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Seaholm area’s rebirth to include Austin’s tallest tower

A dramatic change is in store for Austin’s skyline, as plans move forward on what now has become a 58-story tower that would be the city’s tallest building and the largest residential tower west of the Mississippi River.

The tower, named the Independent, would rise 685 feet on downtown’s southwestern edge, eclipsing the Austonian condominium high-rise in downtown Austin by two feet and two stories.

The Independent would bring 370 new luxury condominiums to market, priced from the mid-$300,000s to more than $3 million, the developer told the American-Statesman. The project features a contemporary, tiered design by its architect, Austin-based Rhode:Partners.

The developers planning the project — Austin-based firms Constructive Ventures and Aspen Heights — said they expect to announce a groundbreaking date and construction timeline within a few months, once financing is lined up.

The tower would be the final piece in the high-profile redevelopment of the Seaholm District, a former industrial area that housed the Seaholm Power Plant and the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant. Now, the area is rapidly transforming with new apartments, condos, shops, restaurants, offices, a hotel, a public library, a Trader Joe’s grocery and more.

City officials say the $2 billion in public and private investment pouring into the area is expected to generate millions of dollars in property and sales tax revenue in coming decades, including more than $62 million for affordable housing.

Beyond the tax revenue, the development in the Seaholm area helps the city achieve its goal of energizing a once-dormant part of downtown into a lively new district.

Perry Lorenz, a principal in Constructive Ventures, said that projects like the Independent, which he estimates will add $300 million in taxable value to the property tax roll without requiring major new infrastructure, “pay huge dividends to the city and its taxpayers.”

For decades, the Seaholm and Green plants were part of a utility grid that supplied the electricity and water needs of a growing city. Over time, the plants were retired from service and dismantled — though in the case of Seaholm, the 1950s turbine building has been restored as part of the redevelopment.

The site where the Independent is planned is a 1.7-acre lot at the northeast corner of West Third Street and West Avenue that formerly housed the Austin Energy Control Station.

Margaret Shaw, the city official overseeing the redevelopment of the Energy Control site, said the Independent “sets a high bar, not only in height but in sustainability as well.”

“The project offers much for the Austin community to enjoy, including new spaces for local restaurants and retailers, marked improvements to the Shoal Creek bicycle and pedestrian trail, and a dynamic plaza on Third Street for the public to enjoy,” Shaw said.

In 2012, the city estimated the new development at the Energy Control site will produce $45.2 million in property taxes over 30 years, with $18.1 million of that going into the city’s affordable housing fund.

Lorenz said the developers also have donated an easement that will allow the city to complete a gap in the Shoal Creek trail south of Fifth Street.

Elsewhere in the Seaholm District, other elements are falling into place.

To the south, work is underway on a $120 million Central Library that is due to open next year. It will replace the Faulk Central Library on Guadalupe Street and will feature a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating.

Just southeast of the Independent site, construction continues on the Green water plant’s makeover. That project will include more than 440 apartments in a 38-story tower rising at West Cesar Chavez and San Antonio streets. Eventually, the 4.4-acre site will house nearly 2 million square feet of new development, including a 35-story tower that will have 250 hotel rooms and 120 condos and an office tower where Google Inc. will occupy more than 200,000 square feet.

City officials have estimated that over the next three decades, Green’s redevelopment will generate $111.4 million in property taxes and $9.6 million in sales taxes for the city.

At Seaholm, a new chapter began in February when Athenahealth, a Massachusetts-based health care information technology firm, moved into its research and development offices in the renovated turbine building. Nearby, Under Armour, which makes sports gear and fitness tracking apps, opened new offices in a two-story building. Next up will be Trader Joe’s, which is set to open May 1 on the building’s ground floor. A new four-level restaurant, Boiler Nine Bar + Grille, is expected to open in May or June.

The Seaholm project also includes a 30-story high-rise that will have 280 luxury condominiums.

In January, Austinite Cheryl Borrenpohl will move into the new neighborhood taking shape at Seaholm. She is buying a unit with 821 square feet on the 25th floor of the Seaholm Residences.

“I’ll be able to walk downtown and go to a grocery store or to dinner or for a run around the lake after work. And I think the library is super cool,” said Borrenpohl, who works in medical device sales. “Everything is right there, and I was sold immediately.”

Kevin Burns of Urbanspace, which is marketing Seaholm Residences, said the project is drawing a mix of buyers “who are trading space for place. There are professional singles, young couples and families, empty nesters and second home owners. They are buying for quality of life and convenience.”

For empty nesters Bob and Ellen Burton, who sold their family home in Bee Cave and bought a condo in the Seaholm Residences, the move is a chance to simplify their lives and be close to things they enjoy.

Bob Burton, a lawyer, will be able to walk to his office at Frost Tower, and Susan Burton, a homemaker, is looking forward to being near Zilker Park.

“I think it’s really going to change our lifestyle,” Bob Burton said. “We found ourselves spending a lot of time downtown on the weekends and loving it, so we thought, ‘Why not be there all the time?’ ”

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