Plans move ahead for mixed-use project at Garza Ranch site

A development firm says it is moving ahead with plans for a mixed-use development on a 34-acre tract of raw land in Southwest Austin that for years stirred battles over what could be built there.

Brandywine Realty Trust said Monday that it has signed on development partners for the project on the Garza Ranch site, which is at MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Ben Garza Lane.

SHI International, Trammell Crow Residential and Pathfinder Development will bring high-end office, residential and hotel uses to the project, Brandywine said. The development will consist of two office buildings totaling 400,000 square feet; 370 apartments; a 140-room boutique Aloft hotel; and a 2-acre park called Garza Commons, Brandywine said.

Brandywine did not say when it plans to break ground on the project or its various components. The company, a publicly traded real estate investment trust based in Radnor, Penn., did not provide a figure on the overall cost of the proposed project.

The company’s vision for the development “has drawn industry-leading partners who believe in this project and the positive impact it will have on Southwest Austin,” Jerry Sweeney, president and CEO of Brandywine Realty Trust, said in a written statement.

SHI International, a global provider of information technology products and services, has purchased 6.6 acres where Brandywine plans to build a 250,000-square foot office building that will be the national headquarters for SHI’s small and mid-size sales organization.

“A decade ago, we opened our first corporate call center in Austin with a handful of employees,” Thai Lee, president and CEO of SHI, said in a written statement. “Today, our Austin facility is the hub of our SHI corporate division and houses almost 1,000 employees that currently reside in and around the city.”

Lee said the Garza Ranch location will allow the company to expand “while ensuring our employee’s lives are not disrupted by a significant change to their commute.”

In addition to SHI’s building, plans call for a second office building with 150,000 square feet of space at Garza Ranch.

For the project’s multifamily component, Brandywine selected Trammell Crow Residential to develop Alexan Garza Ranch, a luxury apartment complex that Trammell Crow Residential will own and operate.

Pathfinder Development, a Texas-based company that develops and manages hotels, purchased a site at Garza Ranch where it will build an upscale Aloft hotel, a Marriott brand.

Chirag Patel, managing director of Pathfinder Development, said Pathfinder “had been searching for an optimal site in this part of town for almost a decade.

“The demographic of Southwest Austin and the recent growth of commercial office space development provide the perfect environment for an upscale hotel,” Patel said.

A key amenity of Garza Ranch will be its connection to the Violet Crown Trail, which runs through Garza Ranch and links Zilker Park and the Barton Creek Greenbelt.

“Through our vision and development of the Violet Crown Trail, it is our goal for Austin’s scenic natural areas and conservation lands to be connected with the city’s neighborhoods, shopping centers, business hubs and public parks, providing a unique recreational experience,” said George Cofer, CEO of Hill Country Conservancy.

The Garza tract, which sits on sensitive land in the watershed area that feeds Barton Springs, has a long and contentious history. Members of the Garza family sparred with the city of Austin for years about which rules should guide the development of the last piece of their ranch. The dispute’s ripple effects spilled into the courts and state Legislature.

In addition, some neighborhood groups in recent years raised concerns about the anticipated increase in traffic from new development proposed for the site.

As president of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, Darryl Pruett had organized meetings in 2015 between the parties to work through the issues. “As a result of changes made to the plans for the development arising out of conversations with the interested neighborhoods, the project was eventually supported by the Western Oaks Property Owners Association,” Pruett said Monday. Western Oaks is a member group of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods.

Pruett said speaking as a resident, and not on behalf of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods, he is “excited that Brandywine has partnered with some incredible industry leaders to bring much needed housing and office space to the Garza Ranch location.”

“I supported the project with the expectation that Brandywine would ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to developing in a sensitive area of Austin. It appears that they have,” Pruett said.

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