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Springdale General springs to life

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Hsu-designed space for creatives and nonprofits takes a low-key approach with a community focus

Springdale General rendering
Courtesy Michael Hsu Office of Architecture

At the moment, the 10 or so acres under development at 1023 Springdale Road look largely like the kind of property that has traditionally occupied much of its Eastside neighborhood: a complex of warehouses meant for multiple tenants and light-industrial use.

While that is, in the broadest sense, what they are, a closer look at the project reveals that the complex, Springdale General, will be an entirely different kind of enterprise.

The project is being developed and managed by Central Austin Management Group and designed by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture for the purpose of creating viable work space for Austin’s creative and nonprofit enterprises. It was inspired by the Canopy complex, also developed by the two companies: a nearby space where studios, galleries, and offices for creative businesses can work and interact, designed with the intention of creative cross-pollination and “collisions”—a term the the tech world has gifted us, expanding its original meaning to include serendipitous, happenstance encounters that enhance and elevate creative productivity (or something like that).

Snark aside, it’s clear that Springdale General has been carefully designed to facilitate interaction, so that workers consider “not just what’s in [their] offices, but what’s outside” as a source of inspiration and productivity. A building in front will house Caffe Medici—another public space ripe with collision potential. There are two rows of two-story, metal buildings that face each other behind that, where windows and doors face inward, toward the opposite buildings, furthering the feeling of shared space.

The goals that guided Canopy—creating affordable office and work space for artists and others in creative professions—are carried out in amplified form at Springdale General, which has the flexibility of offering larger spaces for fabricating than Canopy does, as well as offices and smaller studios. Springdale General will have 15 buildings containing 160,000 square feet of commercial space that can be configured in different ways.

At the back of the property is a compound of similar style that will be occupied by the Center for Social Innovation, a hub of nonprofits, social enterprises, and capital providers launched by Notley, a local venture capital fund created by BuildASign founder Dan Graham and wife Lisa. Already 75 percent leased, the center will feature 50,000 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of co-working space, and an event venue. It also has ample outside patios and other gathering areas that include the only mature trees that were on the property—which was mostly a concrete slab (more about that below) when it was purchased. (All the extant heritage trees were preserved.)

Hsu said costs are kept down partially with the use and embrace of affordable and raw materials—the buildings are fairly standard, made of corrugated metal that they’ve “tweaked” with color and inexpensive materials such as plywood, he said; the intent is for tenants to finish out the spaces in their own creative ways.

They are “simple structures ready for the users to finish and add their own personality and layers onto,” he added. “This will be an evolving and dynamic community of users."

Rental for the spaces starts at $17.50 per square foot—below Austin market rate for office rentals—with the addition of property taxes, insurance, and common area maintenance, predicted to be about $4.50 per square foot in 2018.

As it’s not only a current given in most new construction, but also an economic necessity—especially in keeping the spaces affordable—Springdale General will have multiple “green” features, including solar panels for the exterior lighting (with an artful design for the panels that will cover the complex entrance), a number of underground rainwater collection cisterns for irrigating landscaping (including new trees to be be planted around the property), and composting and recycling systems. There are east and west bus stops just outside the complex entrance on Springdale Road; there will also be multiple bicycle racks and Car2Go spaces.

The emphasis on environmentally conscious features raises a slight historic irony, in that the complex is located on what was for 35 years the site of several bulk fuel storage tank facilities (which came to be known as the “tank farm”) owned by multiple national petroleum companies. After much work on the part of Eastside activist group PODER and other city and neighborhood organizations, the presence of neighborhood contamination was brought to light, and the site was shut down in 1993. The contaminated soil was then remediated by removal actions and soil vapor extraction, and the property ground level was raised approximately five feet with new, clean soil.

While the site’s transition from a vacant brownfield to a largely empty and usable plot of land made it an ideal place for development, the years of battling to make it so on the part of the surrounding neighborhood could have made the presence of the complex a touchy issue. Most neighbors, however, were happy to see the space developed in the manner Springdale General is doing it, according to the management group. “We attended neighborhood association meetings to let them know about the project,” wrote Central Austin Management Group’s Kheili Hiller in an email. “The overall response was excitement that we were bringing new amenities to the neighborhood, like a coffee shop plus food options, plus creative commercial space. Some people in the neighborhood have home studios and are ready to ‘graduate’ to a commercial space that is more conducive for meetings and/or a retail space.”

The developers also left a wide natural buffer between the complex and the surrounding neighborhood that was equal to or more than that required by compatibility standards, said Hsu at the site. "The activities, services and jobs provided by for-profit and non-profit tenants we believe will be a fit for the area and neighborhood,” he later added via email. “This is not designed to be a high-level, high-rent, office-user development or a place that is unused after work hours. Our hope is that it becomes an Eastside community hub. There are courtyards for gathering, neighborhood-focused food and drink options, collaborative spaces, and a strong desire to build community of people who have some shared values and goals."

Including the Center for Social Innovation, which is leased as a whole, the complex is almost 65 percent rented, with tenants including Applebox Imaging, Atelier DOJO Austin, Austin Parks Foundation, Bluesky Design & Build, Cultivate PR, The Eli Halpin Gallery and Art Studio, J-Squared Studios, Luella, Metropolitan Gallery Fine Art Consulting, Settle Ceramics/Iliana Bernard, Sky Candy, Whitebox, and Zhi Tea.

The project will be completed in multiple phases, with the first buildings being turned over for occupancy in early 2018 and full completion expected around late summer 2018.