Lamar Union, Austin’s Newest Model for Mixed Use Urban Development, Nears Completion

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BOKA Powell’s design transforms former strip mall into a vibrant, walkable community, with one million square feet of restaurants, residential, retail space, and structured parking.

Set on nine acres, Lamar Union includes the original tenant Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and three new multi-story buildings. Photo courtesy of Greystar Real Estate Partners.

“It is our hope that Lamar Union will be cited as an example of quality urban mixed-use design, and a model for future development as Austin continues to grow,” says Eric Van Hyfte, senior associate for BOKA Powell.

BOKA Powell has completed master planning, architecture, and design for Lamar Union, a one-million-square-foot mixed-use community south of downtown Austin. Set on nine acres at South Lamar Boulevard and Treadwell Street, the former Lamar Plaza retail center includes the original tenant Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and three new multi-story buildings featuring seven restaurants, 442 apartment units, and over 86,000 square feet of retail space.

“We chose BOKA Powell for this extremely complicated redevelopment project because of the firm’s expertise in urban planning and mixed use development,” said Derek Brown of Greystar Real Estate Partners, developer and owner of Lamar Union. “They were able to create a true sense of place, offering a walkable, mixed use experience that is rarely found outside of downtown, while ensuring compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.”

BOKA Powell’s design plan included redeveloping and preserving six theaters (23,466 square feet) of the existing Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, adding 15,684 square feet for three new theaters, a new entry lobby, and the adjoining Highball Lounge. In addition, BOKA Powell designed three new multi-story residential buildings, with an additional 47,078 square feet of ground-floor retail space, parking garages for 1,354 cars, new streetscapes, and an urban plaza.

“The sheer size of the site gave us the opportunity to create our own street network off South Lamar,” says Eric Van Hyfte, senior associate for BOKA Powell, executive architect and architect of record for Lamar Union. “We used the existing Alamo Drafthouse as an anchor to draw people into the project. Then we developed a small urban plaza at its front door and created a new retail promenade extending from Lamar Boulevard to the plaza. Our goal was to make the Lamar Union an authentic destination that felt at home in south Austin.”

BOKA Powell worked with landscape architect DWG, civil engineer Big Red Dog, and collaborating design architect Michael Hsu to design a curb-less streetscape for the promenade tailored more to the pedestrian than the automobile. Traditional utilitarian street lamps were replaced with cable-mounted overhead lighting above the promenade to create a festival-type atmosphere.

Street trees, raised planters, and rain gardens are used to separate cars from pedestrians, and vehicular areas are paved with the same materials as the sidewalks. Garage access points are thoughtfully located to allow the entire promenade to become a giant pedestrian mall for special events.

“It was a pleasure collaborating with BOKA Powell on the design of Lamar Union’s common spaces,” said Michael Hsu, the project’s associate design architect. “BOKA Powell’s overall design plan for the site is a great example of a community-centric approach to design and place-making that greatly increases development density, while still being sympathetic to the neighborhood and local stakeholders.”

The project’s residential units are a departure from the typical market-rate apartment. All of the units feature large windows, offering an abundance of daylight, and many have views of downtown Austin. The complex has several clubroom areas and a massive pool deck with a panoramic view of downtown.

“With approximately 110 people moving to Austin each day, the growth pressures on the city are immense,” explains Van Hyfte. “One of the preferred strategies identified in Austin’s recently completed Comprehensive Plan is to increase density in urban core transportation corridors like South Lamar. It is our hope that this project will be cited as an example of quality urban mixed-use design, and a model for future development as Austin continues to grow.”

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is slated to re-open this summer, with the residential, retail, and restaurants components to follow. Currently, 12 of the 15 tenant spaces are leased to local businesses, including Daily Juice, Caffe Medici, Garridos, Cantine, VOX Table, River City Market, Resolute Fitness: Cycling and Yoga, Boardlife, Jose Luis Salon, and Service Menswear. The only non-local restaurant tenant will be Shake Shack, the first Texas venture for the New York City-based burger institution.

About BOKA Powell:

BOKA Powell is a nationally recognized architectural design, planning, and interior design firm, with office locations in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth, TX. BOKA Powell’s areas of focus include mixed use planning and design, commercial office, multi-family, hospitality, health care, and higher education. Other notable Austin projects include the Four Seasons Residence Tower, RiverView Apartments, Barton Place, the W Austin and Austin City Limits’ new home - the Moody Theater. BOKA Powell was selected as one of three finalists in a 2013 design competition to transform the former Seaholm power plant’s water intake station.

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April Nichols
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