Up to 50-story tower planned at Fifth and Brazos

Austin’s skyline could change dramatically once again with the planned addition of a skyscraper of up to 50 stories with hotel rooms and residences at East Fifth and Brazos streets downtown.

The tower could include one or two hotels and more than 300 housing units, most likely apartments, David Carlins, president of Chicago-based Magellan Development Group, told the American-Statesman on Friday.

Magellan, which is building a national presence with its large-scale luxury mixed-use towers in Chicago and other cities, would develop the Austin project with Wanxiang America Real Estate Group , also based in the Chicago area.

The height of the proposed tower has yet to be finalized, but it could be between 35 and 50 stories, Carlins said. He said it was too early to give a cost estimate for the project.

“We’re really excited about Austin,” Carlins said. “We’ve been looking at Austin, as a lot of people have for awhile, and were just waiting for the right opportunity and the right partnership.”

Carlins emphasized that plans are in the early stages. Chicago-based bKL Architecture is working on conceptual drawings for the project, which Magellan is not yet releasing.

Pending city approvals, the soonest the project might be expected to break ground is mid- to late 2014, Carlins said. The tower would take about two years to complete, he said.

Magellan is talking to hotel groups about the project, although those discussions aren’t far enough along yet to be substantive, Carlins said. The project could have a single hotel, or be a dual-flag project, he said. The residential units would be built above the hotel and retail space, and whatever hotel or hotels are part of the project would determine its overall density, he said.

Magellan purchased the half-acre site at Fifth and Brazos last month from Stream Realty Parnters, said Lance Sallis, a Stream partner. The tract was among five parcels that Stream and Wanxiang had purchased this year from a partnership that included local investor Tom Stacy. That purchase included the 26-story Bank of America tower at Sixth and Congress, which Stream operates, and an annex that Stream will renovate into a five-story building with office space.

Along with other changes taking place on downtown’s east side, including the Waller Creek redevelopment and a new Westin hotel rising next to Magellan’s site, the proposed new tower would “dramatically change the face of the eastern half of downtown,” Sallis said.

Sallis said Stream chose Magellan as the buyer over several other bidders, which he declined to identify.

“The Magellan/Wanxiang partnership is experienced and well capitalized,” Sallis said. “They’re very capable.”

Magellan’s site is zoned for up to 282,624 square feet of development. However, Magellan could ask the city to build a bigger project under a density-bonus program that would be the first case since new rules were adopted in June, said Michael Knox, a city planner. Knox said there are no height limits on the site, nor is it restricted by rules protecting views of the state Capitol dome.

The proposed tower “is terrific confirmation of the vitality of downtown across all product major product types — office, hotel and residential,” said Charles Heimsath, a local real estate consultant. “Austin is probably the only second-tier city in the country where the announcement of a project of this size would be considered viable.”

Magellan’s high-profile projects in Chicago, which include the 87-story Aqua luxury mixed-use tower, are allowing it to catapult into other U.S. markets. In Nashville, Magellan and Wanxiang are partnering on a 32-story tower with more than 300 apartments. And in downtown Minneapolis, Magellan is building a 36-story high-rise with 354 luxury units.

“We generally like tall buildings,” Carlins told the American-Statesman. “We built 87 stories in Chicago. We’re not afraid to go up.”

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