Seaholm Intake redevelopment design receives initial approval

Seaholm-architectdrawing-375x25Today’s Community Impact reports:

After a two-plus year public process to redesign the Seaholm Intake facility along Lady Bird Lake, a development team has been picked to carry out the project.

Stratus Properties, the Austin-based real estate company behind the W Austin Hotel and parts of the 2nd Street District, was selected by Austin’s Parks and Recreation Board on Oct. 27 to redevelop the Seaholm Intake facility. Austin City Council must grant final approval during its Nov. 19 meeting before negotiations to share the city-owned space can commence.

Originally was built as a pump house for the Seaholm Power Plant and Green Water Treatment Plant, the Intake Facility was shut down in 1989, said Lyn Estabrook, Parks and Recreation Department project manager. A 2001 master plan for the area proposed converting the industrial space into something more publicly accessible, she said.

Seaholm Intake redevelopment

“That’s really our goal, to have some sort of public use,” Estabrook said. “We sort of have a vision for the space.”

That vision was further refined in 2013 when a public design competition resulted in 76 conceptual ideas for repurposing the space, and the Top 10—and eventually top three—finalists were shared with the public for further input. From there, the city incorporated the preferred design elements into a request for master developers to realize the public’s vision.

The public in September was again asked to pick among four more concrete design proposals. That city survey yielded approximately 2,000 results, according to Estabrook, and two finalists emerged from that process. City Council will hear presentations from both finalists—Stratus Properties and Southwest Strategies Groupbefore making any final recommendation.

“Because it’s park land, [the facility] will always remain public property,” Estabrook said. “We won’t lease or sell the space. The agreement that comes out will be a license agreement with the master developer very akin to a concessions agreement.”

The city also receives a portion of the operating revenue generated at the site. In exchange, the development team benefits by inheriting invaluable space, Estabrook said.

“No other building can be built right on the water, so it’s a really unique building because it’s literally the only building that’s touching the water,” she said. “They will have a resource that no one else has, and that’s a very competitive advantage and a cherry on top of their portfolios.”

The proposed contract terms would require all redevelopment, maintenance and other ongoing costs to be paid by the master developer and not the city. The space would be controlled by the developer for at least 20 years with three options to renew, according to Estabrook. Such contract negotiations could take up to a year to be completed after any council approval, she said.

Construction approvals would then need to go back to city boards, commissions and the full council before any work commences, and the project would take approximately one year to complete, Estabrook said. That puts a revamped Seaholm Intake facility in line to be complete by 2018 or 2019, she said.

“That’ll be really good timing because the last building in the Seaholm District will be almost ready and done by then,” Estabrook said.

According to Estabrook, The Trail Foundation proposed giving private money to either finalist to enhance the Ann & Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail along the lake near the facility and to add a new boardwalk in front of the Seaholm Intake. Exact project costs and financial benefit to the city are uncertain until a contract is finalized.

Austin office space: Who’s looking and where?

Austin-skyline-downtown-at-night_115258 From today’s Austin Business Journal:

Think the largest percentage of companies searching for office space in Austin are in the tech sector? Better think again.

About 30 percent of those shopping for office space in downtown Austin are in the professional services industry — accounting, research and other consulting, according to the latest third quarter report by JLL.
Colorado Tower was completed earlier this year and it’s already 100 percent leased. The next building scheduled to deliver is 5th+Colorado tower nearby.

Following close behind — about 28 percent — are tech firms. Of the 47 tech firms surveyed, about half are seeking office space below 15,000 square feet.

The data insights are included in JLL’s third quarter Austin Market Report.

Here’s some other highlights:

• Most of the companies shopping for space — 56 percent of the 180 companies surveyed — are seeking between 10,000 to 20,000 square feet. Some 73 percent have needs between 5,000 — 30,000 square feet.

• About 13 percent of the companies surveyed are seeking more than 50,000 square feet. Based on JLL’s data, there are only 17 options across the entire city that can accommodate the larger parameters.

• Austin properties recorded a stunning 1.5 million square feet of positive absorption in the past year or 3.2 percent of total inventory. That’s the exact same percentage of absorption as recorded in the same time frame in Silicon Valley.

• Seven office projects totaling 695,000 square feet delivered across the city in the third quarter alone. Here’s a surprise — only 640,000 square feet of office space is scheduled to be completed in all of 2016, though about 1 million square feet is scheduled to deliver in early 2017.

• About 800,000 square feet is under construction in Northwest Austin, but only 17 percent is pre-leased.

• There are only seven blocks of contiguous space larger than 25,000 square feet available in the northwest submarket — the largest being 65,000 square feet at Riata Corporate Park near the new Apple Inc. campus.

• Four office buildings were delivered in the third quarter in the southwest submarket — about 430,000 square feet. Though those projects were 98 percent pre-leased, a sizable chunk was EZ Corp.’s deal for four floors, about 140,000 square feet, at Rollingwood Center. The pawn shop operator initiated a corporate restructuring and laid off 100 workers this summer. It is seeking to sublease more than 100,000 square feet.

