Midtown Commons a finalist in ECT Awards

UPDATED: Midtown Commons won the Redevelopment category!

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Midtown Commons at Crestview Station is one of eight finalists of the 2010 Envision Central Texas Community Stewardship Awards.

The winners will be announced today at ECT’s annual awards luncheon. I’ll be tweeting via @CapMetroRail from the event should Midtown Commons win all the marbles.

Midtown Commons is a mixed use, transit oriented development, with several styles/sizes of apartments, including live-work units, and then retail space on the ground floor. If you live at Midtown Commons, you can basically walk out your front door and board MetroBus or MetroRail.

Besides the seamless incorporation of transit into the development’s design, Midtown Commons is notable for its other sustainable design elements. Midtown achieved a three star rating from Energy Star. Some of the energy efficiency components include using recycled construction materials,  a central building recycling center, reusing water for landscaping and installing double pane windows, efficient cooling systems and Energy Star appliances.

Low-flow toilets, motion sensor sinks, high efficiency dishwashers, clothes washers, and cooling towers will reduce the demand on potable water. Green roofs also support energy efficiency by reducing the heat island effect while capturing stormwater that can be reused for irrigation purposes.

When you think about the fact that that key site, right there at the intersection of Lamar and Airport, used to be a dormant chemical research facility, it is pretty amazing what is now available to our community. Prior to developing it, the whole 73 acres had to be extensively tested and treated for environmental issues. The developers spent two years fully remediating the site, and their work was commended by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Midtown Commons deserves the award, and I hope they get it! (And I hope to see you at the luncheon today, too.)

About the awards: The Envision Central Texas Community Stewardship Awards honors the innovative people, projects and processes that are helping to preserve and enhance our region’s quality of life, natural resources and economic vitality.

28 thoughts on “Midtown Commons a finalist in ECT Awards

  1. I love rideing the train and I love the commuter bus! The bus driver Earnest Clark is the coolest driver yet (I have two years bus rider experience I know what I’m talking about) Earnest always greets us with a smile. The apartments that are close to the Park and Rides are such a neat place to live. If I did not own a house well I would be there for sure.

  2. Midtown Commons is NOT a transit-oriented development. Its density falls short of that achieved down the road on Lamar at the Triangle (with no rail transit available there), among many other metrics it fails.

    Simply putting up tiltwall 2-3 story buildings next to a rail line does not make it TOD. I’ve shown pretty conclusively in the past that people living there would be better off taking the #1 or #101 to their destinations than using the Red Line (the supposed T component of the TOD, as nobody with any credibility suggests that buses can lead to TOD in the US).

  3. Logan

    Is Midtown Commons even at half-capacity? When are their businesses going to open? How long does “coming soon” mean?

    Similar or different than red line?

  4. Brad Absalom

    M1EK – I read your blog for a few weeks and found that you made several good points, but I just don’t understand why you’re so angry. I had to stop reading it because you don’t seem to look at anything from an objective point of view.

    There is no doubt that the plan in 2000 was way better and I wish it would have passed. Nothing irritates me more than, then “not in my neighborhood” people, which contributs to these things failing, but it was voted down through a legitimate democratic process and it was 10 years ago.

    Can’t we move forward and make the best with what we have or is it all or nothing?

  5. Brad,

    There’s really two ways to look at that:

    1. There is no way to move forward with the Red Line – if I haven’t convinced you of that yet, then I’ve repeated too little, not too much; there are fundamental technical and political reasons why the Red Line can never grow into a network that actually works for us. The reason I need to keep saying this is not because I think the 2000 line can be resurrected, but because Capital Metro wants to invest even more money in the Red Line as it exists today – repeating the mistake made by Tri-Rail (wasting a decade of time and money adding a second track when the route was the problem all along).

    The time and money spent on more commuter rail is time and money that can’t be spent on the city’s urban rail proposal, which although nowhere near as good as the 2000 light rail line would have been, can actually end up serving Austinites to some degree.

