Archive for the ‘Real Estate’ Category

I just read this somewhere

  • This little story about Austin’s commercial real estate has been floating around in parts for the last month or so. Following is some language from today’s NYT (“Sam Zell’s Empire, Underwater in a Big Way,” byline Charles V. Bagli):

    In Austin, when the Thomas Properties Group formed a partnership with the California teachers’ pension fund and Lehman Brothers, which was also a lender in the deal, to buy 10 Equity Office buildings downtown and in the surrounding suburbs for $1.15 billion, it instantly became the biggest commercial landlord in town.

    Like many of the other deals, it was highly leveraged and dependent on rising rents. The problem is that rents are now declining in Austin, particularly in suburban areas, where vacancy rates have climbed to 14.4 percent as several new buildings are coming on line without tenants.

    There are other quotes specific to Austin; just scroll on down. The local daily has been whipping up quite a bit of suspense over whether certain property taxes will be paid.

  • This book’s been out there for a while, but I finally caught up with it at the library, where it’s constantly on hold. Julie and Julia (365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen: How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living) started with a blog by Julie Powell, who grew up right here in Austin. Her blog documented her project, which was to prepare every recipe in the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the cookbook that first brought Julia Child to the attention of the world at large. There’s not much of Austin in this book, except a misspelling of Pok-E-Jo’s and passing mention of Austin High. It’s more about friendship and about living in the Big City, working (apparently for the Port Authority) in the aftermath of September 11. I enjoyed this book and recommend it, even though the Austin connection is on the slight side and the cooking parts are as much about shopping as anything else, but that’s one of the ways that Real Life enters in. The author had never really eaten eggs until she started cooking them. She says that people found that difficult to believe, but there’s at least one more person who’s pretty much the same in that respect. I never ate eggs myself and still don’t, except tucked into baked goods. The closest I’ve ever come was when I was starving to death on staff food at a resort that shall go unnamed here and I found that, beyond boxed cereals and steaks filched by friends working at a tonier resort, very lightly egged French toast could be endured for the sake of survival.
  • Mongo: Adventures in Trash, by John Botha, recounts the author’s adventures among scavengers of various types. He’s writing about the Big City, but Austin comes in for a tribute from one in a group of experienced seekers of food and other useful necessities: “In Austin Texas, where he spent the past few winters, he came across a five-gallon drum of solid chocolate–not once, but several times. . . . “We’ve also found whole crates of soy milk and a load of maple syrup and waffle mix. Whole crates! We fed a crew of fifty people out of the Dumpsters. I’ve found bikes, even library Dumpsters. . . . Austin is the best place in the world for Dumpster diving.” I think that this may be true, but I was surprised to find it in print (pages 78 and 78 from the library’s hard-cover edition).

Austin in the greater world

  • In the Sunday NYT, there’s a lengthy article on the lodging business, with a focus on Austin’s Kimber Modern establishment. The discussion is related to the changing economy, and there are extensive quotations, plus four photographs (only one photo on line), in the hard copy (“A Modernist Inn, Built From Scratch,” byline Fred A. Bernstein, page 12 of the business section). I found the discussion of requirements for off-street parking, along with the need of the owners to structure this place as a bed-and-breakfast inn for zoning purposes, interesting indeed.
  • In the February issue of O, The Oprah Magazine (page 44, not yet on line), the new CD of Austin’s own Ruthie Foster tops a list of three new issues in which “fresh female voices sing about love and loss.” Ruthie plans a release party at Antone’s on February 3

South 1st Watch

Next in a series of semi-random, occaisional updates on whats going down on S 1st St.

After my report on the “Downtown” Event and Street closure task force, I took some flak from neighborhood folks for describing the area from Town Lake to Oltorf as downtown. So I’ll avoid that mistake this time.

So, a few changes and updates, nothing too radical but a few promising things. Heading north towards downtown from Oltorf:

2210 – The strip mall, most notable for Fair Been Coffe, DJ Dojo and South Side Bicycles, gone is The Furr Factor; in are Novapello Laser Hair removel and Shine Beauty Salon, both smart and minimalist looking modern places. Maybe I didn’t notice last time I was there, but in the corner is Cream Vintage.

2209 – Behind the veritable feast that is End of an Ear, is Deathtrap Motorcycles. They seem to be using it as a mail/storage for their ebay Auction site, unless you know better.

603 W Live Oak – The former home of Las Manos Magicas, the lot remains empty and looking for investors. The latest news from the city is that the developer has been granted a 90-day extension to address issues with the development plan.

2101 – The movie poster shop has gone, and next doors RedLine Hookahs has expanded into the space.

