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Developers look beyond pandemic, protests and see a bright future for the Austin office market

Two weeks ago, as Texas continued its pandemic reopening plan but before mass protests against police violence erupted in downtown Austin, a $275 million deal fell through.


Ryman Hospitality Properties announced May 22 that it would not purchase Block 21, a mixed-use real estate development that includes ACL Live at the Moody Theater and the W Austin, from Stratus Properties, forfeiting a $15 million nonrefundable deposit.

"In the current capital markets and economic environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have determined that it is not in the best interest of our shareholders to focus our resources and capital on this project at this time," Ryman CEO Colin Reed said in a press release.

In the wake of COVID's arrival in Austin—and after more than a decade of strong sustained growth—the local office real estate market contracted. But experts say that the city is poised to recover, even if office space looks different post-pandemic.

"I think what you'll see in Austin is short-term paralysis as a result of the freeze in the venture market," said Ryan Bohls, a director focused on office tenant representation for NAI Partners' Austin office.

But in the longer term, Bohls believe Austin's strong relationships with what he calls "the four horsemen"—Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google—will sustain the city's office market, especially as they and other tech companies seek to expand their reach into cities outside of the coastal areas hit harder by the pandemic.

The city's diverse economy—which includes big tech as well as the University of Texas at Austin, Ascension Seton and most recently the U.S. Army—is what helped it rebound after the 2008 recession.

Ben Tolson, a principal for Aquila Commercial, believes that diverse economy will carry the city through this crisis as well. "I just feel very, very positively about how our city's positioned relative, again, to much of the nation," he said.

While data is limited, initial reports indicate that market activity picked up toward the end of May. As more workers return to their offices, companies will likely reevaluate their needs.

Richard Paddock, who oversees HPI's Austin office portfolio, said he is hearing from tenants and companies that most are incorporating a work-from-home strategy into their business plans. But this does not mean office space is obsolete.

Paddock anticipates some companies will downsize, which may reduce the overall occupied square footage across Austin's office market. "But it still yields velocity," he said.

Other companies may realize they want more space, either to accommodate social distancing or because of trends that predate the pandemic.

Research published in the Harvard Business Journal found that denser offices resulted in less meaningful interaction among employees—and therefore less productive collaboration.

Open-floor plans were on their way out before COVID-19, Tolson said, as companies moved to "de-densify" their spaces and improve productivity. "That's going to be accelerated as a result of this," he said.

There was also a trend in Austin toward neighborhoods such as East Austin, Mueller and Parmer Lane, where office space is cheaper, parking easier and commutes shorter. "Austin has a tremendous amount of really well positioned mid-rise [and] low-rise opportunities," Tolson said.

While working from home may outlast the pandemic, Bohls said major employers will continue to use top-tier offices—with prime locations, walkable amenities and perks—as a recruiting tool, "especially for technology companies that use real estate to lure top talent."

And what about the protests downtown?

"The effects of the civic unrest are largely going to be confined to first-floor retail occupiers," Bohls said.

Popular

Tito's releases (not so?) ugly sweater line for the holidays, profits to charity

Tito's Handmade Vodka

Show your love for Tito's and for the community this year with a wide selection of not that ugly, uglyish, ugly, uglier, and ugliest holiday sweaters.

There's lots choose from, and plenty of accessories like scarves and socks, plus gear for your dog, too.

All of the items can be purchased online or at the Love, Tito’s Retail Store in Austin, TX. 100% of all net proceeds from online or in-store purchases go to one of the nonprofits we’ve teamed up with.

Click here to see the entire collection in the Tito's store.

Mac and Cheese Fest and Free Art Exhibit
Waterloo Greenway, Good Vibrations Installation


🗓 All weekend

🎨 Creek Show Art Exhibit

Check out this highly anticipated art exhibition with illuminated art along Waller Creek. Tickets are free and the event includes food vendors, dazzling lights, live music, and hands-on activities

All weekend 6 p.m - 10 p.m | 📍Waterloo Park

✨ Mozart's Light Show

This iconic holiday tradition lights up for the first time this holiday season starting this weekend! Reserve your spot for an enchanting light and sound performance, delicious hot cocoa, sweet treats, and some overall fun with your friends or family. The show runs till January 6th.

6 p.m and 9 p.m | 📍Mozart's Coffee Roasters - 3825 Lake Austin Blvd, Austin, TX 78703

🗓 Saturday

🥊 Kickboxing in the Park

This fitness event is free and open to the public. Get your morning started right with a "Fitness in the park" class for kickboxing! The class will be led by certified instructors and is a great way to get a cardio workout in while also honing your self-defense skills.

10 a.m - 11 a.m | 📍 Metz Park

🛍 The Front Market

Support local LBGTQ+ and female artists at this outdoor market with over 150 vendors. Get your holiday shopping out of the way at this event, with vendors for food trucks, handmade goods, raffles, hands on workshops and activities, and more.

11 a.m - 5 p.m | 📍Ani's Day and Night - 7107 E Riverside Drive, Austin, TX 78741

🗓 Sunday

🧀 Mac and Cheese Fest

Did someone say cheese?! If you're like me and always willing to get your hands on a bowl of mac and cheese, then this event is for you. Check out the Mac and Cheese festival happening this weekend to decide which vendor has. the best mac and cheese for yourself, and enjoy the bar with creative cocktails while you're at it. Tickets start at $45.

11 a.m - 3 p.m | 📍Lantana Place - 7415 Southwest Parkway