Archives for July 2013

Downtown Wayfinding – It’s All In The Design

Downtown Wayfinding – It’s All In The Design

As downtown residents, we generally know where stuff is, the direction the streets run, and we’ve developed a keen sense for about how far we are from any landmark.

Good wayfinding is an important asset for a city.  It aims to expand localized knowledge into a form that visitors can use.  It’s something that you notice when traveling in other cities.

Or, you find yourself cursing its absence.

A few posts ago, buried in a roundup post, I took aim at the Downtown Wayfinding Program – an effort to standardize street and directional signs – for ceasing to (publicly) display any progress.  City staff reached out to kindly let me know the project was not “on ice” but working towards completing a graphic manual.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I surfed over to the project page recently to find a Wayfinding Master Plan has been published (pdf), which includes a project timeline that contemplates five phases between January 2014 – March 2016 and beyond.

When Staff presented their wayfinding plan to Council last winter, there was some controversy about Austin’s sexy parking “P”.  The mayor, for one, was not a fan of keeping it weird when it comes to parking. (Mayor: I agree with you!).

“It’s supposed to be a signal that’s the same around the country, around the world,” Mayor Lee Leffingwell said of the Austinized logos, KUT News reported. “I don’t see anything to be gained by a little twist, any more than I could see a point of making stop signs triangular instead of octagonal.” [Zing!!!]

Parking Icon

A couple of other points about the wayfinding report which I’m happy to see

  • According to the report, “the intent of the Downtown Austin Wayfinding Master Plan is not to add signage on top of existing conditions, but to remove and replace existing wayfinding signage to create an organized and comprehensive approach.”  This is a signal that Staff is aware of the blight created by more street signs.
  • The batty street sign system for downtown, which sometimes show the street names, sometimes show the “historical” names, and sometimes show the honorary names will be standardized.

current street signs

street signs - future

A Downtown Austin Wedding

A Downtown Austin Wedding

Jude alluded to he and I tying the knot in a recent blog post, but, being the private fellow he is, he didn’t really go into details.  Well, I thought that many of the ladies (and maybe some dudes) reading Downtown Austin Blog MAY be interested in some of what went into our fabulous wedding!  So, if you like to dish about “I do’s” – keep reading!

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This Is The Biggest Transformation Facing Downtown Austin

This Is The Biggest Transformation Facing Downtown Austin

You can clearly see from any of Austin’s view corridors the myriad cranes in downtown Austin, transforming the skyline.  But, the biggest transformation facing downtown Austin is not the redevelopment of Seaholm, nor Green Water.

I’m thinking of the Dell Medical School and UT’s Medical District Plan. This plan developed within two years, seemingly from thin air, and is awesome in the “shock and awe” sense of the word.

We’ve seen “Master Plans” come, go, sit on the shelves of City Hall, but the UT Medical District is more or less guaranteed to happen in the next couple of years, at least the first phase.  The UT system, the No. 3 richest system in the nation, will carry the brunt of development for Phase 1 of the master plan. I’d wager they aren’t dependent on lenders, credit markets, etc. when they (literally) have $1 billion of gold in the bank. That gold, by the way, represents just five percent of UT’s nearly $20 billion portfolio.

Officially, UT plans to open the medical school in the fall of 2016, while the planned opening of the hospital is January 2017.  

Now, look at the Medical District plan as a catalyst for development near the adjacent capitol complex and Waller Creek.  Things get really exciting.

I’m going to blog a few posts about this connectivity, in my best attempt to tie in the three plans and why they all are creating a nexus for something special to happen.

Let’s start by talking about what is in the works at UT in Phase 1.

UT Phase 1 plans

Phase 1 will be built while the existing Brackenridge hospital and Erwin Center continue to operate. Phase 1 will be jointly developed by UT and Seton/Central Health.