    2. My view is nothing BUT objective – I’m out there counting passengers when the local media isn’t (or, corrected for me this morning, is but won’t talk about it). The difference between Phoenix’s 45,000 boardings per day and our sub-1,000 is a critical objective fact but nobody’s willing to talk about it – instead focusing on “it’s a success” without even showing what a success might look like.

    Oh, and try getting attacked for 6 years on this stuff and not getting angry. I was like Custer out there in 2004 making the points that are now being proven correct.

    1. chrysrobyn

      1. I still think the Red Line can do something. I think it can be a piece of a whole, and a constant highly visible reminder of mass transit options in this city. Of course, the pricing structure is not practical for city dwellers, so that really clarifies who they want riding it anyway. They know they can’t handle the traffic of city dwellers. Even if it ends up being diverted to freight every night from 10 to 5, that’s a decent amount of freight, and with a second track, more cars, a reasonable price structure and weekend service, it could be very useful — although all those things need to be changed.
      2. Nobody sane would compare what Cap Metro did to what Phoenix did. Although Washington Ave (if I recall correctly) had far more traffic, I would start to compare it to ripping up the center lane of Lamar or Burnet for a train. If Phoenix instead used the tracks from Queen Creek to Mesa and set up a commuter line , I wouldn’t expect 45k boardings per day — but the cost would have been far lower. Now, tie those lines in with the new commuter line, and suddenly a whole lot of bedrooms in Chandler and Gilbert are much closer to where jobs are. Oh yeah, and Phoenix has already had fatalities (because of the urban nature of the line, it’s expected) and it was done ON TIME.

      There is plenty of room to criticize CapMetro for what the Red Line isn’t (and there’s a whole lot it isn’t), but I’m not sold on it being necessary to scrap entirely.

      1. chrysrobin,

        The Red Line will never be useful to Austin residents because it will never have sufficiently useful stops for our residential patrons to board, given the design of the line and the vehicles. For instance, we will never have a concentration of walkable residential development near the Highland Mall station that rivals the Triangle or West Campus.

        And as for #2, that’s precisely the point. The light rail line Austin should have built would have ripped up Lamar and Guadalupe – but now that can never happen, thanks to the Red Line squatting on the rest of the right-of-way that line needed to justify ripping up those streets further downstream.

        By the way, Capital Metro and various hangers-on have been trying to incorrectly paint the Red Line as light rail for years now.

  6. Brad Absalom

    M1EK – It isn’t that you’re wrong, it’s how constructive is your criticism. You seem to be arguing like a jilted lover rather than a rational person.

    We’re in this position because the voters rejected the larger/better 2000 proposal, so they scaled it back to something that was more politically possible. For better or worse, we are where we are, so we have to try and make it work. If your opinion is that the Red Line is unworkable and Cap Metro and Austin should’ve done nothing, I respect that and you might be right, but I think we’ve heard you and understand you.

    Do you have any constructive ideas to move forward?

  7. Brad,

    Your language isn’t helpful – it’s difficult to maintain a fair tone with you given that.

    Until people understand why we’re actually here, I can’t let that go – we’re NOT here because voters ‘rejected the larger/better 2000 proposal’, and we’re not here because ‘they scaled it back […]’.

    This blog post should correct those impressions:

    http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/000079.html

    The 2000 election was forced early; and still, Austin residents showed they wanted light rail; the reason ‘we’ switched to commuter rail on short notice in 2004 is because Krusee made ‘us’ do it; the main thing ‘we’ did in response was refuse to stand up and fight for the interests of Austin (except for yours truly).

    That’s how we got here. What do we need to do now? Stop all spending on the Red Line and put the money towards the city’s urban rail proposal – which, although a pale shadow of the 2000 line, is still 1000 times better than the Red Line will ever be.

