Archives for September 2015

Downtown Austin News Round-Up

Downtown Austin News Round-Up

Closed Downtown Austin recycling center lot to be developed by 70 Rainey developer

Ecology Action of Texas announced back in June that the downtown recycling center — at 707 East 9th Street — would close at the end of September.

What’s more interesting for some than the center closing is what’s possibly in store.

Travis County records indicate the property was sold in May to an entity called Waller Creek Development LLC.  The company, according to web searches, was formed in April this year, and is managed by James Hefelfinger of Sackman Enterprises.

Sackman Enterprises is also developing the 70 Rainey condos.

I35 frontage @ 9th Street, former site of Ecology Action

I35 frontage @ 9th Street, former site of Ecology Action

The East 9th Street property is capped by a Capitol View Corridor, but with Sackman staking a claim in Rainey Street, expect something very interesting to come that is complementary to Waller Creek corridor redevelopment.

Filling station at 10th & Lamar sold by Travis County

The Travis County Commissioner’s Court has approved selling the gas station used to fill county vehicles to a developer.

10th & Lamar filling station sold by Travis County

10th & Lamar filling station sold by Travis County

Sam Kumar, founder and president of the construction firm Journeyman, told the Austin-American Statesman he plans to build a small office space and three or four condominium apartments at the property.

Although not a huge project, it’s a welcome addition to liven up the North Lamar corridor downtown. The property has been underutilized since the urban renaissance of downtown Austin, and left in rather dingy status by Travis County.

Block 87 — at Trinity and Seventh — as massive mixed-use development

Very exciting news broke this week, the long-blighted parking lot owned by the Episcopal Church, is being marketing for a bold new vision.

Specifically, the Church is looking for a partner to develop Block 87 as part of a 600,000 square feet tower of office, residential, retail uses, generous parking, and the Archives of The Episcopal Church.

The lot at Trinity and Seventh streets was bought by the Episcopal Church in 2009, and sits across the street from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH).

The Church first planned a 70,000-square-foot, five-story archive building, a garage and limited ground-floor retail.. However, in 2011, it was reported that Church funds were diverted to assist in global disasters, and the lot has since sat untouched.

Sadly, derelict surface parking lots and adjacent homeless resource centers don’t exactly create welcoming environments downtown.  The community should be extremely supportive and optimistic that this project will get off the ground, sooner than later.

block-87

Conceptual rendering of Block 87

Villas on Town Lake HOA contemplates redevelopment

The HOA controlling the two acre site that is home to the Villas on Town Lake condos, located at 80 Red River Street, is availing themselves to proposals from potential buyers.  The 58 unit condo, built in 1982, is situated along Waller Creek.  According to the article, 80% of the ownership would need to approve any proposal.

The development regulations for properties within the Austin Waterfront Overlay, which this site is part of, are historically contentious and could impact what is feasible.

7 Ways To Make Downtown Austin Even Better

7 Ways To Make Downtown Austin Even Better

“Dude, I’ve got these ideas, so many ideas burnin’ through my skull…”

Living in downtown Austin is great and like anything else, over time, you begin to form ideas on what could really make it better.  Not all of these are my original ideas – but they are all notions that I would support.

1) Downtown Austin Needs A General Store

We need a friggin’ Target, not another boutique doggy day care!

We’ve written about both of these things before, and it seems like quite a few folks are hopping on the urban Target concept (Target Express) bandwagon.

Target Express

Rendering of a Target Express concept – which is geared toward city dwellers

2) Building Spirit

The Grand Illumination in Richmond Virginia

It would be cool to see downtown Austin condo buildings unite for certain holidays (or for other specific reasons / causes).  One idea that I’ve seen floating around is allowing units within the buildings to decorate their respective balconies for the winter holidays, and perhaps do a neighborhood wide contest. Politics aside, it would be wonderful to see a coordinated effort to get people into the general spirit.

photo by Jessica Kilma

photo by Jessica Kilma

Halloween is also a wonderful opportunity for residents of downtown Austin condos to invite families within the community and otherwise to enjoy traditional trick-or-treating. The Shore, in coordination with DANA, has participated in a small scale version of this with much success (Although, I’m a bit biased, as this is an effort that I personally started).  Honestly, I’m not sure who gets more from this particular event, the families or the residents.

3) Ice Cream Truck with a Downtown Route

This kid went to the Rick Perry school of eating.

I would LOVE for downtown to have a traditional ice cream truck that regularly drives around the neighborhood (and perhaps have a route with specific stops so people could plan their ice cream indulgence).

There’s a stationary stand that just popped up next to Downtown Burgers on Cesar Chavez across from the Austin Convention Center, but it’s just not quite the same.

