The New Dillo?  Ridescout Route Supplements Transport Options for Downtown Austin Commuters

The New Dillo? Ridescout Route Supplements Transport Options for Downtown Austin Commuters

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Remember the days of the Dillo?  We have fond memories of 2008 and before, when the Dillo service was still trolleying about downtown Austin, helping those in need of a short ride across our little downtown.  And then the Dillo died in October of 2009, and we all quietly mourned the loss.

And then….free, short distance shuttle rides were reborn…in the form of the The Ridescout Route.

The Ridescout Route is simply this:

The RideScout Route is a free, convenient, hop-on / hop-off shuttle that serves the heart of downtown Austin. Conversations with the local community and the City of Austin, supported by MobilityATX data, revealed a need for more reliable east to west transportation options.

Our fixed-route pilot program, in partnership with Electric Cab, solves that need with a series of open-air electric cabs.

The route is currently pretty small (a bit smaller than the Dillo routes of yore), but it’s only a pilot program, and we hope to see expansion if the pilot proves successful.

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The shuttles run every 5-10 minutes on weekdays from 7am-1pm.

Learn more about the Ridescout Route and the Ridescout App here.

[Hat tip to Jace Deloney for sharing!]





Major Rainey Street District Site Sells, Signals Potential For New Tower Development

Major Rainey Street District Site Sells, Signals Potential For New Tower Development

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You can file this under “N” for “Not that surprising,” but news broke the other day about World Class Capital Group’s ‘eventual’ plans to develop a recently acquired site at 50 & 56 East Avenue.  We knew someone was gonna do it, and it might as well be the group already controlling some of the best downtown Austin development sites.

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No timeline has been announced, so we can presume Travis County services are there to stay for a little while longer, at least.

Although the site has partial view encumbrances to the west from Skyhouse Apartments and The Milago condos and to the south by Windsor on the Lake, the site does have several excellent vantage points, which combined with no height limitation we’re sure developers will take full advantage of when the time comes to build.

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The site was previously owned by Austin Travis County MHMR d/b/a Austin Travis County Integral Care and publicly available documents show a $6.3MM lien against the property from Falcon International Bank, so that’s at least the debt component of the purchase.

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The City of Austin currently owns the site across East Avenue (to the east), which is a half green, half poorly paved and mostly unused lot for the time being.





Parks in Downtown Austin

Parks in Downtown Austin

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Humans require some green space.  Gathering spaces that are shared by everyone.  Parks are integral to keeping a vibrant urban cores.

There is research to back it up, too.  Being next to a good public park can enhance property value in urban areas.  One report, Real Value: The Parks Premium, written by John Crompton, professor at  Texas A&M, states:

The real estate market consistently demonstrates that many people are willing to pay a larger amount for a property located close to parks and open space areas…

This particular report is from 2000, and back when it was written, there weren’t many other examples of high-rises near public parks aside from the Nokonah, located not only adjacent to Shoal Creek, but also in the midst of a booming retail / commercial district on Lamar. But now, several downtown Austin condos for sale are located near parks:  The Shore CondosThe Milago condos, the Villas on Town Lake, and 360 Condos are some examples.

Bottom line is that downtown Austin has some great green space, and not only do many of these parks offer programming that all can enjoy, but they are great public, open places that are a wonderful complement to the dense development occurring in downtown Austin. These parks are not only wonderful spots to bring a blanket and a book and simply unwind, but are also part of the complex economic fabric that makes Downtown Austin an in-demand place to live.

Downtown has several municipal parks within it’s borders:

Republic Square Park | 422 Guadalupe St. | 1.75 Acres

This is probably downtown Austin’s best known park, sitting adjacent to the Plaza Lofts, and host to a variety of programmed events, including a weekly Farmer’s Market put on by the Sustainable Food Center each Saturday morning from 9am-1pm. The Austin Parks Foundation also hosts Movies in the Park at Republic Square Park.

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Courtesy of Republic Square Facebook Page

Historic Squares Leadership Team, a partnership between the City of Austin, Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Austin Parks Foundation, has recently formed in order to do some capital improvements to the park and foster a future of robust programming and operations management for the green space.

Below is a rendering of the currently preferred Concept Plan for the park’s re-design:

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Not too very long ago, Jude wrote an op-ed about the proposed Travis County Courthouse, currently proposed to border the park to south.

 

Wooldridge Square | 900 Guadalupe St. | 1.73 Acres

Wooldridge Square has also been getting a fair amount of attention the last couple of years.  This historic site (it was one of the four original downtown Austin parks) has a bandstand / gazebo that is used for events held on the site.

The site had often been called a “magnet for the homeless” and went under extensive renovations in 2013, capped off by a schedule of aggressive re-opening programming, intended to diversity the public use of the space.

