The Downtown Austin Alliance is hosting a meeting this Wednesday (you can RSVP here) to discuss whether downtown Austin is ripe for a public market. They’ll also be bringing in a public market expert from a group called the Project for Public Spaces to discuss them with us.
I’m no expert but to me public markets are different than farmer’s markets. They should operate every day, often have options to sit-n-eat, and enjoy a cosmopolitan experience. Above all, a public market should be a “place,” a “destination,” and unique experience that melds cultures where you would take in-laws visiting from out of town.
Where would it go?
There are only a few sites downtown that could host a large public market. Fortunately, most of these sites desperately need more activation.
Below are four site options in order of best opportunity! (Hat tip to mi amigo, Jake Dirr, who helped brainstorm with me on this)
1) Convention Center Parking Garage ground floor (600 E 4th St): The ground floor of this city-owned parking garage is set up for retail, but fell victim to years of litigation regarding the original property owner, Harry Whittington. It’s adjacent to transit, and surrounded by parking. The ground floor could be gutted to create an indoor bazaar and market. Because this option is climate controlled, it offers a year-round option, where as open aired public markets will suffer considerably in the 100-plus degree heat.
2) Brush Square Park and Fire Station: This site becomes a viable option if the Fire Department is relocated and the station is repurposed into a closed air market and the building extended into the onsite surface lot. This also offers use of a building with some character and the attached O. Henry Museum adds a historic charm that Public Markets need. This has the added bonus of becoming a major magnet for people who don’t work downtown to utilize the MetroRail. (Note: most of these other below locations are close enough to access the MetroRail too.)
3) Palm Playground: Let’s face it; the Palm Playground is a derelict, underused part of downtown. It’s ostensibly called a playground, however, I never see much besides vagrancy. Flanked by I-35, locating a market here would make it an instant icon and ensure its location was known far and wide. When Waller Creek redevelops, it will fit nicely into the district and if I-35 if ever cut-and-capped, its accessibility rises exponentially.
4) The Old Federal Courthouse: Located on W. Eighth Street, this building is apparently to be reused by the federal government, just no longer as a court house. However, its four-story, rectangular construction, complete with a basement and service penthouse, means it has plenty of space for a public market. The building was built in 1935, and is a perfect example of Art Deco Design, which adds a level panache and timelessness should it become a public market. It is also on the Historic Register, and reusing it for a public market will ensure future generations get to enjoy it. A community drive could certainly bend an ear in Washington DC to transform this building.