    1. Brad

      I’m not sure how my language was unfair. I basically agree with your premise, I just think it’s time to move on and try to make the best of it. You seem to think if you repeat your opinion enough, we will all agree and be angry with you, but it’s possible that your opinion has been heard and understood and some still respectfully disagree.

      As for the 2000 election, you know the details of that much better than I, but whatever the details of the 2000 election I just think it is time to let it go.

      Believe me, I really hope they move forward with the urban rail project, and I’m glad that they’re delaying the bond election until they have all the details worked out. If they do it right, most, if not all the routes will have a dedicated lane and should provide better service than our current bus system.

      Also, I don’t think spending money on Urban Rail eliminates spending on the Red Line. I understand funds are limited, and I agree that the Urban Rail should have priority, but it doesn’t absolutely have to be an either or thing.

      Question on the urban rail to anybody: As of now, the path takes the UT section down San Jacinto, why can’t it go down Speedway? Speedway from 21st to 26th is already pedestrian only. My guess is UT won’t go for it.

      1. Brad, you don’t see “jilted lover” as kind of loaded?

        You can disagree about the way forward all you want – that’s fine – just don’t disagree with the facts on the ground today, because facts don’t need to be agreed with; they just are. And the facts are that the Red Line is doing very poorly; it provides essentially all of its meager advantages (over express bus) to Leander and none to Austin; and that it will interfere with efforts to provide urban rail for Austinites.

        As for how they interfere; there’s a very limited amount of money available for transit – likely not enough to build EITHER the city’s urban rail plan OR the commuter rail expansions planned without major additional local investment, even IF the Feds come through with equal (matching) funds. Every dollar spent on the Red Line going forward is a dollar that can’t be spent on urban rail, and we don’t have enough money to do both. Period.

        And I’ve detailed before that the Red Line has (essentially forever) ruined the ability to have rail vehicles in their own lane on Guadalupe in front of UT.

        Third, there’s obvious political blowback to those pathetically lightly-loaded rail vehicles and empty shuttle buses plying the Red Line route today.

  8. Erica

    I’m enjoying all the dialogue on this one. To Logan’s point, there’s definitely some vacancy at Midtown Commons right now, but I think that will change. The timing of things was not ideal: the location was ready before the Red Line was ready, and the debut of the property came in the midst of a slumping economy. The Red Line is up, and when the economy is up, I think Midtown Commons will do fine. Black Star Co-Op makes that property a real destination. I think they are opening in June.

    MIEK, I think it’s unrealistic to suggest there should be no more investment made in the Red Line. Like Brad, I think the Red Line and urban rail don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I think Austin and Co. needs lots of choices and options for the long term.

    1. Erica, I have a long delayed article in the mental hopper about the fallacy of equating “providing a choice” with “people will exercise that choice”, but that’s neither here nor there.

      South Florida spent 20 years ‘improving’ Tri-Rail by adding a second track. It cost hundreds of millions of dollars (local and federal) and did nothing to make it a more attractive choice for drivers in that area. Why? A train running more often to stations with shuttlebuses is, really, not any more attractive in reality than a train running less often to stations with shuttlebuses.

      All of that time and money was wasted. Every single bit.

      Now we’re about to do the same thing here – when, unlike in South Florida, a plan actually exists which is going to go wanting for funds.

      We can say “do both”, but that’s not facing reality. We likely don’t have enough money to do either one in isolation without some new local funding beyond the sales tax. To pretend that the Red Line isn’t choking urban rail is self-serving here – especially since the planning funding for the city’s urban rail project was supposed to come from the 1/4 cent money… that Capital Metro defaulted on and is now paying back much later, with no interest; because they blew their reserves on the Red Line (after not even attempting to seek federal funding despite promises before the election to do so).

  9. Finally, guys, there has to be some additional credibility given to the only person who was standing up at presentations back in 2004 making the point that this line would fail to deliver many riders because of the requirement to transfer to shuttlebuses to get anywhere worthwhile.