2009 – Development continues slowly at the up coming Once Over Coffee Bar.

507 W Mary – The shop formerly occupied by Mercury Clothing has been taken over by Austin Handmade.

1502 – In one of my first Austin metblog posts, I speculated that the VMUification of S 1st might be about to start. Well it hasn’t. The house on the lot at 1502 has gone now, presumably to be re-situated for the requisite developer tax break, but also to save the landfill. No sign of any development yet.

1417 The Live at Elizabeth development hasn’t started.

Next update, well, when theres something to add. If I’ve got anything wrong above or any of the new businesses have a web site I have not listed, please leave a comment. So, change happens, but slowly. Good luck to all the new businesses and welcome to the ‘hood.

"It wasn’t supposed to be like this."

That’s a quote from an article that appeared first on line yesterday and now today in the WSJ real-estate section. The hard-copy title is kinder (“Bigger in Texas? Capital’s Real-Estate Glut Counts,” byline Maura Webber Sadovi) than the one appearing in some searches (“Austin’s Real-Estate Glut”). The print version has numbers comparing office, retail, and warehouse vacancy rates and rent per square foot for the 2008 third quarter and for the same quarter a year ago, as well as the median prices for single-family houses. I may have overlooked this information before seeing it today in this feature, but it’s reported here that the Austin Museum of Art building project has been postponed yet again. There are lots of negative descriptions in this piece, including “binge,” “bloated,” “deteriorating demand,” and more. Just how much of a lag will there be between the facts and the subsequent adjustment of appraised values for tax purposes that will accurately reflect the downward course?

Boulevard of broken dreams

Or maybe this entry should go into the Humpty-Dumpty Department. Having created great upheavals and disruptions and caused Tesoros, Las Manitas, and Escuelita del Alma to uproot themselves, greatly to the detriment of the quality of life downtown, the Marriott Hotel people, it’s reported, have put their project on hold (byline Shonda Novak, The Real Deal blog, local daily). So I suppose that this block, since ownership changes have already occurred, will sit there for who can guess how long with the greatest part of the frontage on the east side of Congress just plain vacant and deserted. If only we could have been spared all this from the beginning. The destruction of a once-thriving block of activity has now been decisively accomplished and will remain unremedied for the foreseeable future.

u p d a t e : Here’s more, much more, from the local daily. Mike Martinez is quoted as saying that the block “lost a lot of its foot traffic and vibrancy,” although he then goes on to express some optimism about the future. The article includes the latest on other stalled projects, complete with maps.

Second-home paradise?

The notion of a second home in Austin is certainly tempting, at least for me. It’s becoming more and more difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to make the customary weekend rounds, especially if crossing the river is involved. Even Capital Metro isn’t always informed of street-closings, and pedestrian detours can take a lot of pleasure out of a jaunt, particularly during the hot weather. We would have been spending much more money on favorite baked goods and other delights during the past several months, had it not been akin to mounting a major trek to reach them. It would be wonderful to have small retreats available in several parts of Austin.

Today’s NYT touts downtown Austin nationally as a great place to own a vacation hideaway (“People-Friendly Planning,” byline Bethany Lyttle). It’s reported that downtown condos are being snapped up by people from Boston, New York, Dallas, Houston, and San Francisco.

My favorite insights gleaned from this feature are that supply now exceeds demand, that prices are now negotiable, and that some who committed before construction to purchase condos have failed to gain financing for them.

The piece contains some photographs and specific pricing information for a high-cost and a lower-cost offering. Will these look cheap to potential out-of-town buyers?

Frost tower illustrates "risky real estate" feature

Everywhere around town I’ve been seeing those signs touting “office space for lease” or “commercial property available.” They’re downtown and in obscure warehouse districts north, south, east, and west, more each day. A good-sized photograph of the Frost building (credit: Ben Sklar) is the eye-catcher illustrating “Risky Real Estate Deals Helped Doom Lehman” in today’s NYT (byline Terry Pristin). The photo caption reads, “In 2007, Lehman was part of a group that bought 10 office buildings, including the new Frost Bank Tower, in Austin, Tex.”

There’s quite a bit of attention paid to this particular deal. What I found most interesting among the details is that the ten Austin buildings that included the Frost tower are reported to have been purchased in 2007 for an average of $328 per square foot at a time when others were buying Austin office buildings for an average of $221 per square foot. A person from Real Cap[ital Analytics furnished that figure.

