What Gary Farmer wants you to know about Austin’s future; plus ULI awards galore!

Gary Farmer ULI Impact Awards
Gary Farmer, president of Heritage Title and a legend in Austin’s economic development sphere, won this year’s Vision Award from the Austin Council of the Urban Land Institute.

I learned something very quickly when I moved to Austin in April 2012: Gary Farmer, president of Heritage Title company, is the most connected business person in the city.

That point was driven home once again last week when he was awarded the 2018 Urban Land Institute Austin Vision Award. If you weren’t there — at the Zach Theatre — you missed a great cocktail party and awards program.

Gary mentioned during his acceptance speech that there’s one question he’s pretty tired of hearing lately.

“‘What inning are we in?’ I hate that question,” he confessed.

He has an answer, however, that many young professionals need to take to heart: “Cyclicality is absolute.”

At some point this extraordinary trajectory of Austin’s economy will level off—and perhaps fall—because in the history of the world there are cycles of renewal and cycles of decline. Austin is not an island unto itself.

Eventually this new generation of business practitioners will have to navigate the inevitable roller coaster. So keep those seat belts fastened with a sober eye to the future.

For the moment, though, inspiration for real estate development can be found in this year’s ULI award winners.  Before I reveal the victors, a few personal shout-outs:

To Vaike O’Grady, regional director of Metrostudy: Thank you for inviting me to hang out with you. It was so much fun, I was one of the last to leave.

To Jimmy Flannigan, Austin City Council member: Thank you for showing up at so many real estate events and caring about this industry’s stake in the future. I appreciate your sincerity and enthusiasm.

To Greg Weaver, executive vice president of Catellus Development Corp.: Thank you for your commitment to excellence and talking to me ad nauseam about both Austin and Phoenix real estate.

And finally, thank you to ULI for all you do to support distinction in land use and real estate development.

ULI members, keep a lookout for an upcoming story about attorney Carey Gunn Venditti. She’s ULI’s new district council chair—the first woman to hold this position. Bravo, Carey.

Without further ado, here’s a look at this year’s winners:

Most Influential Project: The Waterfront at the Oracle Campus. STG Design and Ryan Cos. had the audacity to put forward an idea for an office campus along Lady Bird Lake in the often shunned area southeast of downtown.

I was thrilled to write about it as a reporter at Austin Business Journal. To me, a newbie Austin, I couldn’t understand why the East Riverside Drive Corridor wasn’t front and center for new development. It’s a straight shot to the airport, after all. Timing is everything, obviously.

So kudos to Ryan Cos. for making it happen when some folks thought it was a crazy idea. By the way, Jim Susman with STG, it’s a stunning building. I feel exhilarated just driving by.

Best Project Design Award: The Austin Central Library, which couldn’t have been a more timely honor — and I mean that in more ways than one. Time Magazine named the library as one of 2018’s World’s Greatest Places. That’s pretty stellar kudos, and I think it’s an accolade that was worth the investment. Libraries matter!

Best Public Place Award: Republic Square Park in Downtown Austin. To be honest about the time the fences came down, I was no longer working nearby. So, I haven’t experienced this public place at Fifth and Guadalupe streets. I better check it out when someone invites me to Wu Chow for lunch.

Best Project Innovation Award: Fareground at One Eleven, also in Downtown Austin. OK, I confess, I haven’t been there, yet, either. Living in Lockhart and the cost of downtown parking are obstacles I must overcome.

Best Big Idea Award: Reconnect Austin, the visionary plan of Austin architect Sinclair Black to bury I-35 in a tunnel as it crosses downtown and create parks and other amenities above it. If there is ever an idea that is right for Austin right now, this is it.

Members of the Year: Greg Weaver, Catellus (see above), and also Chip Mills, vice president of RVI Planning + Landscape Architecture. Way to go, gentlemen!

Top Contributing ULI Young Leader: Caitlin Admire, Perkins + Will.  This is just the beginning. Congrats!

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