The University of Texas could decide by spring whether to develop its 109-acre tract at the J.J. Pickle Research Center, located at 3925 W. Braker Lane.
The tract, bounded by Braker Lane and MoPac and bisected by Stonelake Boulevard, includes the 110,191-square-foot West Pickle Research building, the 10,000-square-foot Imaging Center office and research space as well as a large portion of underdeveloped land.
“It’ll be an interesting process,” said Amy Wanamaker, UT campus director of real estate. “This is our largest piece of land that we have initiated an RFQ [request for qualifications] on.”
The RFQ is the first of a two-step process. Respondents will submit proposed development concepts to the university by Nov. 28. Wanamaker said that no renderings will be put together at this time.
After the qualifications are received, UT hopes to request proposals from the developers in early January, which includes a more detailed plan for the development, she said.
The university’s Oct. 29 pre-submittal conference attracted about 18 engineers, architects and developers to gather information and to ask questions regarding UT’s goals for the project. DPR Construction, Datum Engineers, 3 Point Partners, Aquila Commercial, Trammell Crow Co. and Riverside Resources were among those present.
“The university seeks collaboration with a master developer to create a visionary concept for a sustainable, enduring development that will produce market return on the property,” Wanamaker said.
Should the university decide to move forward on a project, the university’s governing body, the board of regents, would need to approve it, a process that can take several months, she said.
UT’s West Pickle tract
The four-story West Pickle Research Building was built in 1986 and formerly known as the Microelectronic Computer Center Building, according to a document prepared by UT’s campus real estate office. The Imaging Center was built in 2005 and is a single-story building. UT departments including the Austin Technology Incubator, Center for Space Research and the Institute of Classical Archeology occupy the buildings.
“We have several hundred people that will need a place to go, and so perhaps a developer would include them in the master development plans,” Wanamaker said.
If the project moves forward, occupants will have one year to vacate after written notification from the university.
The site also has historical importance because UT archeologists have found evidence of past Native American activity called burn middens in some areas of the tract, Wanamaker said. A report from UT’s Texas Archeological Research Laboratory in 2010 states that the burn middens include arrow points, fire-cracked limestone rocks and other artifacts dating back to the Late Archaic and Late Prehistoric eras in age. Dart points, bone-tempered plain-ware pottery and other artifacts were also found.
Should UT decide to move forward, the developer may have to go through the Texas Historical Commission and will be responsible for complying with any zoning and historical requirements, Wanamaker said.
Christine Freundl, senior planner for the urban design division of the City of Austin, said the tract is part of the city’s North Burnet/Gateway master plan that aims to refocus growth to downtown Austin, make better use of existing and expanding infrastructure, and control congestion and mobility issues. The master plan was adopted in 2006, and the regulations for the land were adopted in 2009, she said.
“Originally North Burnet/Gateway came into focus because city officials learned that this area was quickly becoming part of the core of the city,” Freundl said. “They saw this as an opportunity to refocus growth to the urban core.”
Potential use for the land
A 2008 report from Capitol Market Research states that the best uses for the land are commercial, retail, office, multi-family residential units, townhomes and condominiums.
Based on the input data, the development costs per net acre are $100,000 for retail and office mixed-use and attached residential uses.
Chuck Lesniak, environmental officer for the City of Austin, said there are some environmental challenges with the development of the tract but nothing unusual. If and when a master developer is chosen, he said the city will bring in an environmental assessment team to identify everything from creeks to caves and survey all trees that are larger than a certain size.
“Any large tract that gets developed, particularly if it hasn’t been developed before or modernly developed before, has some environmental hurdles,” Lesniak said. “The city and the development community is used to dealing with the environmental hurdles that are associated with developing large tract.”