tech and hospitality anchors downtown already provides.”

“Given that there are so many different uses that could do well at this location — from the large, modern floor plan in office buildings to micro-units for residences — we are excited to work with prospective partners to develop this site,” Lowrey said.

The church partnered with Studio 8 Architects on renderings that reflect the church’s vision of what a mixed-use tower could look like on the site. Interested developers can work within that design or propose their own, church officials said.

John Rosato, principal with Southwest Strategies Group, which is redeveloping the former Seaholm Power Plant site downtown into a mixed-use project, said: “We have little doubt the church’s request will generate serious interest, and Southwest Strategies is among those that will seek more information.”

The Episcopal Church will be represented by the Rev. Canon Lang Lowrey III as asset manager, and Clinton Sayers II and Paul Byars with Sayers and Associates as real estate brokers.

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