Building Zilker Studios: Seizing Opportunities, Overcoming Challenges

July 18, 2023 | Posted in Green Building, Affordable Housing, Housing, Uncategorized |

For Foundation Communities, building Zilker Studios was truly a “no-brainer.” It’s located on a half-acre of land that was donated by C12 Capital, the developer of The Loren at Lady Bird hotel at South Lamar and Riverside. It’s in a busy corridor that can easily connect residents living on low incomes with public transit, jobs, retail parks, health care and quick access to downtown. It did, however, take a great deal of ingenuity, hard work and cooperation to make this beautiful, supportive housing community a reality. 

Since Zilker Studios had to be built on just a half-acre of land, that meant to create the desired number of affordable studio apartments, Foundation Communities had to build higher than it ever has before – seven stories. The land also included two heritage live oak trees which Foundation Communities and the design and construction teams wanted to preserve. The building had to be situated between the two trees, so Forge Craft Architecture + Design conceived a vision of a hammock between the trees. Using the space between them as a nexus point, the building is split into two halves. A connecting breezeway acts as the hammock – a place where residents can experience both trees at once and feel removed from the busy streetscape along South Lamar.

 Another construction challenge was Planet K’s Wall of Fame adjacent to the property. The shrine to Texas celebrities is a treasured part of Austin’s history, so throughout construction, workers were diligent about buttressing sections that needed extra support, preventing debris from falling on it, and rebuilding a few sections that did fall prey to the construction. 

Then there was timing. The design of Zilker Studios had just begun when the pandemic hit and lockdowns started in March of 2020. Amid all the uncertainty, it was difficult to plan for construction. “A few months into construction we had to do a significant roof redesign when we couldn’t get our preferred roofing material,” said Anna Lake-Smith, Zilker Studios’ project manager. The construction team also struggled to get all of the necessary pieces to connect to the City’s electrical grid, which ended up delaying the project. Lake-Smith said, “We’re very grateful to our team who took the uncertainty in stride.” 

 Even with the land donation, it still cost $25.5 million to build Zilker Studios. As with all Foundation Communities projects, it faced the challenge of layering a multitude of different sources of financing, including competing for limited public funding. Funding for Zilker came from a combination of low-income housing tax credits, a construction loan, City of Austin General Obligation Bonds, the state’s Multifamily Direct Loan Program, Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas’s Affordable Housing Program, Capital Magnet Funds and private fundraising.

 Zilker Studios opened in late May of 2023. The process of welcoming home 110 single adult residents, many of whom have experienced homelessness, has continued for weeks. Lake-Smith said, “That’s why we do what we do! Everyone on our team is here because we believe in the mission of FC, and I speak for all of us when I say we’re incredibly proud of Zilker Studios. Being able to walk through the space we know so well on paper is a surreal feeling to begin with, but seeing how residents make it their home is the ultimate motivation to keep going, and improve on the next affordable community.”