Plans are taking shape for redeveloping the 19-acre tract that is currently home to the American-Statesman’s offices, with the site’s owners choosing a pair of high-profile design firms to turn the waterfront property into a mixed-use project.
The site, just south of downtown Austin and overlooking Lady Bird Lake, is owned by the Cox family, which also operates Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises, the parent company of Statesman owner Cox Media Group.
City officials and others say the redevelopment of the Statesman site will play a pivotal role in remaking a larger, 97-acre swath of land along Lady Bird Lake’s southern shores, where a surge of new development is anticipated in coming years.
The Cox family tapped Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group as its development partner on the Statesman site. Endeavor managing principals Bryce Miller and Andy Pastor said Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill – an architecture, urban planning and design firm — will be the master planner for the project.
Pastor and Miller said the Statesman site could end up with a mix of retail, office, residential and hotel uses. A city plan for the south waterfront area envisions about 2.1 million square feet of new development at the Statesman site. Endeavor has developed numerous projects in the Austin area, including the mixed-use Domain in North Austin.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and CMG Landscape Architecture beat out nearly a dozen other companies in an international competition for the Statesman project, Miller and Pastor said.
“Our goal is to have a world-class project,” Pastor said.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill will plan the placement and orientation of buildings, streets and sidewalks throughout the proposed project, and how the development will integrate with the waterfront and public space. CMG Landscape Architecture will focus on the design of the open spaces, such as parks, trails, plazas and landscaped areas.
Douglas Voigt, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s partner for urban design, said the firm is excited about creating a landmark project “at a very important location on Lady Bird Lake.”
“It will positively contribute to Austin’s high quality of life, and complement the amazing asset of the public trail system and its diverse ecology and habitat,” Voigt said. “We will bring ideas and creativity to achieving something truly remarkable for Austin.”
Kevin Conger, president of CMG Landscape Architecture, said the company is eager to work on the project.
“It’s Austin’s premier open space and such a wonderful destination already,” Conger said. “The whole Austin lifestyle and culture goes hand-in-hand with that. We want to create a project that will attract people from all over the city to come experience this part of South Congress and Lady Bird Lake in a new way.”
The property currently houses the Statesman’s offices, although those will give way to the new development. Cox Media Group has not yet given a timetable for when a move might occur.
The newspaper no longer is printed on site. Cox Media Group is also in the process of selling the newspaper.
A zoning change would be needed from the city of Austin to allow for new development on the site. Miller and Pastor said it’s too soon to say when a zoning case might be filed, adding that there is much work to be done before that happens. That includes coming up with an initial master plan and meeting with City Council members and interested stakeholders, including neighborhood groups, parks and trail officials and cycling and running groups.
In 2016, the city adopted the framework for the South Central Waterfront Plan as a roadmap to guide future development along Lady Bird Lake’s south shores.
One neighborhood representative said she hopes the proposed project adheres to the city’s vision under that plan, especially as regards enhanced open space and public areas.
“I would really want to make sure they’re following through on everything in the waterfront plan,” said Gretchen Otto, outgoing president of the South River City Citizens, a neighborhood coalition whose boundaries include the Statesman site.
Under the plan, the city could consider allowing developers more height and density for their projects, in exchange for green space, public easements or other community benefits.
“It’s kind of breaking my heart that giant tall buildings are jumping across the river to this side of the lake, but it’s in the (city’s) South Central Waterfront Plan and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Claudette Lowe, who lives in the nearby Travis Heights neighborhood. “So I’ve given up on that I guess. I just hope they have lots of open space.”
CMG Landscape Architecture is already familiar with the Statesman site through its involvement with the South Central Waterfront Plan.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hired CMG Landscape Architecture to help Austin develop portions of the plan, which envisions a vibrant pedestrian environment, safer bikeways, public amenities, green space and improved connections to the hike-and-bike trail.
CMG also worked on the Treasure Island project, which involves transforming a 568-acre abandoned naval base in the middle of San Francisco Bay into a residential neighborhood with parks and public spaces.
Founded in Chicago more than 80 years ago, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has a lengthy list of notable projects, having worked in over 50 countries on everything from “soaring towers” to “vibrant urban districts” and “cutting-edge research facilities,” according to its website. The company led the master planning for the 17-acre Millennium Park in Chicago, a landmark roof garden and public park that transformed a blighted downtown site.
In its research for the Statesman site and selection of a master planner, Miller said Endeavor visited waterfront developments in many cities, including Vancouver, New York, London, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
He said everyone involved has the same vision for the Statesman site: “We want to bring something important to the community that is authentic and that reflects Austin’s new vibe and culture.”