Wrap up for week of July 1 — Paxton and the PC; McCourt Global still trying; Cielo’s charitable ways and Catellus’ magic touch

Northeast Central Austin Lake Park
Though Mueller is busy with activity every single day, Mueller Lake Park is a tranquil oasis. I was there on the scorching 103 degree day and this view was refreshing.

Here we go with episode 2 of the real estate in review for the week of July 1, 2018. Even though we had the misfortune of the Fourth of July occurring on Wednesday, there still was plenty of news to keep real estate devotees satisfied.

So let’s start out with the news that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the city of Austin, alleging that too many appointees on the Planning Commission are affiliated with real estate — a violation of the city charter.

An odd crusade for Paxton, I think, but then again, city rules state that no more than one-third of the appointees be “directly or indirectly” connected to the real estate industry, and that’s clearly been exceeded. But really.

I’ve reported throughout my career on numerous municipal and county governments in four states, and planning commissions are always stacked with real estate players. They’re the ones who know the business and have the stamina to serve in these thankless and time-consuming voluntary positions. It’s a good thing they have a background in real estate because their decisions are complicated.

Besides, the panel is composed of people who are vetted and appointed by individual city council members. You can bet the panelist selected by left leaning Austin City Councilor Greg Casar has a different take from the appointee named by right leaning Councilor Ellen Troxclair. So usually the planning commission ends up being a healthy mash-up of political philosophies, even if they are in the biz.

But da rules are dem rules, I guess. Can’t the city change ’em and send Paxton packing?

The Austin Business Journal reports that activity is resuming at Waller Park Place, a proposed $1 billion mixed-use project in the Rainey Street District. The new activity, it seems, is that property owner McCourt Global is shopping around for a development partner.

I’ve never held my breath with this project. It’s been chatted about since 2013 without any appreciable advancement. The local company that originally envisioned the project — the Sutton Co. — was mysteriously bought out by McCourt Global last year and now, according to ABJ, wants back in the game. I’ve never understood the dynamic there.

New York-based McCourt — yes, founded by Frank McCourt of Los Angeles Dodgers infamy — has retained HFF brokerage to shop the project around. But here’s the deal, McCourt’s shopping around another project that’s been languishing for some time.

As “The Real Deal” in New York reported June 28, McCourt recently hired both CBRE and HFF to help “identify potential development partners and opportunities” for the Hudson Yards project on Manhattan’s west side. An interesting parallel here.

Take a look at McCourt Global’s website, too, which lists its real estate projects as 360 Tenth Avenue in New York; Setting The State in the Shoreditch neighborhood in London; The Towers by Foster+Partners in Miami; and then Waller Place Park. It doesn’t appear that any of these have been built or are under construction.

I’m still not holding my breath.

The towers.net blog reports that in the same neighborhood, a high rise named “91 Red River,” is in the works by an affiliate of Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group.

Documents at the city of Austin’s development services department show that the 29 stories will include office, retail and residential uses with parking. Situated west of Hotel Van Zandt, the proposed development is in the site review process.

Cielo Property Group, the local development company that has been kicking butt since 2010, has taken magnanimous civic action, pledging $1 million toward helping solving Austin’s homeless dilemma. Reported by the Austin Business Journal, principals Rob Gandy and Bobby Dillard have yet to disclose the exact recipients of the money, but as downtown developers they can see first hand the escalating numbers of people, often lined up at the Caritas shelter at Sixth and Nueces street, desperately seeking shelter. Austin isn’t particularly known for generous entrepreneurs — save Michael Dell — so hopefully this will encourage corporate generosity toward solving Austin’s mounting challenges.

Catellus, which has done a stellar job shaping the Mueller master-planned development at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, has support from the city once again — this time to develop Colony Park, about 200 acres in Northeast Austin. Located near Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park, Colony Park could eventually include 3,000 homes and nearly 1 million square feet of commercial space. ABJ reports that City Council could formalize an agreement with Catellus in October.

Recently I’ve really taken the time to drive around Mueller taking photographs for an assignment. The quality and mix of homes, condos and apartments at the 700-acre development are top notch. With expansive open space, parks, offices and retail, Mueller is an Austin showcase. I can’t wait to see what is eventually proposed for the Tower District, which surrounds the preserved air traffic control tower.

Northeast Central Austin Mueller Control Tower
Perhaps some kind of aviation theme will be embraced for the undeveloped land surrounding the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport control tower. It’s an irreplaceable landmark.

Finally, Carolyn Karabinos, who I got to know as a reporter with the Austin Business Journal, has made an employment change. After nearly six years with Balfour Beatty Construction, she has joined Rogers-O’Brien Construction as director of client relations and development. Rogers-O’Brien is particularly busy right now with one of Austin’s most anticipated new mixed-use developments — Plaza Saltillo, the massive five-block project on the east side. Good luck, Carolyn!

Plaza Saltillo construction
Rogers-O’Brien Construction is crazy busy at Plaza Saltillo

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