- Shonda Novak American-Statesman Staff
Austin’s swiftly evolving Rainey Street district is about to undergo even more change: A planned 35-story luxury condominium tower that will continue the transformation of the once-quiet downtown neighborhood.
New York-based development company Sackman Enterprises Inc. told the American-Statesman that the project — named 70 Rainey after its address — will have more than 160 residences priced from the $300,000s up to $3 million. The company plans to start construction in the fall and is targeting a late 2017 opening. Sackman bought the site from Austin-based Riverside Resources, which had a city-approved site plan in place.
The condo tower is the first Austin project for Sackman Enterprises, but more are on the way, said C.J. Sackman, the 27-year-old director of development for Sackman Enterprises. The company plans at least six projects in Austin over the next several years, Sackman said.
“This is the largest expansion for Sackman Enterprises outside of the Northeast in its 45 years,” C.J. Sackman said. His father, Carter Sackman, is president of the firm, which was founded in 1969 by Carter Sackman’s father Alan Sackman.
The company expects the 70 Rainey project to set the tone for additional mixed-use residential and office developments the company plans in Central Texas, C.J. Sackman said.
The firm chose the Rainey site for its first major project in Austin because the location will offer views of Lady Bird Lake that will be protected going forward, Sackman said. That’s because the only building between the proposed tower and the river is the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, a low-rise building.
“This positions us as truly unique to other developments in Austin,” Sackman said, citing some downtown towers whose views have been impacted by subsequent new high-rises. He said 70 Rainey has been designed at a 15-degree angle to maximize views of downtown and the lake.
In addition to numerous amenities, the project will have a two-story restaurant with a patio bar for both residents and the public.
“We know we’re from out-of-town,” said Sackman, who moved to Austin 11 months ago from Los Angeles to oversee the Rainey project and said he will continue to live in Austin after the project is built. “We intend to reflect a lot of the local lifestyle and features of Austin in our developments.”
Currently, Sackman Enterprises is seeking a zoning change on a site on Burnet Road just south of U.S. 183 (Research Boulevard), where it plans to build apartments. The firm also has purchased the site on South Lamar Boulevard where the La Feria Mexican restaurant is located. The restaurant will continue to operate until Sackman Enterprises is ready to move forward with an office project there, C.J. Sackman said.
Sackman Enterprises also bought property at East Ninth Street and Waller Creek for a potential development.
“We pride ourselves on having a family member oversee our developments,” he said. “We are long-term and hands on. I intend to be here for a very long time.”
District in transition
Sackman’s Rainey Street project is planned for an area that the city rezoned in 2005 to allow for dense commercial development, in what for decades had been a quiet downtown neighborhood with many longtime residents inhabiting its modest bungalows.
After Rainey Street pioneer Bridget Dunlap opened the Lustre Pearl bar in April 2009, other bars and restaurants soon followed suit. Since then, the Rainey Street district has transformed into a hub of bars, restaurants and ever-taller apartment and condo towers — a transition that some residents say has created less-than-desirable consequences like increased traffic and noise.
The latest round of building includes an eight-story apartment project being developed by The Dinerstein Companies out of Houston; the 16-story Hotel Van Zandt; and the largest project planned to date in the area, a proposed mixed-use project along Waller Creek.
The Waller Creek project has the potential to bring up to 2 million square feet of development in three towers, the tallest of which could top 50 stories. The developers behind that project are MG Properties, the real estate arm of McCourt Global, and The Sutton Company, an Austin-based real estate development firm whose principals are Mac Pike and Wally Scott.
“We will receive our site development permit in the next few days from the City of Austin which will enable us to finalize our plans,” Pike said. “We remain excited to get the project moving forward and seeing the Waller Creek project on its way.”
Drew McCourt, president of MG Properties, said the proposed project is seeing “significant early interest from potential partners and tenants.”
The rapid transition the Rainey area has undergone has been jarring for some residents, many of whom have lived in the area for years. With the new development has come noise as well as increased traffic congestion, said Bonita White, president of the Rainey Neighbors Association.
“There’s been a drastic change in a relatively short amount of time, and the infrastructure and the planning has been lacking to date,” White said.
White said a master plan for Rainey had been recommended by the Downtown Austin Plan in 2011, the Downtown Commission in August 2013, and brought up again at a recent Planning Commission meeting.
In less than a decade, the area has grown from 400 residents to 2,000, and there are 15 bars and restaurants now, she said.
“One of the primary reasons people love living here is nature,” White said. “They have the convenience of living downtown but enjoy the trees, trails and Lady Bird Lake.” That’s why for some residents, the thought of a project like the one MG Properties and Sutton plan along Waller Creek, which would bring a development roughly the size of a regional mall on about 3 acres, is particularly unsettling.
Local residents are continuing to work with the city and developers to try to keep the area liveable and make it better in the future, White said. She said they don’t want to stop development, but rather address ongoing concerns. Some strides have been made, she said, citing rules governing noise levels and progress in building sidewalks on Rainey Street.
C.J. Sackman said his company will strive to ensure that its condo project reflects “what makes Austin and Rainey Street so unique,” by taking into account the natural beauty of the area, the character of the neighborhood and the outdoor lifestyle its residents will be seeking.
“We believe Rainey is going to be the most unique and exciting neighborhood in the city,” he said.