Southern Cross Constructions

Established in Sydney, Australia, more than 20 years ago, Southern Cross Constructions has brought its construction delivery expertise to the United States. With Texas offices located in Dallas and Austin, as well as a presence in San Diego, the company is capable of working on many different commercial, industrial, residential and public projects.

“We don’t have a long history in the United States, but the company has had a presence here for about three or four years now,” Senior Project Manager Ken Cousins says. “Southern Cross has done work on the West Coast and we are working on and pursuing projects in Austin, Dallas and other markets.”

Southern Cross Constructions’ specialty is multifamily high-rise projects. According to Cousins, this is the area where the company is most effective. One current example is the River View Apartments project in Austin for CDK Riverside LLC.

Back from the Brink

The project has an interesting backstory. It was originally to be known as Star Riverside when its then-owner, the Australian company Constellation Property Group, started it in 2007 at Interstate 35 and East Riverside Drive. However, Constellation Property Group terminated the project after design and excavation because of the economic conditions.

As a result of the changing financing picture, funding ran out and the project went through the foreclosure process. The Dallas Police and Fire Pension Fund acquired the property, and Southern Cross became the general contractor.

River View Apartments is now a 302-unit, $47 million luxury apartment with an associated parking garage project. Southern Cross Constructions negotiated the design/assist and construction contract of the project, which is located on the shore of Lady Bird Lake. The project consists of four towers situated over a four-level underground parking structure, comprising more than 500,000 square feet of construction area in all.

Because of the history of the project, some preliminary site work was done prior to construction of River View starting up in December 2010. The 302-unit structure is made of reinforced concrete with post tension slabs, and it sits atop 525 parking spaces in four levels of parking. The gross square footage of residential apartment space is about 220,000 square feet, with about 230,000 square feet for parking and 4,000 square feet of retail space.

Of the four towers, Cousins says, “Two are five stories, one is nine stories and one is 11 stories. The complex is located just across the Colorado River from downtown Austin. The project is scheduled to wrap up in December 2012, and the units will be marketed as luxury apartments.”

Site-Specific Situations

The project site created several unique challenges for Southern Cross Constructions to work around. First, the project is located on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, which is an important downtown urban lake. It is also adjacent to Interstate 35 on the west and East Riverside Drive to the south.

“Both are busy thoroughfares and transportation arteries for Austin,” Cousins says. “Logistically, as we’re doing construction, we can’t swing our cranes out over the traffic.”

To the east of the project is a school site. Naturally, the air space over the school is particularly sensitive when class is in session.

Other challenges Southern Cross Constructions encountered included the existing utilities on the site during the initial construction phases. Cousins says some were deep and old and had to be replaced.

Beyond that, the project is essentially curb-to-curb construction, making it a very tight site. Southern Cross Constructions has had to sort out logistics relating to parking space for subcontractors, and it has also worked hard to maintain relations with neighbors and manage construction debris.

Southern Cross Constructions is pursuing LEED Silver status for River View Apartments. Some of the sustainability features built into the project include a cistern for rainwater collection at the bottom of the parking structure and a water biofiltration system.

For the project to be finished by the end of the year, Southern Cross Constructions must ensure that all parties adhere to a challenging schedule. The structures are topped out, the form contractor is moving offsite, framing of interior and exterior partitions is proceeding, and sheathing is moving along, as well.

But Cousins says it can be a challenge to transition from the structural work and get the finish trades in. “We need to get those up and running and be sure that the subcontractors are on board with the schedule,” he says. “We’re six months from finishing this project and everyone has to perform for us to get there. Some people will be new to the project, but we have to maintain our schedule and quality.”

After the project wraps, Southern Cross Construction is hopeful for its future in Texas and beyond. The company plans to look for additional projects in and around Austin.

“We have a solid workforce here now, and we have a similar-size project in Fort Worth coming up,” Cousins says. “Our intention is to stay in central and north Texas through our offices in Austin and Dallas and seek out additional meaningful project opportunities.”

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