Redevelopment of the old Statesman HQ stalled over affordable housing dispute

‘The South Central plan does not move without this one,’ says Endeavor representative

A rendering of the 305 South Congress development plans for Austin’s southern waterfront (Skidmore Owings & Merrill)
A rendering of the 305 South Congress development plans for Austin’s southern waterfront (Skidmore Owings & Merrill)

The massive redevelopment of the Austin-American Statesman building has hit a roadblock — a spat over affordable housing.

The proposed transformation of the former Austin American-Statesman headquarters on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake has been in the planning stage for years. At the last City Council meeting, Austin leaders and a representative of developer Endeavor Real Estate Group sparred over the amount of proposed affordable housing units, according to the Austin Business Journal.

Council member Kathie Tovo, who represents District 9, introduced the motion to postpone approval of the project, which includes downtown and the South Central Waterfront. The motion was unanimously approved by her peers, so changes to land use designations and zoning for the 305 South Congress Avenue project will now be reviewed by council during its Sept. 1 meeting.

Endeavor’s plans for the six-tower project include 1,378 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of offices, a 275-room hotel and 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. The project is a key part of the city’s South Central Waterfront Vision Framework Plan that would redefine the city’s skyline by building up 118 acres along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.

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Endeavor’s initial plans proposed making at least 4 percent of the project’s residential units income-restricted affordable housing. During the July 28 meeting, Tovo stated that the city’s existing ordinance includes a 10 percent requirement for affordable housing.

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This would force Endeavor to reserve 137 of the 1,378 proposed units for affordable housing rather than the roughly 55 units being proposed now. Richard Suttle, the real estate attorney representing Endeavor, rejected those terms outright.

“We could just put this thing to bed,” Suttle said. “It is not going to happen,” he told the council, reminding them that Endeavor’s redevelopment of the Statesman’s headquarters was the “linchpin” of the South Central plan.

“The South Central plan does not move without this one,” he said. “There is a long list of projects that are waiting to come through. Context would be better. We have had all the fun we can stand waiting on the context.”

In March, Tishman Speyer submitted plans for a 330-foot office tower on 311-315 South Congress Avenue. Though the company has not published any updates on the project, if completed it would add 10,000 square feet of retail space to the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.

“I wish I had a solution,” said Council Member Alison Alter, who represents District 10. “At the end of the day, this is an extremely important part of our city, and it is an opportunity for development. We have to figure out what are the appropriate investments and what are not.”

— Maddy Sperling