    At the time, the remainder of the politic talking about the plan were either in the “oh, of course it’ll work, it’s rail; rail always works!” or the “oh, of course it won’t work; it’s rail; rail always fails”.

    But you’d rather listen to the guys who were wrong – either way – than the guy who was right, because it challenges assumptions. I get it; but don’t try to paint me as the unobjective one while you’re doing so.

  10. DoomRider

    Midtown commons is and will be a shining example of how TOD does not work. It’s a concrete jungle with no esthetics. It’s less than half leased and has no commercial tenants. Very few if any tenants use the train. A block away across the track to the south is a large apartment complex which costs significantly less than Midtown and is near capacity. Manager there says the tenants are mostly UT students and the bus is more convenient, frequent and less expensive than the train, and though they handed out literature on the train, tenants will shun it.

  11. Jim

    This is a red letter day. There is so much that M1EK and I disagree about, but he says much in the chain that I agree with.

    The commuter is not financially sustainable. No one here has mentioned the quicksand foundation that the transit system is on. At the current commuter daily ridership level of almost 500, taxpayers are subsidizing each average rider about $30,000 per year. Double this if you go to Leander. If the community thinks it owes these riders social services, then there are many ways to do it that are much cheaper: Pay for their gas, buy them a new Prius, give them taxi vouchers or the most logical: ride the bus as some were doing before a few switched to the train. This switched bus riders being subsidized about $3,000 per year to train riders at $30,000, ten times the subsidy.

    The commuter train also causes more pollution and congestion than the bus or average private vehicle use.

    A little quick math shows that the entire region is bankrupt before enough people, if ever, can ride trains at taxpayer burden levels of the commuter.

    Some argue to wait for increased ridership. Also a little quick math shows that it would have to increase many times its current level and there are no examples of this. Others argue the service should be extended to increase ridership. The cost of extending the service for a few new riders would just make the financial hole deeper as it has in numerous cities.

    It must be cost effective to be sustainable

  12. Light rail as in Phoenix (45,000 boardings per day now) or in the 2000 Austin plan (42,000 boardings per day predicted) is cost effective – when compared to the new freeway lanes that would otherwise have to be added to support those free Priuses you’d like to dole out.

    IE, spending twice as much (compared to the Red Line final build-out, i.e. double-track) to get 20 times as many riders seems like a pretty good deal.

    The problem isn’t total cost; the problem is cost per boarding – the Red Line fails because it’s never going to get more than a few thousand boardings per day even when it runs all day on two tracks (unless UT decides to move their campus out to MLK, West Campus and the Triangle depopulate and move to Crestview, which would of course then need to be vertically expanded a hundred-fold, […])

    And Jim, this may be bad rail, but your argument about buses versus rail in general is fundamentally flawed, because simply providing buses doesn’t guarantee they’ll be used – building GOOD rail can and does get drivers to switch all over the country – people who would not and did not ride the bus before. The critical flaw in this commuter rail line, in fact, is the requirement that everybody transfer to shuttlebuses on the other end of the trip – meaning that people who didn’t want to ride buses before are being asked to ride a bus to use the train.

  13. And by the way, fellow rail advocates? You ask me what harm there was in building the Red Line (assuming you don’t believe me that it precludes our one truly great urban rail route from eve rhappening)?

    It empowers argument’s like Jim’s with the average voter; as in “we tried rail and it didn’t work”.