Stationary Ice Cream Goodies Offered While They Last on Cesar Chavez, Across from the Convention Center

Stationary Ice Cream Goodies Offered While They Last on Cesar Chavez, Across from the Convention Center

4) Boat Taxis / Gondolas to Cross Ladybird Lake

This isn’t as crazy as it may seem.

Before the 20th century, getting from downtown Austin to the South bank of the colorado river was done largely by… ferries!  It’s true, and you can see a historic plaque telling you about it on the hike & bike trail as you pass the Four Seasons hotel.

Bring it back!  Sure would make it fun to check out the hot spots on the South Austin.

5) Swimming in Ladybird Lake

lady-bird-lake-1

And, while we’re talking about the lake, I want to be able to swim in it, gosh dangit!  Full Kramer style.

Sure, it’s filled with trash, old steel rebar, and dog poo.  Those are solvable problems! Every few years Lake Austin is allowed to drain in order to clean up the duck weed.  So, what’s stopping this from happening on Lady Bird Lake and then get volunteers to remove debris?

KUT recently wrote an article explaining why it’s illegal to swim in the lake, and it’s chock full of great information.  The article, however, lacked any proposed solutions that would make the lake swimmable. 🙁

6) Non-terrifying Public Restrooms (Pay Per Use) like the Germans have

pay-toilet-europe

One of my favorite things about Germany is the preponderance of pay restrooms in public spaces (like rail stations, malls, etc).  McClean is among the most well-known of these types of facilities, and they are great. These restrooms require a very small fee (about $0.50) for use, and had attendants.  The restrooms were sparkling.  McClean’s motto is “clean, safe, and served” and that is 100% accurate in my experience.

I want some of these in public spaces downtown – like, real bad.  I am often petrified to use public restrooms in downtown Austin, and I can’t be the only one.

Recently, we discussed a new alley activation movement, and our friend and contributor Fred Schmidt highlighted the need for good, safe, public restrooms.  Seems like this idea could help make that a reality.

7) Personalized Mural Art for Condo Building Parking Spaces

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This one is a little out of left-field – but I just think it would be oh-so-cool.

With all the pretty new buildings popping up in downtown – the fact of the matter is that their corresponding garage spaces remain ugly – particularly on the “inside.”  Wouldn’t it be neat if each condo owner had the opportunity to work with an HOA approved artist to paint a personalized (within HOA set guidelines) mural in their parking space?  If a lot of owners got on board – it would absolutely TRANSFORM the ugliest parts of the condo buildings downtown into something unique, funky, and amazing.  Not to mention how it would be a wonderful opportunity to support local art in a truly cool way.

Some buildings are starting to get on board with general murals in their garages in “common” garage spaces (like entries and elevator bays – see above slideshow for a couple of Austin examples) but this would be an amazing extension of that effort in my opinion.  Many urban cities have been doing similar concepts for years – the concept I’m describing would be a slightly different version of what’s already being done (and, for the record, I would support these concepts, too!).

What ideas do you have for downtown Austin?

Your opinion matters: Seaholm Intake survey open until September 13

Your opinion matters: Seaholm Intake survey open until September 13

[Jump directly to the survey]

Construction is expected to wrap this winter for the Seaholm condos, with buyers who scored two years ago moving in shortly thereafter.  Some of you will remember way back in 2010 when former Austin City Council Member Chris Riley first publicly broached redeveloping the “other Seaholm — the derelict intake facility on Lady Bird Lake connected to the former Seaholm Power Plant.

Then, in 2013, there was a Seaholm Intake design competition.  Today, I’m really excited that the Parks and Recreation Department has announced two final, refined redevelopment proposals, and opened up a survey to hear from the public.

choose-wisely

The top team will be awarded a Master Development agreement for a public-private partnership.  So, I really encourage Parks to publish the survey data.  Curiously, neither of the two final designs hark back to the former “top designs” released in 2013. But that is not to say that the two new final proposals are not merely more refined versions of the 2013 pitches, after structural and civil engineers got in the game.

Proposal 1: Intake at Lady Bird Lake

The first proposal seems very ambitious, striking and breathtaking. It would in reality redevelop the building into an entirely new structure. The metallic spiral corkscrewing through the facility, along with canopy roof, would create an iconic landmark that future generations would associate with Austin.

It would probably cost a pretty penny, but if the city could partially monopolize this space for special events, then I could forsee this being an attractive option.

I’m weighing it a “C” for pragmatic likelihood of getting off the ground.

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Proposal 2: A Place For The City

Compared to the other proposal, this feels like a very bland, unexciting project on the surface. But in terms of time to implement and overall cost, it seems very pragmatic. The exterior gets a face life and the interior basically becomes and exhibit hall and event venue, which is also monetizable.

I’m weighing it an “A” for pragmatic likelihood of getting off the ground.

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