Endeavor serves as the developer for the Cox Family’s prime 18.8 acres in the SCWF; it also owns in the SCWF 1/3rd of an acre at 312 Barton Springs Road (where Zax was). Endeavor paid $4 million for the lot in 2019.
Endeavor’s real estate projects have been treated well at Austin City Hall. Endeavor and its lobbyist Armbrust & Brown were the two largest private contributors to city council candidates in 2020. Endeavor employees contributed $41,340 and Armbrust & Brown employees contributed $51,473, for a combined $92,800, to their chosen council candidates. (These figures were compiled from the City of Austin’s campaign finance data portal).
“Endeavor Real Estate Group is the largest full-service commercial real estate company in Central and South Texas.” Started in Austin in 1999, “Endeavor has acquired or developed more than 17 million sf [square feet] and currently has 2.5 million sf in its pipeline. Noteworthy projects include the Domain, Southpark Meadows, 1890 Ranch, Whole Foods Market grocery store at Domain, IBC Bank Plaza, Champion Office Park and recently completed The Bowie, a 36-story mixed-use tower consisting of 41,000 sf of office space and 358 luxury rental units in Downtown Austin’s Market District.”
“Endeavor is currently active as an investor in Nashville, Denver, Houston, Dallas, San Diego, San Antonio, San Marcos and South and Central Texas.” Endeavor owns or manages 124 properties, “represent[ing] an extremely diverse portfolio of commercial projects, ranging from high-end corporate environments to industrial facilities and traditional or boutique retail space.” It is on a “money-raising roll,” having “raised nearly $160 million… and has commitments from investors that would increase that total to more than $300 million.”
While Endeavor maintains “we’ve built our continued success on a simple formula. Approach every relationship with integrity and treat every project like it’s in our own backyard,” it has been involved in a number of major controversies. These include receiving massive city tax subsidies for the luxury Domain Shopping complex, using sexist- and racist-appearing brochures to promote shopping at the Domain, and in failing to fulfill its commitments on affordable housing at its Plaza Saltillo development.
The Domain’s $57 Million Unnecessary Tax Subsidy. In 2003, Endeavor sought to develop 42 acres of prime real estate at the corner of Braker and MoPac for high-end shopping, including Neiman Marcus, Tiffany’s, and Louis Vuitton. Called the Domain I, Endeavor requested from the city property and sales tax breaks over a number of years, worth it said $37 million. Endeavor called it “a bold, no-risk investment,” and a nearly unanimous Council approved the Domain tax breaks over vocal opposition that the subsidies weren’t needed.
Six months later, Endeavor created a Domain Shopping Center, LP partnership with Simon Properties, the world’s largest shopping center developer. Nonetheless, Endeavor still maintained that it and Simon Properties needed the tax breaks: “incentives were needed for exactly the reasons Endeavor stated at the time: ‘So we could tell prospective tenants that we were going to be meeting with that we had a viable project… Without them, it wouldn’t be built.’” (Endeavor makes the same threat now about the SCWF: “‘We won’t build the plan if there’s no [SCWF] TIRZ, it just doesn’t work. It all fits together,’ said Richard Suttle, the attorney representing the property owner [Cox Family] and development team [Endeavor].”). Several years later, Endeavor sold its interest in Domain I, which was wildly successful, to Simon Properties.
The Domain now consists of 300 acres with three separate Domains: Domain I, Domain II, and Domain III. Within a few years after the Domain I opened, it was already considered Austin’s “Second Downtown.” The three Domains now have “1.8 million square feet of retail space including more than 50 bars and restaurants, along with 1.5 million square feet of office space, 2,700 apartments and 775 hotel rooms.”
As critics pointed out at the time, there never was a need for the city to subsidize the Domain, with its prime location and high-end shopping, for the development to be profitable. Even after the Domain became a hugely profitable success, the Council has refused to ends its tax subsidy, which the Domain I’s owners still gets today. Domain II and III somehow thrived without any subsidy.
In 2004, Brian Rodgers, a local activist and commercial developer, sued the City to stop the Domain tax subsidies. A local court agreed, holding that the city had no obligation to continue the subsidies. Nonetheless, the City Council has continued to voluntarily give several million dollars a year in tax subsidies to the Domain—even though it’s inarguable that the Domain doesn’t need the tax breaks. And the “$37 million tax subsidy”, as critics predicted, has ballooned to $57 million.
Racist and Sexist Marketing. The Domain has been marketed to shoppers in ways that are troubling at best and racist and sexist at worst. A Domain II brochure revealed the “quintessential Domain Northside shopper” that Endeavor wanted: a “classy,” “well-heeled woman,” who carries a “Givenchy handbag,” “drives a BMW Series 6 [costing up to $100,000]… at night, and by day drives a Range Rover Sport [costing up to $130,000]”, and “is most likely to describe her ethnicity as Anglo, Jewish, or Asian.” Endeavor apologized, but the brochure’s intent could not be whitewashed away.
Reneging on Plaza Saltillo. Endeavor outbid other developers for Cap-Metro’s 10-acre prime Plaza Saltillo property, directly across I-35 from the Central Business District. Endeavor won the bid because it committed to providing 25% affordable housing units and limiting the height of its project. Later, in 2017, Endeavor asked the Council to let it back out of its commitments, now “put[ting] forth proposals for a zoning change to allow a 125-foot-tall office building not previously included in the plan, as well as taller residential buildings and the scaling back of affordable housing units. The proposed changes would allow the reduction of the number of affordable apartment units from the originally agreed-upon 200 to 141…”
The East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood “opposed the proposed allowable height increase, doubling of density (from 112,500 square feet to 259,000 square feet), a decrease in affordable housing, and an insufficient number of apartments that have more than one bedroom…”
The Council, however, let Endeavor re-trade the deal, making it much more profitable for Endeavor. Critics maintained that Endeavor never intended to fulfill its commitments to the neighborhood and city and that the bid should be reopened to allow for fair bidding competition.