  14. Danton

    A quick note to say thank you to everyone taking the time to post his or her thoughts here. This is an important issue and I, for one, appreciate all the information. M1EK – thank you for fighting for Austinites and our long-range prosperity. I agree that we need to employ critical thinking toward a viable solution that will ACTUALLY work for the long-haul and not repeat the same mistakes that other cites have made. Austin is capable of being a shining example of modern living, as the inevitable sprawl and growth continues. Why we make these mistakes is beyond me. Coincidently, over the last 20 years, I’ve lived in San Francisco (BART and Rail), Chicago (Rail and the ‘L”), San Diego, and South Florida (Southrail) as well as spent ample time in other cities offering rail as I travel extensively for business – so I’m very familiar with what works and what has proven to not work in the world of rail and transit. M1EK, I could not agree with you more about where Austin should have gone with this rail service, and it kills me that the more sensible path through Guadalupe and Lamar is permanently ruined. These are decisions that cost $100’s of millions of dollars and define growth and urban expansion often permanently if not for decades. Why can’t Austin rise up out of its “small town” mentality and seek the higher ground of intelligent urban development (specifically how it relates to mass transit)? Too many special interests – too many greedy, shortsighted developers, politicians with no spine, overall questionable leadership. Just my opinion – however I personally watched cities like San Diego (Coaster and Metrolink) grow from relatively small boutique towns into large urban metro-areas by utilizing intelligent expansion protocols – many of which were learned from what other cities have done well and poorly in the US and abroad. SD leveraged alot of smart, forward thinking by employing best practices that had proven to work elsewhere – thus an effective highway and mass transit system, etc. Now I know we are in “Texas” and we “Texans” don’t like to acknowledge any other outside influence cuz we are “Texas” and we know better, and all that – but seriously, the proof is in the execution. Austin has used the last 2 decades of continuous exponential growth to build out the city’s infrastructure – including additional roadways, toll ways, and now rail service. The powers-in-charge have had the greatest opportunity of any modern city to learn from what others have done right to build the best, most-effective services possible – and they blew it! What we have today is a feel-good, at-least-we-have-something non-solution that will never fulfill the potential cost-per-boarding and total-boarding metrics that the service needs to work and be financially viable. Yes, we have a cute, gee-we-finally-have something rail service that does help a few hundred people and a whole bunch of developers who just want to make the quick money off their vested projects, but it will fall short – way short – of what we could have had, what we need to have, and what Austin deserves to have if it truly wants to be a modern city. I hope you don’t give up the fight M1EK. We need a better overall rail solution for the future along with people who will incorporate the realities of fiscal, usage, and accesiblity issues that impact that solution. I know not everyone here willl agree with me – I’m just trying to be open and focused on what’s best for Austin now, and 10,15 and more years from now. I love this city – it pains me to see it short-changed. Okay everyone, now that I’ve rambled on – go ahead – hit me with your best criticism.

  15. Brad

    I know I “battled” with M1EK early in this thread, but as I said before I basically agree with his criticisms here and on his blog, and I totally disagree with Jim.

    My main point was that, these mistakes have already been made, and we don’t have an undue button. I would prefer to try and concentrate on the best options going forward and always bringing up the past doesn’t change it.

    Obviously the best way forward is the Urban Rail. If we can only spend money on one, we should spend it on that. I guess my only argument for putting any money into the red line, is maybe that corridor could be used as a future expansion of the urban rail and we can come close to what the 2000 plan was, because I agree as constructed the ridership will grow slowly at best.

  16. Thanks, Danton. As it stands, we don’t even need to go outside Texas to look for better examples – just do what Houston did (city’s urban rail plan uses their model, since we can’t do the model most other successful cities have done now that the Red Line is using the “route out to the suburbs on existing rail right-of-way” path).

    We had a choice of the following examples to use:

    Successes in a dozen or more cities: the Portland/Dallas/Minneapolis/SaltLake/Denver/Seattle recipe (start with one line that starts by running fast in the burbs and then transitions to run in the street as long as necessary to hit a bunch of major activity centers)

    Success in a couple of cities: the Houston/Phoenix recipe (run all or mostly in-street through an area with a couple of very high-density anchors with significant parking difficulties; hopefully hit a large park-and-ride on one end)

    Failure everywhere tried: the Tri-Rail (South Florida) recipe (run on an existing railroad that doesn’t go anywhere useful; assume you can get passengers to ride shuttlebuses to their final destination).

    Guess which one we picked?