Current programming at this site includes Movies in the Park, Yoga in the Park, and Giant Chess.

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Duncan Park | 900 W 9th St. | 5.11 Acres

Duncan Park is one of the coolest parks downtown, in my opinion. The park plays host to a volunteer built and managed BMX bicycle track and the people watching is pretty amazing. I strongly encourage taking a picnic lunch and a book and just camping out for a couple of hours to watch some astounding BMX tricks.

Here’s an amateur video of some of the track.

 

Brush Square | 500 E 12th St. | 1.75 Acres

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Situated near the 5 Fifty-Five condos in downtown Austin, Brush Square is probably best known for hosting the annual O. Henry Pun Off. Check out some past videos from this very punny event.

 

Waterloo Neighborhood Park | 500 E 12th St. | 10 Acres

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Waterloo Park, named after the town that preceded Austin on the same site, borders Waller Creek close to Austin’s downtown. The limestone embankments of the creek are picturesquely entwined with parts of Waller Creek Trail.

The park is currently under construction related to the Waller Creek redevelopment.

Before moving to Auditorium Shores, Fun Fun Fun Fest was held in this park. Wayyyy back in 2009, I wrote a fantastically Fun Fun Fun story using band names from that years’ line-up (this is one of my very favorite posts to have ever authored, by the way).

 

The Austin Recreation Center | 1301 Shoal Creek Blvd. | 5.48 Acres

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AustinParks.org, Photo by Jim Hatch

The center at 1301 Shoal Creek is Austin’s oldest recreation center, and is home to several sports leagues (adult kickball and volleyball).  It also has a skate park / bowl.

 

Palm Park | 711 East 3rd St. | 2 Acres

Quite honestly, I feel that this is downtown Austin’s most disappointing park. It faces into I-35 and doesn’t currently have much to offer. It also has this real gross pool that doesn’t have filtration system (so it has be refilled with each use). Some groups have begun to adopt the space for programming, however (most notably, Waller Creek Conservancy for it’s very successful Waller Park picnic series).

 

Old Bakery and Emporium Park | 1006 Congress Ave

This is really considered more of a museum type space than park, but I love the intimate feel of the outdoor space at 1006 Congress Avenue.

 

The MACC 

Green space at the Mexican American Cultural Center

Green space at the Mexican American Cultural Center

Located in the Rainey Street district of downtown Austin, this “park” is adjacent to Lady Bird lake and used by residents of The Shore Condos, The Milago, and others.  It’s a great resource for condo dwellers in the neighborhood and you can often see folks playing with their pups or their children here.

 

I also consider the Texas State Capitol Grounds to be downtown park land, but that’s, of course, not managed by the City.

Related: Interested in how other types of public spaces interact with the communities that surround them? Check out our semi-related post on urban cemeteries.

 





“Secret” Spots and Private Rooms in Downtown Austin

“Secret” Spots and Private Rooms in Downtown Austin

Private Dining

I handle downtown location scouting for companies setting up corporate events at SXSW and F1 (non-official), and (up until very recently) planned monthly parties all around downtown for the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, most of my friends see me as a “go to” in terms of finding a cool party and private dining spot downtown.

And it’s true, I know a lot of places that are considered a bit “off the beaten path,” in terms of private spaces for meetings or parties that are in downtown Austin.  This week, I thought I’d share some of them with you, our loyal readers!

Depending on your party size and budget, one or more of these options may be a perfect fit for your next event.

Note: I’m not including write-ups on the big guys, the traditional event venues that everyone knows about and come up all the time (Brazos Hall, Fair Market, Trinity Hall, Malverde etc), nor am I including bar and other venues that are widely known to do and be set up for buyouts (Alamo Drafthouse, hotel spaces, etc). Most of the list below is intended for smaller groups / parties. Also, this is a NON-EXHAUSTIVE list – it’s not intended to have every cool or different spot in downtown!  If you think there’s a spot that we all just HAVE to know about – just put it in the comments!

Max’s Wine Dive | The Underground (Convention Center District)

I threw a NYE party a few years back in the Black Door Wine Lounge and it was FABULOUS. The Black Door Wine Lounge is perfect for private events of around 30 people, but The Underground offers larger spaces, as well.

La Condesa | Vault Room / Flour House (2nd Street District)

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It’s gorgeous and it’s well run.  The team at La Condesa will make sure your event is as flawless as this private dining space.

Departure Lounge | The Escape Hatch (Warehouse District)

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This travel agency / coffee shop is right next to the Plaza Lofts, and honestly, I think the whole space is perfect for a special private event (and reasonably priced) – but if you need something smaller for a meeting or something like that, the private room that they have fits the bill pretty well. It can accommodate up to 12 people and only requires a $50 food / beverage spend.