Big Red Dog helps reshape Austin’s development scene

From the Austin American Statesman:

Big Red Dog, an Austin-based engineering and consulting firm, got its start in 2009, when the U.S. was in the throes of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Not only did the company weather the recession, but it has been on an upward trajectory since 2011, thanks to a strong economy propelled by the continued job and population growth in the Austin area.

Now with offices in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio as well as Austin, and having completed nearly 450 projects in 36 cities, Big Red Dog is among the fastest-growing companies in Central Texas. It recently was ranked by Zweig Group as one of the fastest-growing engineering and architecture firms in North America.

The ranking adds to the firm’s numerous accolades, which include being named one of the top design firms in Texas and Louisiana by Engineering News-Record for the past three years.

Big Red Dog provides civil, mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering and related consulting services for commercial, residential, retail and industrial projects across Texas. The firm also is involved in land planning, helping developers select sites for their proposed projects and obtain the permits and approvals required to build them.

In six years, the firm has grown from its three founders — Bob Brown, Brad Lingvai and Will Schnier — to 105 employees, with projected annual revenue of about $15 million this year.

The company expects to have as many as 600 employees and annual revenue of $100 million by 2024.

Big Red Dog has a long list of high-profile projects to its credit. In Austin, those include Greystar’s Lamar Union mixed-use project on South Lamar Boulevard; the newly opened South Congress Hotel; Hotel Van Zandt; Live Oak Brewery; and the Waller Creek redevelopment project.

Elsewhere, projects include the Halliburton Eagle Ford Shale complex in San Antonio; Lake Highlands Town Center in Dallas and The District at Memorial in Houston.

Derek Brown with Greystar said that, after working with Big Red Dog on numerous projects over the years, including several current projects, “I can comfortably say that they have set the standard in terms of an engineering consultant.”

“Greystar was the first major mixed use developer that starting working with Big Red Dog, and now they’re doing the vast majority of the mixed use and infill projects in Austin due in part to the successes that we’ve had together,” Brown said.

Matt Ryan, a partner with the construction law firm of Allensworth & Porter whose clients include Big Red Dog, said that, “while the leadership figures in the firm may be relatively young, what I’ve seen demonstrates a business savvy and client service ethic that are top shelf in all regards.”

Recently, Lingvai and other members of Big Red Dog’s local leadership team sat down with the American-Statesman to talk about the company’s growth, its projects and other topics in their East Fifth Street headquarters.

In addition, Lingvai; Schnier, the firm’s CEO; Ricky DeCamps, vice president of the Austin office; and David Johnson, vice president of the mechanical, electrical and plumbing division in Austin, responded collectively in writing to the following questions:

American-Statesman: What is fueling the company’s growth?

Big Red Dog: The main drivers are the excellent demographics in Texas. Anecdotally speaking, we understand that there are over 1,000 people a day migrating to the state of Texas. And this is a trend that has been going on since 2005. And those 1,000 people are primarily locating in places where Big Red Dog has offices.

Austin tops many lists for ‘best of,’ but Dallas Houston and San Antonio top plenty of lists of their own. Houston is poised to pass Chicago to become the third- largest city in the country. Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio are all in the top 11 of the largest cities it the country. Statewide employment is beating the national average and the unemployment rate in Austin is under 4 percent.

On top of that, city regulations are not getting any easier, and the demand for housing stock, both multifamily housing and single-family subdivisions, continues to increase. Right behind the housing comes the services — car dealerships, fast food restaurants, shopping centers, grocery stores, banks — all of these things are required when the population increases dramatically. As an engineering firm who caters to those markets, we are well-positioned in each city.

What are a couple of the firm’s most challenging projects, and how did the company surmount the challenges involved?

Lamar Union was a very challenging project. It was a 10-acre redevelopment site in the heart of South Lamar. We worked diligently with the adjacent neighborhood, and with city staff, to create a really amazing project. The site went from an underutilized strip center with a surface parking lot to become the one real shining example of what a vertical mixed-use project can be in the Austin urban core.

What are some challenges of working in Austin?

In Austin specifically, it’s never a good idea to be an out-of-town developer’s first engineer. A client working here for the first time will have unreasonable expectations on what is possible, what the schedule should look like, and what the cost should be. The city review process represents a very high barrier to entry for non-local developers and engineers, especially those working on their first project. We like to say, in Austin, it’s always best to be somebody’s second engineer. Because the first engineer could have been perfect and for factors outside of his control the client may think him incompetent if he’s being evaluated based on similar experiences in different cities.

What is your strategy for surviving during an economic downturn, or lean times?

Our strategy for dealing with that inevitable downturn is, No. 1, to be honest about it with our staff. No. 2, we are diversifying our geographic locations, our service lines, and our client base. Number three, we strive to include all of our team members in our operational processes, and our marketing, branding, and client relationships. The stronger all three of those are, the better off the firm will be during a recession.

What are some of the principles that guide decision-making at the firm and inform its day-to-day operations?