I follow the Austin Towers blog for information on the development (and sometimes, lately, the halt in development) of various large residential schemes around town. If there’s similar regular reporting about commercial real estate, I haven’t found it yet, but would like to, since there are more see-through structures out there with each passing day. The sporadic snippets from press releases that are to be found in the local daily and in the business tabloid don’t count.

Will Congress Avenue Survive?

On my way to try out the new Conjunctured co-working space (which is a whole other story) today on my bike, I stopped to get a few breakfast tacos at the doomed Las Manitas Cafe.  Across the street, the abomination known as The Austonian (please don’t start calling Austin residents “Austonians” – we are Austinites!) is going up. In addition to losing Las Manitas as a business, a letter posted on the counter at Las Manitas made it sound like Congress Avenue could lose that block of buildings, completely, to the new Marriott property.  The letter on the counter indicated there will be a hearing of the Historical Commission this coming Monday, yet I could not find out any information on the City’s Web site today.

That little section of Congress, which is supposedly a National Historic District, is really a huge part of what I think of as Austin.  My grandparents ran a store on Congress when I was a kid, and I remember when Las Manitas was Avenue Cafe, Woolworth’s supplied all our pharmaceutical needs as well as tasty shakes and burgers, the elegant Scarbrough’s department store gave us a taste of big-city living a la Macy’s or Bergdorf’s, and the Picadilly Cafeteria was upscale dining.  How much of that essence, the feeling, of that past remain? I’m worried.  Maybe I’m overly sentimental, but we have historic districts for good reason in this country, and I hope there is some teeth in this one. 

Rediscovering Austin: Tour de Condo?

Maybe the reason I have moved away from Austin in the past is because rediscovering Austin is so wonderful.  Today I set out on my bike for Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, owned by none other than Lance Armstrong (and a few others), to watch the end of today’s stage of the Tour de France.  They’re showing it on a giant screen every morning. The plan was to head for the gym after, as I hadn’t put sunscreen on or brought more than one water bottle.  But watching the Tour and the relatively nice day encouraged me to hop back on the bike and just start riding… around.

Meandering up through West Campus, I marveled at all of the apartment buildings and condos going up – seems like more activity there than downtown?  I wonder who will be able to afford to live in those places. I guess if you’re in your 20s and have a job in Central Austin that would be a good location. Will students be able to live there? I’m not sure what the maximum amount people can now get in student loans, but I have a feeling that many people will be tempted to spend their loan money on those cush digs. And they’ll pay for it later.

It’s great to just bike around on neighborhood streets and then hop on the path near Shoal Creek, then under Mopac on Bike Route 40 (I think) over to Exposition and down to Lake Austin Boulevard. There, again, you encounter the other end of student apartments, which is owned by the University and is reserved for married students.  Speaking of, the University of Texas has been advised that the land they own over there, known as the Brackenridge tract, should be developed. Now it’s the city’s turn to try to figure out what the citizens think about that… and this Saturday there will be a public meeting on the issue.   Will it be upscale condos and chic boutiques? Or can we figure out something better for the people who already live here, instead of just the refugees from California, New York, and other high-end places? Getting something innovative for working people in West Austin may not be an easy feat, but I have to ask.

From Lake Austin, I cruised under the Mopac bridge on the Roberta Crenshaw pedestrian/bike bridge, and down Barton Springs Road, stopping for a smoothie at long-time favorite Bicycle Sport Shop.  Again, passing more condo developments.

I know many people question the wisdom of building so many condos, but $4 plus gas is going to encourage more and more people to find refuge in the central city.  And that could mean, I hope, more people on bikes and less air pollution for us all. Which makes affordable housing in the central area all the more important. Michael King of the Austin Chronicle discusses some current efforts by Foundation Communities and others to provide affordable housing and address the NIMBY attitude in most neighborhoods.

Whew! What you can see on a simple bike ride in this town!

Drought + Development = No More Tecolote Organic Farm?

Austin Farmers Market muralOne of the mainstays of the Austin Farmers Market and, until recently, one of the more successful organic farms in the area, Tecolote Farm is in danger.  Just east of town, near Manor and Webberville, its wells are apparently going dry – not only because of terrible heat and drought, but because the local community is sucking lots more water from the ground, for athletic fields and new houses.  First reported by the Statesman in May, with an  update done on KXAN-TV, courtesy of the Home Sweet Farm blog, this is another example of our priorities gone awry.  According to the Sustainable Food Center, Texas is loosing prime farmland at a rate higher than any other state. Do you want your food to have to be shipped from California, or even China? The owners of Tecolote Farm are asking people to contact their Travis County Commissioner to express concern about water use in eastern Travis County and support for sustainable agriculture.

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