No Va Private Dining Room (Rainey Street District)

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This Rainey restaurant is one of my favorites.  It’s got a great menu, great look, and it’s very close to our brokerage firm’s office on the ground floor of The Shore Condos – what’s not to love?!

No Va not only has this streamlined private dining area, but also allows other portions of the restaurant to be reserved by buyout. It’s very flexible and convenient.

Palazzio Lavaca (North Downtown)

photograph by Jake Holt photograhy

photograph by Jake Holt photograhy

Stunning.  This place is simply stunning in every way.  The pictures in their gallery are not an exaggeration – the place really looks and feels like that when you are inside.  But it ain’t cheap.  I highly recommend it for high-end corporate gatherings and especially one-of-a-kind weddings. I’ve put a client in there for an F1 product launch event and they loved it.

The Clay Pit (North Downtown)

Definitely off the beaten path and certainly not for all palates, but a compelling and different choice for sure for a private gathering. They have a small private room downstairs and a private banquet space upstairs.

Some other ideas:

Condo Common Areas

Use your building’s common area spaces!  Depending on the event, you may have to get creative, but I’m a big believer in using the common area space in your downtown Austin condo building for private functions. Different buildings have different rules and rates regarding reservations of common areas, but the reality is – you paid for the ability to use of these spaces when you moved to that building – so you should take advantage of it!

Available Commercial Space

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This takes a lot of legwork, but if the event is super special – you may scout around for some empty, finished commercial spaces that are currently being marketed for long-term leases.  Reach out to the listing agent and make a proposal.  This is what I did for my wedding and it worked out awesomely.

To that end, if you are interested, here’s the post about Jude and I’s downtown wedding, with a sample menu, pictures, and some other off-beat venues that could work for weddings.

-Amber





The Other Downtown Austin

The Other Downtown Austin

the streets are adorned with lush, green trees

It’s an exciting time to live in and be involved with Downtown Austin.  Major developments being announced, and construction commencing pretty regularly.  Population and commerce increasing exponentially each year.  More places to eat.  More feet on the street. More energy.  Austin, and downtown Austin specifically, garners a lot of local, regional, and even national attention… well, most of downtown gets attention.

See, there’s this “other” downtown.  A hidden-in-plain-sight curiosity.

Let me preface the point.  Take look at a map of downtown Austin.  Visualize downtown as four quadrants, with axes along 6th Street and Congress Avenue.

First, the southeastern quadrant of downtown is home to the monumental Waller Creek redevelopment, has fortunate proximity to most downtown and East Side venues, quick access to the Hike & Bike Trail, several exciting and new hotel developments, including the The Fairmont and the Hotel Van Zandt, and an array of existing and proposed apartment and condo developments.  70 Rainey, for example.

Second, the southwestern quadrant, the media darling of downtown Austin, with heavy economic investment, has a rich mix of residential, office, and recreational uses, and seems to be constantly boasting some sort of development activity.  Major, sexy condo tower projects like the Seaholm, the Greenwater Treatment redevelopment, and the newly announced Independent have put the area on the forefront of media coverage.  Substantial office projects like the recently completed Colorado Tower and the under-construction office tower at 5th and Colorado are also making news.

Third, the northeastern quadrant is bubbling as an “Innovation Zone” – with developments bringing new life to the medical and tech industries, as well as activity related to our state Capitol.  Very recently, Foundation Communities opened it’s affordable housing development: Capital Studios.  This area is also filled, FILLED!!, with blighted parking garages.  Fortunately, Texas State Capitol complex has started getting some attention in recent years.

And, now we’ve arrived at the subject of this post.

Fourth, and finally, the “other” downtown.  The oft overlooked top left corner of downtown.  The tranquil, lush, historically quaint, attorney office dense, northwestern quadrant of downtown!  (Bookmark this: OANA’s terrific historic online tour, block by block)

We simply don’t hear much from this neck of the woods, even though it’s among the most peaceful and pleasant places to live in downtown, with plentiful tree canopy, open parks, myriad law offices, Shoal Creek, ACC, and tasteful restorations.

It’s also some of the most expensive residential property in the City.  Most of the residential in this area is comprised of single family homes, like this, and this, and this one.  Many of these homes have become office uses, generally of the law firm or other office-practice variety (although some other fun stuff is starting to pop up!).

Austin Panic Room

The Austin Panic Room, a fun new concept that just opened in NW downtown Austin.

The reason we don’t hear of these big, shiny, fabulous, skyline changing developments?  Zoning.  It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.

For better or worse, many of the lots in the northwest part of downtown Austin simply aren’t zoned for high-rises.  It’s no simple task to get an area that’s this passionate with historic sentiment and neighborhood protections to simply approve mass zoning changes willy-nilly.  Some of the City’s most prime and walkable downtown real estate is almost completely untapped as far as density goes, with most lots being inhabited with one-story or two-story Victorian style homes.  To be clear, we like it this way, too!

