Endeavor and Columbus Realty have won the competition to develop the Plaza Saltillo site downtown after hours of deliberation and a split that deadlocked the eight-person Capital Metro board twice.
With the decision made, Endeavor's team will negotiate further with Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff and reach a specific deal over the next few months to redevelop the 11-acre site just east of I-35 in downtown Austin. The result could be as many as 800 apartments, shops and a grocery store located on the nowvacant lot that surrounds a MetroRail stop. It's Capital Metro's biggest transit-oriented development deal since the commuter line started running from Leander a couple of years ago, and it will almost certainly allow the developers to make a lasting impact on the quickly changing Central East Austin neighborhood.
To land one of the biggest real estate deals this year — the site is eight contiguous blocks — Austin-based Endeavor Real Estate Group and Dallas' Columbus Realty Partners overcame a number of Austin's most notable developers. On June 23, the board chose the Endeavor team over competing finalist Saltillo Collaborative, which included Austin's Constructive Ventures and Dallas-based Trammell Crow Co.
All four of the finalists' proposals are available online here.
The final two development teams have extensive experience putting up buildings in Austin, and members of the Capital Metro board repeatedly stressed that it was a tough decision. The board initially discussed the project in an executive session that lasted almost two hours – while both teams of developers waited on pins and needles.
After returning to the dais, Capital Metro's staff recommended the board choose Endeavor's proposal based solely on the technical merits. John Hodges, the authority's vice president of real estate and asset management, said Endeavor's proposal offered a higher rate of return on the property's lease and a more significant increase in ridership. Capital Metro has declined to release financial projections, but it did announce that Endeavor and Columbus' project may yield between 7,500 and 16,000 new rides for its system annually.
Saltillo Collaborative appeared to gain ground during Monday's meeting when board members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez and David Siebold said they would vote against the staff based on the community's support. Previously, the neighborhood group East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team had voted to support Saltillo Collaborative based on the proposal's strong affordable housing component.
When the votes were tallied, however, Saltillo Collaborative support stalled and it appeared the board had decided to back Endeavor 4-3. At the last minute and after some confusion, John Langmore voted in favor of Saltillo Collaborative and split the board's vote 4-4.
Following the deadlock, a motion to award the deal to a partnership of both developers, as well as a suggestion to postpone the decision, failed to find any support.
The stalemate was broken after another round of discussion that saw Langmore switch sides and lend Endeavor the winning vote 5-3. In the end, he said, Endeavor's proposal would allow more funding to flow to Capital Metro.
The final design put together by Endeavor and Columbus must be approved by Capital Metro. Of the 11 acres, 10 will go vertical with mid-rises. An acre consumed by the Plaza Saltillo rail stop will be unchanged, Capital Metro officials said in an announcement.