We run a very open-book company. Everybody in the office can read our business plan. As owners and managers we have an obligation to answer any question about our business that we can to our staff. We try to let decisions be made at the lowest level they can. We really try to empower our team members to make the right decision for our clients using their best judgment. Approximately 10 percent of our staff are owners in the company, which is a ratio that we want to continue.

What is your take on all the growth the Central Texas region is seeing?

Austin’s lack of density, and its history of failing to invest in the necessary transportation systems, will ultimately come back to haunt us.

For a long time, Austin had an attitude of ‘if you don’t build it, they won’t come.’ Well, that didn’t work out. Today we’re in an environment of ‘if you build it, build only 25 percent of what you really need so that we can protect our environment and single-family neighborhoods.’

October’s Featured Miller ISD Artist

Diane Tubb, Miller ISD’s featured artist this month, is a true Austinite; a multi-talented artist, designer and musician.

The native Texan played classical violin and folk guitar until focusing on interior design and art in college. After college, Diane first worked as an interior designer, interior design instructor and architectural illustrator, doing watercolor and pen and ink illustrations for fun. Joining her husband, Jerry, in founding Terra Nova Mastering studio, where she is now Vice President, in charge of business and studio operations, she continued to paint, primarily in watercolor and adding acrylic to her repertoire several years ago.

Her work has been published in many media outlets and prints of her music themed work  hang in many recording studios, recording artists’ collections, and private collections.  Diane’s watercolors are painted on heavy cold press illustration board, allowing her talent for fine detailing to shine, which she further enhances with pen and ink.  She uses large format heavy duty canvas for her acrylics, preferring the acrylics for more contemporary and abstract work, such as the lovely Grazioso Rizmo (Graceful Rhythm) shown here.

More of both her watercolors and acrylics may be seen on Diane’s website or by contacting her directly.

Notes Diane, “I couldn’t wish for a more perfect life,  music and art, all day, every day! How fun is that?

Check out the new Violet Crown Trail!

The Hill Country Conservancy has opened the first segment of the new Violet Crown Trail, a six mile stretch from Zilker Park to Sunset Valley. As exciting as that is, it’s just the first part of what will be a 30 mile trail running all the way from Zilker to Hays County, the longest trail system of its kind in Central Texas!

Community support for the initiative began in 1999 and has been considerable. Hill Country Conservancy’s partners include Austin Parks Foundation, Austin Ridge Riders, Save Barton Creek Association, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Real Estate Council of Austin, Texas, Austin Ridge Riders, City of Austin, City of Sunset Valley, Texas Conservation Corps, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas Department of Transportation, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Additional support for both the continuation and upkeep of the trail is welcomed on the HCC website.

So whether you walk, run or bike, take advantage of the beautiful weather and explore! The Zilker Trailhead and entrance to the Violet Crown Trail is in Zilker Park, just west of the Barton Springs Pool. The Highway 290 Trailhead may be accessed from the intersection of US-290 and Brodie Lane; park in the Spec’s/Walmart lot and walk to the trailhead by following the granite sidewalk along the US-290 frontage road.

See you on the trail!

While other Texas cities lose construction jobs, Austin holds steady

From today’s Austin Business Journal:

While some Texas cities such as Fort Worth and Houston are among the 153 metro areas in the U.S. that have seen a drop in construction jobs in the past year, Austin’s construction industry has held its own.

According to federal employment data released by the Associated General Contractors of America, Austin gained 100 construction jobs between August 2014 and August of this year. The Austin region had 52,000 people employed in construction that month.

The oil price slump has had a big effect on the local economy and construction projects in Fort Worth, which lost 6,000 construction jobs in the past year to top the national list, followed by Houston, which lost 3,700 construction jobs, the report found.

Other metros with significant job losses included Akron, Ohio; New Orleans; and the Bergen-Hudson-Passaic country area in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Santa Fe, New Mexico, saw the highest percent loss in construction jobs, losing 22 percent of its construction workforce, or 600 jobs.

Ken Simonson, AGCA’s chief economist, attributed the job losses to the difficulty in finding qualified workers and to the ongoing oil slump impacting the Gulf Coast and other regions.

“The fact that fewer than half of metro areas added construction jobs at a time when there were gains in nearly three-fourths of the states suggests that contractors in many more metros would be hiring if they could find qualified workers,” Simonson said in a statement. “In addition, the steep downturn in oil and gas drilling has hit construction hard in cities such as Fort Worth, Houston and New Orleans, even as downstream projects gain steam in places such as Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas.”

Still, of the 358 metros studied, more are adding construction jobs than cutting them.

Jobs increased in 163 areas, led by the Denver area, which added 10,400 jobs over the year, and the Weirton-Steubenville regions of West Virginia and Ohio, which increased construction jobs by 28 percent.

Beaumont, east of Houston, increased its number of construction jobs in the past year by 16 percent.

Earlier this month, AGCA released a report that showed that more than 80 percent of construction companies are having difficulties finding qualified workers. The association added that the shortage is raising the cost of new projects.