There are a few dense developments in northwest downtown, like the newly constructed apartment tower, Seven.  And, Aspen Heights is under construction.  Also notable, are Westgate and Cambridge Towers, which are along major boulevards.  Typically, in this part of downtown, we expect to see mid-rise developments like 904 West, Park West Condos, and the Nokonah, along with a handful of off-the-radar apartment communities, like the Nueces Flats.

You can be on W 6th Street at midnight, then walk stumble 2-3 blocks north along Nueces and it feels like a different, quieter, world.

No doubt we will continue to read headlines about downtown Austin.  Along the way, it will be interesting to observe how the “other” downtown Austin remains relatively media mute.  Maybe it’s better that way.

-Jude





Two Rainey District Towers Getting New Restaurant Concepts

Two Rainey District Towers Getting New Restaurant Concepts

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There’s always tons of activity in the downtown Austin restaurant scene, but we’re particularly excited about new restaurants in the Rainey Street District since this area of downtown is changing and maturing more quickly than other parts of downtown.

With the residential that already exists in the district, and more coming online like Millennium Rainey Apartments, 70 Rainey, and the proposed Waller Park Place, expanded commercial options for this downtown Austin area were imminent, and we’re now seeing day spas, salons, a dry cleaner (!), and more eating options pop up in Rainey.

Skyhouse Apartments is filling a corner on the ground floor with a fun looking concept called Emmer and Rye. We’ve reached out, but don’t know a ton about it (there appears to have been a restaurant in Seattle with the same name that closed a couple years back, but we’re unsure if it’s related).  The only online marketing they seem to currently have is their Instagram account.  We did find some great renderings online from their architect, Kevin Stewart, though:

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Additionally, the Hotel Van Zandt, a boutique hotel concept opening right next to The Shore Condos this summer, is opening a very smartly named Geraldine’s restaurant concept, which will boast undoubtedly stunning lake views as well as good food and fun.

Check out their website (it’s just a landing page, right now) here, and sign up for updates.

Also, check out updated Hotel Van Zandt interior renderings at the Austin Business Journal.

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These concepts will join existing Rainey dining options No Va, El Naranjo, G’raj Mahal, Bangers, Javelina, Salvation Pizza, and Royal Blue Grocery.





The Grove and Lola Savannah Coffee Coming to Downtown Austin

The Grove and Lola Savannah Coffee Coming to Downtown Austin

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One restaurant outside of downtown Austin that I enjoy is The Grove on Bee Caves Road.  The atmosphere of the outdoor patio, sitting under the canopy of magnificent live oak trees, beset with families and ladies’ nights groups, is light, crisp, clean, and interesting for its occasional cougar spotting (remind me later to tell you about the time the clunky-jeweled, immoderately tanned, bleached-blonde, and probably about 2 bottles of rosé deep, woman stood in front of our vehicle in the parking lot, arms outstretched, intermittently punching the windshield, shouting at us “you don’t understand!” blocking our exit for over 5 minutes. Actually, no need to remind me – I just told you about it).

When I venture out that way, I generally will have wine and dinner at The Grove and then enjoy a fresh made cappuccino and a pastry at the connected coffee shop Lola Savannah, which has the same owners. I really love both places – but tend to stay in downtown more often than not to dine, so was delighted to hear that they will be coming to downtown this summer!

Both concepts are slated to go in the prime ground floor space of the Cirrus Logic building at 800 W 6th, which was most recently inhabited by Tapasitas (now closed). The location had been challenging for prior restaurant concepts, but if any concept can make it work, I believe it’s The Grove and Lola Savannah.

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The partnership team behind the concepts is extremely experienced, and The Grove’s approach and brand will work extremely well in the space and in the overall arena of downtown Austin dining.  I have not been to the Lakeway location, but the patio that The Grove has on Bee Caves is one of the most enjoyable restaurant spaces, and was designed by celebrated architecture firm Dick Clark Architecture in 2008.

Here are some photographs of the Westlake spaces taken by Paul Bardagjy (these are also on the Dick Clark Architecture site):

Reports state that The Grove / Lola Savannah will eventually take over the space that Restaurant Jezebel is in, as well.

We can’t wait to visit!

The Grove / Lola Savannah
800 W 6th St, 78701





Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Austin Panic Room

Are you itching for something a little different – a little outside of the normal weekend routine of brunch, shopping, frisbee golf in Zilker, etc?

Well, have I got a recommendation for you – Austin Panic Room.

It’s one of the funnest group activities that I’ve done in a very long time, and they have recently relocated from East Austin into downtown Austin at 1205 Rio Grande, near ACC and Pease Elementary.

Here’s the scoop:  Austin Panic Room is basically just a big puzzle you solve with your friends (and maybe some strangers) in about an hour.

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