Parts of the first phase that will be developed by UT are:

  • A 75,000-square-foot academic/administrative building to serve as the medical school.
  • A 240,000-square-foot research building and vivarium. (If you’re wondering, “vivarium” is a fancy way of saying “animal research facility.”)
  • A 200,000-square-foot medical office building to provide space for specialty clinics, medical offices, hospital support, and clinical research.
  • A 1,000-space parking structure to serve the office building.
  • Meanwhile, Seton and Central Health will develop a new 480,000-square-foot hospital.

Downtown-Austin-UT-Medical-District-Master-Plan2

 

To facilitate development, the existing Penick-Allison Tennis Center will need to be relocated (sigh), as will the Centennial Park memorial features.

Additionally, Red River will be realigned between 16th and 15th street. If the glacially slow and problematic redevelopment of Brazos Street and other downtown streets is any indicator, that is the most likely part to delay UT’s plans.  Assuming the university twists arms at City Hall to put that on the fast track, there is still no telling what sort of headaches and potential delays that lay in wait under the street.

You might say: “This is basically UT and not downtown.”

I’d counter that 2/3 of this plan exists within the boundaries of Downtown Austin, adjacent to the capitol complex and Waller Creek.  The Medical District will spur more development for services and living options supporting Austin’s burgeoning medical industry.

Optimistically, I think this is “too big to fail.”  Exciting stuff, to be sure, and phase 1 is just the start.

Downtown-Austin-UT-Medical-District-Master-Plan1

Roundup: Cesar Chavez As Freeway, Future of Children’s Museum Site

Roundup: Cesar Chavez As Freeway, Future of Children’s Museum Site

No way, Cesar Chavez as a freeway?  Way.

The thinking back in the ’60s was that Cesar Chevez (née 1st Street, née Water Street) should be an expressway.

Check out this map making the rounds on Twitter, recently. Note that the red dash lines are planned expressway lanes, just like MoPac. (Keep in mind, the waterfront wasn’t what it is today, and Lake Lady Bird had only just formed after the completion of Longhorn Dam in 1960.

Office tower proposed at 5th & Colorado

The ABJ reports the surface-parking-lot-cum-mobile-food-vendor site is slated to be a 9 story office tower, being developed by Lincoln Properties.  What’s not clear is where the 6 stories of parking will go.  Is it a 15 story building?  Is parking below ground?  Nobody seems to know the height.

Plans murky for former Children’s Museum site

I posted recently about a zoning change filed on the block surrounding the 56-story Austonian skyscraper last week, where developers are seeking a change in zoning that would allow them to build taller.

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The Travis House Ghost Door

The Travis House Ghost Door

Have you seen the mysterious Travis House monument door at 18th and Guadalupe downtown?

Monument

From the look of it, the former Travis House site is in total stasis, but the sidewalk has been given the Great Streets treatment, even if for just half a block.

block pic

A little history: the Travis House was building constructed in 1945 as a 30-unit multi-family building, among whose tenants included a secretary for then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson. Within five years of being built, the building was converted into a hotel, named Hotel Guadalupe. In 1956, it was purchased by the YWCA and became one of the few places where black UT students were allowed to rent rooms while going to school on campus, according to city records.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and the YWCA chapter fell into bankruptcy and lost the building, at which point the Travis County Justice System converted the building into a halfway house for recently released prisoners. Predictably, that sparked a public safety outcry, due to the proximity to young UT students, which led to a period of limbo and vacancy for the Travis House. There were a series of low-profile, unsolved arsons in the building while it was generally used as a flop house by the homeless, amid growing clamors to destroy the building. Finally, in 2010 one of the fires found fuel and resulted in a two-alarm fire and the building was taken down.

rbz Travis House Fire 02

As a testament to that thrilling history, the door reconstruction stands there now, with the original carvings above the entrance and reclaimed bricks from the demolition. A fairly large plaque is posted on the south side.

plage

The historical significance of the building is debatable; however, the aesthetic effect of the monument, especially at night, is undoubtedly intriguing.