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AUSTIN-The 195-unit Austonian is set to begin construction in late summer, with its sales office slated to open in late April. The estimated $200-million condominium project has encountered some hurdles in its move from the design board to reality, but nothing insurmountable from the designer or architect’s perspective.

“The city is pretty specific. Any property that abuts Congress has a 60-foot setback limit. That dictated our podium, which contains the retail, the lobby for the condo and the majority of our parking,” says Kurt Hull, principal with Houston-based Ziegler Cooper Architects, the architect of record for the project at 200 Congress Ave. Because of the setback requirement and height restrictions, the building is an elliptical design with a 29,000-sf footprint on one-third of a city block.

“That’s a tiny footprint for the amount of building going on it,” Hull acknowledges. The 55-story structure includes rooftop rain reclamation for landscape irrigation, parking and 10,000 sf to 17,000 sf of service-oriented retail.

According to David Mahn, vice president of developer Benchmark Development in Austin, his company is in discussion with several grocery-oriented retailers, but nothing has been signed. He tells GlobeSt.com that property rezoning was required before the Austonian could break ground on what is now a parking lot. But everyone–from the City of Austin to the neighborhood groups–was accommodating. “I was pleasantly surprised at the speed with which I went through the process,” he adds. “It was wonderful.”

The project, Benchmark’s first in the CBD, will break ground without a pre-sales commitment. Mahn says his company is bullish on the area and believes that all condos will be under contract within two years.

Units will range from 1,200 sf to 6,000 sf. The prices are $500,000 to $1 million.

Benchmark’s Mahn believes the demand for high-end condos is strong, but Hall says he doesn’t see many more high-density, multifamily behemoths dotting the Austin skyline. He points out that the bulk of buildings being proposed right now are in the 40-story range. But with more interest in sustainable and eco-friendly developments, Hull says he wouldn’t be surprised to see more high-density development and living in the CBD.

“I think the Austonian came about because of the Austin mayor and city council’s intent to maximize density in the Downtown area,” Hull says. “This building actually supplants what could have been 140 acres of developable land in the Edwards Aquifer” if it had been horizontal development instead of vertical.

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