  17. Brad, if we don’t acknowledge the mistakes, Capital Metro will keep making them. In fact, they’re still doing it; preferring to invest our scarce local transit dollars in more commuter rail rather than in urban rail – double-tracking a line that still goes nowhere useful, and then planning to implement another line that goes nowhere useful.

    1. Brad

      I think the mistakes have been pointed out (a lot by you). Hopefully, Cap Metro is listening. They might be more ready to listen if they weren’t condescended to and belittled, but hopefully they’re listening. It’s possible that they’ve listened and disagree, is that not possible?. I’m glad they went “outside the family” for the new head of the organization, so hopefully that person will bring a fresh look at things.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, the Urban Rail is being funded and constructed through the city of Austin correct? So at least during its development Cap Metro won’t have much to do with it, which is good since they’re struggling a bit right now.

      The irony of all this is, if the 2000 election had passed, this same organization that can’t get much right would have been responsible for developing the much larger, much more expensive and much more complicated system. Do you/did you have any confidence that they would’ve been able to pull it off? Would they still be working on it, trying to open it like 3 years late?

      1. Brad, nobody at Capital Metro has publically acknowledged that the Red Line was a mistake. Not one. They aren’t even talking about ridership now; they can’t even admit the objective data.

        And as for the condescending and belittling, try being on the receiving end of that for six years some time, OK? Hint: Go back and read the blog some more, OK? Start way back in 2004, when I was serving on the city’s Urban Transportation Commission and got an early preview of the Red Line (+ Rapid Bus).

        And as for urban rail, the city’s planning is currently being hampered by the fact that it was supposed to be funded by the 1/4 cent money… you know, the money that Capital Metro promised the city and then renegged on as they spent down their reserves too far on… the Red Line.

        There aren’t enough local sources of dollars to fund both expanding the Red Line/additional commuter rail and the city’s urban rail plan.

        Finally, the 2000 Capital Metro was led by Karen Rae – quite a different caliber of executive than what we got after her. There’s also a lot of reason to think that the political effort to portray the 2004 line as extra cheap and easy led to many of the implementation problems we encountered – while the 2000 line was sold all along as a “use the rail corridor but build everything brand new” approach; far less likely to hit boneheaded problems due to cut-rate design.

  18. Danton

    Excellent point M1EK about Capital Metro – they will not self-regulate. Brad, good point about not having an “undo” button – and I do validate the need to find solutions and not argue over the past. My concern is that if nobody stands up and yells out that the ‘Emperor has no clothes” then we get more of the same. If nothing changes, then nothing changes.

    Interesting Development: Midtown Commons had previously been lagging in new leases, both residential and commercial, with scheduled construction of their next building phase put on hold – basically nobody was moving in, bad economy, no active rail line and all. After being “open” for over 9 months, just six weeks ago, they were at 30% lease occupancy for residential, with only 1 retailer (a small live and lease tenant) along with a commitment for only 1 street-level store (a Co-Op Brewery scheduled to open in June-ish). Since the rail opened, they slashed lease rates with 3 months free rent, no deposit, no admin fee, and they will pay for the movers for new tenants moving in (quite the good deal actually – every real estate broker in town was advertising for them). Subsequently, their residential occupancy has jumped to over 70% and climbing each day. There is now momentum and a new flood of leases, both residential and retail, coming into them. Expect announcements about how MetroRail is succeeding because “the public responds” by moving into Midtown Commons. Plans to break ground on their next building phases are coming back online.

    1. Erica

      If they’re moving into Midtown Commons and taking public transportation (or biking), hooray! I don’t really care if they’re taking the bus or the train.

      1. You can’t give the train credit for the density if the density has nothing to do with the train (and the density has nothing to do with the train if people aren’t taking it). That, again, is the whole point of “transit adjacent development” being distinct from “transit oriented development”.

        It’s all stupid anyways; the Triangle is much more dense and is doing so without any rail transit whatsoever, so it’s clear this ain’t TOD.

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