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Mixed-use project proposed for 390 acres near Austin airport

Statesman - April 13, 2016

The Austin City Council is expected to give approval Thursday for a zoning change that would allow a proposed project with hundreds of apartments, nearly 2 million square feet of office space, a movie theater and other development to take shape on 390 acres in Southeast Austin.

The project, called Velocity Crossing, is planned for a site on Texas 71, between FM 973 and the Texas 130 toll road. A group of local investors that includes Doug Launius and Karl Koebel bought the property in December 2014.

According to a plan filed with the city, the owners envision up to 893 multifamily units; 1.9 million square feet of office space; 410,000 square feet of retail and restaurant uses; a 10-screen movie theater; 1,200 hotel rooms; and 1 million square feet of industrial uses. The project would be built in phases, with an estimated completion in 2025.

The plan also calls for 26 acres near Onion Creek to be designated for open space. Two nature trails to Onion Creek also are proposed.

Koebel and Launius declined to comment on financing or a potential cost for the project. They didn’t give timetable for construction to begin.

Launius said the goal is to develop a project that will be “a real benefit to the Southeast Austin and Del Valle communities.”

“What’s important is to bring much-needed services to the area,” Launius said. “We believe that the southeast market is poised for and undergoing explosive growth. And we believe this property is extremely well-positioned to be a catalyst for driving much-needed economic development and retail services to the Southeast Austin submarket.”

Michele Rogerson Lynch, director of land use and entitlements for the law firm Metcalfe Wolff Stuart & Williams, is representing the property owners in the zoning change, which the City Council initially approved in March. Lynch said the zoning will allow for flexibility in developing the project based on market demand over time.

The site is in an area where several other large developments are planned or underway. Across Texas 71, a project has broken ground that will bring 240 affordable apartment units and 410 market-rate units in the first phase, with an additional 1,100 market-rate units planned in a future phase. About 10 miles east of the airport, Qualico is planning its 1,604-acre Sun Chase mixed-use development.

Velocity Crossing’s 390 acres are also just north of land that Austin Community College recently purchased for a campus.

“It’s in a great location,” Lynch said. The owners, she said, “are looking for some good synergy there with live, work, play and learn. They’re wanting to move forward as quickly as they can.”

Council Member Delia Garza, whose district includes the proposed project, said it aligns with the goals outlined in the city’s comprehensive plan for future growth. And if done right, she said, it “will serve as a model for future projects in this area.”

“Many Del Valle residents have had limited access to many necessities for far too long. I’m glad to see growth in the area that will hopefully bring necessary services,” Garza said.

Koebel and Launius declined to comment on whether they are talking with any hotel, retail, office or other prospects.

“A mixed-use project creates jobs, opportunity,” Koebel said.

At one time, the land was considered as a possible site for state offices.

The current owners — a Texas limited partnership called SH 71-130 Holdings LP — bought the property in 2014 from Eastbourne Crossing LP.

The land is near Circuit of the Americas, where the annual Formula One race is held and other major events take place year-round. It also is in an area that’s seen millions of dollars in road improvements, and where a “triple freeport” zone has been established allowing businesses to not pay taxes on inventory that leaves the state within 175 days.