Luxury condos were supposed to replace Austin’s old graffiti park. Why aren’t they done?

The colorful graffiti park that used to stand on Baylor Street overlooking North Lamar Boulevard drew about 500 visitors a day before it closed five years ago to make way for new condos.
The colorful graffiti park that used to stand on Baylor Street overlooking North Lamar Boulevard drew about 500 visitors a day before it closed five years ago to make way for new condos.

The eye-popping street art and chaotic blasts of graffiti made the HOPE Outdoor Gallery — Austin’s old graffiti park — a fantastic photo spot. People took engagement photos here; family portraits; baby announcements; selfies and snapshots of friends; and countless pictures of the unlikely art destination itself, where the concrete ruins of a 1980s condominium project became an ever-changing canvas for everyone.

This iconic piece of weird Austin, which drew about 500 visitors a day, was even immortalized in a virtual reality installation before the Baylor Street site closed five years ago to make way for new condos.

But now the site feels frozen in time. Construction started two years ago on the Colorfield, 10 luxury condos perched on the western doorstep of downtown. Yet the structure today looks much like it did in the May 2023 photos from the developer’s website: An impressive concrete shell, stacked three stories above the future lobby, with some wood-framed walls.

On several recent visits, I couldn’t find any crews working on the 0.67-acre site, even as the project’s website promises the multimillion-dollar condos would be move-in ready in 2023.

I’ve heard from Austinites wondering: What’s happening with the redevelopment of the old graffiti park site?

“Like many real estate projects, the Colorfield has experienced delays,” Bryan Cumby, founder and CEO of the Cumby Group, told me via email.

The Colorfield condominiums are under construction on the former site of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery graffiti art park on Baylor Street.
The Colorfield condominiums are under construction on the former site of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery graffiti art park on Baylor Street.

I pressed for specifics, but Cumby declined to elaborate on what caused those delays or when things might be back on track. But he said he expects construction to wrap up “near the end of this year.”

In fairness, construction projects run into delays all the time. Chris Hurst, who has been following the progress of the Colorfield as the chair of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, told me that delays at any building site can happen for any number of reasons: Waiting for the concrete to cure. Waiting for specialty subcontractors to be available. Waiting for the arrival of materials or of components being built off-site.

“Construction is a highly choreographed process that requires activities to happen in a specific order,” said Hurst, an architect by trade who is not involved with the Colorfield.

Hurst added that the neighborhood’s Zoning Committee remains in touch with the developer. “Most of the work underway right now is less obvious,” he said, “but construction has not stopped.”

The building permit for the Colorfield site remains active. The project passed a pre-construction inspection in April 2022 and has completed some initial electrical, plumbing and mechanical inspections, said Stephanie Sanchez, a spokesperson with the city’s Development Services Department.

Construction started two years ago on the Colorfield condo project, yet the structure today still looks much like it did last spring.
Construction started two years ago on the Colorfield condo project, yet the structure today still looks much like it did last spring.

Still, with the project running into delays, I wondered if the neighbors around Baylor Street are worried about history repeating itself. After all, the last condo project that started on this site in the 1980s was never completed — hence, the graffiti park.

“The neighborhood association is not concerned about history repeating itself,” Hurst told me. “The developer (of the Colorfield) has made a large investment in this site, which is also evident by the construction quality observed from offsite.”

Indeed, high-end buyers are waiting for these units. The developer’s website shows seven of the 10 units are under contract. Listings show the units priced from $3.72 million to $9.95 million, depending on size and amenities. The penthouse units will include private pools.

Whenever they’re finished, those condos will offer stunning views of downtown.

That is the progression of things: Austin tracts shifting toward their most lucrative use. That land, valued last year for tax purposes at $4.4 million, couldn’t remain a graffiti park forever — any more than my kids, who last took pictures among the spray-painted walls in the spring of 2018, smiling alongside winged creatures and a trippy eyeball, could remain 10 and 12 forever.

Change is life’s constant.

And while I miss that piece of weird Austin — and especially the creativity and community it fostered — let’s remember that the HOPE Outdoor Gallery has been working on developing a new campus for artists near the Austin airport. I hope to have some updates soon on that long-awaited project.

Sometimes the change comes too fast, sometimes not fast enough. But it’s always coming.

Grumet is the Statesman’s Metro columnist. Her column, ATX in Context, contains her opinions. Share yours via email at bgrumet@statesman.com or via Twitter at @bgrumet. Find her previous work at statesman.com/news/columns.

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: What’s happening with construction at graffiti park site in Austin?

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