Tall tale: Austin’s tower cranes are multiplying — and more construction expected in 2017

Construction tower cranes have boldly punctuated downtown Austin’s skyline for the past few years — so much so that real estate observers and contractors have commented that they have never seen this magnitude of construction, even in bigger cities.

That may be stretching things a bit, but now there is a way to quantify the crane count, a handy metric for analyzing construction activity — an indication of the region’s robust growth.

International construction consulting company Rider Levett Bucknall has added Austin to its annual North America Crane Index. For good reason.

Austin’s crane count in the Central Business District doubled during the second half of 2016 to 20 cranes, and is one of the few cities in which the number of tower cranes is increasing. That doesn’t even count tower cranes in suburban parts of the city nor locations east of I-35 where Oracle is building a huge campus and has several cranes in use.

Residential and hotel projects account for the greatest usage of tower cranes in Austin, according to the the RLB report. The consulting company said capital improvements at the University of Texas, including public and private projects associated with the new Dell Medical School, will result in more construction projects and thus more tower cranes in the year ahead.

While most cities across the country have seen a decline in tower cranes as projects have wrapped up and construction has slowed, tower crane sightings are strongest in Seattle where there are 62 in the CBD. Chicago is second with 56. Portland, Oregon, also beats Austin with 25 tower cranes in use near downtown.

Those three construction markets are particularly strong with a wide mix of developments — commercial, residential, health care related, education and mixed-use.

While tower crane usage is down in New York, Phoenix and Los Angeles, RLB doesn’t expect that trend to continue in those large metro areas. The consultancy anticipates more projects in those cities breaking ground this year.

Crane activity is static in Boston, Washington, Denver, San Francisco and Honolulu, but all those cities also are poised for new developments.

In Canada, Calgary is facing a major slowdown — probably as a result of the declines in the oil and gas industry. The situation could get worse there, according to RLB.

Toronto also has seen a downward trend in tower cranes, but in that megapolis RLB expects a rebound by the end of the year. In fact, there are more tower cranes in use in Toronto than anywhere — 81 at current count.

Of all the tower cranes in use in North America, nearly 50 percent of them are currently in the markets of Seattle, Chicago and Toronto.

An interesting side note is that RLB has seen a significant shift in the types of construction projects this year across the continent — surprisingly away from mixed-use, which is down about 25 percent from mid-2016.

Throughout 2016 large increases have been recorded in health care, up 67 percent; commercial, up 62 percent; and hospitality, up 43 percent.

Source: Austin Business Journal
Jan Buchholz, Senior Staff Writer

Leave a Comment