Where Could You Put A Permanent Public Market In Downtown Austin?

Where Could You Put A Permanent Public Market In Downtown Austin?

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.

Vacant space below city parking garage

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.

About Jude Galligan

Jude Galligan, REALTOR, Principal of TOWERS Realty and publisher of Downtown Austin Blog (aka. "DAB"), spends his time matching remarkable people with remarkable properties in Austin’s urban core. A resident owner in downtown Austin, Jude has served on the Board of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and the City of Austin Downtown Commission. Contact Jude.


  1. I think the east side does need an every day sort of magnet, which the convention center isn’t for most people. I still find it pretty unforunate that the convention center loading zone is along Red River, turning it into a virtual deadzone of downtown. I’m all for anything that helps link Rainey Street with the rest of downtown, which currently very isolated by the creek, by the unused palm playground, and by the convention center which faces the other way.
    I’m not so sure why people keep mentioning metrorail. It’s a commuter oriented service, what average tourist has anything to do with it besides the most major of major events? I can’t imagine downtown workers will stop at the market to take food home to Leander after work. it’s not frequent enough to be useful for many other people.

    • Precisely! This is exactly what is needed in that “dead zone”. It would fill up a gap between Rainey and the rest of downtown.

      Everyone here seems to speak about the shading that the convention center provides. There are many lovely trees within the Palm Playground area that provides coverage. Im sure the additional structures there would provide an escape from the summer heat.

      I really don’t get the metro-rail thing either that everyones mentioning. The palm playground area is just a couple steps more away from the convention area. I also agree that most that ride the Metrorail primary reason to come into town will be for the Market.

      To me it would be a bummer to see a Public Market placed in the Convention Parking Garage. :/

      • Meant to say that the primary reason most who come into town via the metrorail “will NOT be here just because their public market.” *

  2. Chris Schorre says

    My vote would be to have the City buy and develop the Tips site just west of Lamar on the train tracks for use as a public market. The site is 6 acres (I think) and has good access to buses at 5th and Lamar. It is also steps away from the future train stop at Seaholm which would be accessible without crossing Lamar as there is a bridge over Lamar at this point. So from this perspective it would be easy to access by bus, train or on foot.

  3. Convention Center is the best option
    Climate control, convenience, metro rail

  4. Austin Healy says

    I’m all for the convention center parking structure. No brainer. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of Austin during the summer….this solves that in one swoop.

  5. Downtown is a mess, last thing we need is more traffic there. How about in Highland Mall? Lots of empty buildings around it as well, plus its by the rail and there is plenty of parking. The old Sheplers would be a great spot as well, I always thought a Trader Joes would go great there.

  6. The convention center garage is deal. Climate control, parking (more revenue), the convention center and Downtown’s largest hotels….think Philadelphia. A huge public market in the middle of everything. bring on the scrapple!

  7. Any reason the Seaholm Intake facility didn’t make your list?

  8. Ardell Swatsworth III says

    I’m with the convention center idea. A. Two words – Climate control. B. Two more words – Climate control. C. Close to Metrorail D. It’s the convention center! What a great way to introduce a continuously rotating gaggle of convention-goers (future tourists)to the new incarnation of downtown?

  9. Hands down…..

    Palm Playground.

    That would be the PERFECT place to put a public market. The creepy empty playground set (which i may add looks brand new and have yet to see any children there) and empty pool got to go! Would be a great addition next to the Fairmont and Waller Creek.

  10. larry reynolds says

    1. Best – Convention center parking A. Close to convention center B. access to Metrorail. 2. Good- Brush Square Park A. Close to convention center B. access to Metrorail. 3. Bad- Palm Playground Noisy, Close to IH 35 , distance from Metrorail. 4. Worst-Federal Courthouse- Long walk to Metrorail for convention centers visitors. To bring people to shop at market you must have it close to metrorail. No one will buy items and haul them around while downtown. People that are at conventions must be able to see it and not go hunting for it.

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