Downtown Thriving as a Live-Work-Play Community

Downtown Thriving as a Live-Work-Play Community

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Artist’s rendering of the office tower now going up at the site of the former Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant in downtown Austin where Google will take more than 200,000-sf. CREDIT: Gensler Austin

Nice story in The Statesman about the vibrant community that continues to grow downtown – not just in terms of nightlife, but also new economy jobs and associated residents:  Austin’s Tech Scene Heats Up Downtown.

It’s worth pointing out however that all this has not “just happened” by itself.

It has been 15+ years in the making with great purpose by the likes of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA), Mayors Kirk Watson, Will Wynn, Lee Leffingwell and their City Councils, the Downtown Austin Plan, and many more driving forces.

Except for weekday lunchtime and weekend nights on East 6th, it was a veritable ghost town when my team first opened an expanded Wild About Music down here in 1995, then started living here in 1999.

There’s still a ton of work to be done around issues of homelessness and vagrancy (two different matters), affordability (having only $50/ft rents and million dollar condos is not sustainable), traffic (a car-free zone?), and that IH-35 east-west barrier.

Dave Sullivan, longtime Austin civic leader during this big growth period, also just told me: “When I joined the City Planning Commission in 1994, software development was a prohibited use Downtown. I remember voting to change that in the late 90s. Seems incredible.

Incredible indeed, Dave.


And a worthy update:  After this story published I received a note from a longtime steward of Downtown Austin’s evolution, Michael Knox, of the City’s Economic Development Department.  He filled in another 10 years of preparation that went into the creation of today’s Downtown before my timeline even picks up.  Mike says:

“I started working on downtown in 1988, when it was part of AustinPlan’s Sector 1.  Of course AustinPlan, the comprehensive plan update to replace Austin Tomorrow, was never adopted.

“In 1989 we (Jose Martinez and I) started working with the Downtown Commission, actively promoting a thing called R/UDAT.  The 1990 R/UDAT application we co-wrote was accepted, and in 1991 we got the R/UDAT team visit and report, followed in 1992 by “A Call to Action: R/UDAT Implementation” that, in 1993 gave birth to the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Downton PID.  These efforts involved hundreds of dedicated Austinites.

“Downtown initiatives were kicked up a notch in 1997 when Kirk Watson became Mayor, and Assistant City Manager Jim Smith (now Aviation Director) and I put together Kirk’s first six downtown initiatives, including the Waller Creek tunnel, Downtown Design Guidelines and the Poleyard and AMLI developments.”

So there you go…another of Downtown Austin’s many unsung heroes.  We thank you, Michael Knox.

~Fred

L’Estelle and Rainey’s Evolution

L’Estelle and Rainey’s Evolution

As far as Rainey bars go, I really like The Drafting Room at 88 1/2 Rainey.  Located on a plot of land right behind The Shore Condos in downtown Austin‘s Rainey Street District, and owned by inveterate downtown-er and Architect Craig Nasso since 1994 (read: WAY before Rainey Street was “cool”), the lot has evolved with the neighborhood and transformed what was an already a lovely home and office into two delightful, separate but intertwined (both are owned by Craig and Holly), pursuits of food and drink.

L’Estelle’s story on it’s website is actually much more eloquently written – check it out here.

If you don’t have time to read it all, here’s my favorite excerpt:

The architect of L’Estelle, then 26 years old, drove down Rainey Street in 1994 and spotted a little piece of “half-lot” that was merely a patch of dirt.  The fact that this lot was on a street named Rainey was especially of interest since his mother’s maiden name was Estele Rainey.  He bought it, nurtured it, planted every tree and bush and designed a plan for a long life on this little lot.  Twenty years ago, he built the back house as a live work office and decided to wait to build a front house when he could design it with a wife if he got married one day.

The architect eventually got married, but during that period, Rainey Street changed from a residential historic neighborhood into a bustling night life district. So the architect changed plans but held sensitively to his dream.  He designed and built a front house with his wife which would serve as a kitchen for the people and he converted his office into a quaint beer and wine bar – now the Drafting Room.  Together, they open their yard and their hospitality to all who enter, offering a real and authentic connection to the district, its history, and the comfort casual style of gathering under the stars with good drinks, food, and folks.  L’Estelle pays respect to their mother, Estele Rainey, the best cook in the family who serves as the advisor and contributor of many homestyle recipes for the preserves and sweets offered in the kitchen.

88 1/2 Rainey, Circa late 2012

88 1/2 Rainey, Circa late 2012

There’s truly a lot to love when it comes to what Craig and his wife Holly have carefully, tenderly created.  Their story is unique and their tie to the neighborhood is genuine; the architecture (and, hence, the vibe) is elegant, modern and comfortable; but, most importantly, the wine is great and the food is TO DIE FOR.

Bottom line: Go there.  You won’t regret it. And say hi to Holly and Craig when you visit; they are almost always there making sure things are running right.

p.s. – They are open for Sunday Brunch, too! Starts at 11am…

Drafting Room Facebook | L’estelle Facebook

Want a trip down memory lane?  Check out our 2012 Mega Post on Rainey with pics of what the street looked like not but 5 years ago…

Maufrais

Maufrais

[Editors note: I’ve always wanted to know the story behind the ubiquitous “Maufrais” stamped into the sidewalks of downtown Austin.  Rob Hafernik wondered the same back in 2008.  Below we’re reposting Rob’s article, originally published at Texas Escapes, and reveals some history about one of Austin’s most long-lived and mysterious brands… a legacy that began over a century ago.]

I’m a curious kind of guy. When I walk the dog, I wonder about the things I see along the way.  Everyone in Austin is familiar with the word “Maufrais”, but almost no one knows what it means. There are poems about it, and blog entries wondering about it. There are even people who think “Maufrais” is as mysterious as crop circles.

MaufraisSidewalkAustinTX1RHafernickThe reason for this mystery is that the word is stamped into half of the concrete in Austin. Just in the space of one good dog walk, I see the word a dozen times or more. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that it must be the name of a concrete company, but enquiring minds want to know more. These days, enquiring minds are as addicted to search engines as Wimpy is addicted to hamburgers.

[Read more…]

“Secret” Spots and Private Rooms in Downtown Austin

“Secret” Spots and Private Rooms in Downtown Austin

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

Two Rainey District Towers Getting New Restaurant Concepts

Two Rainey District Towers Getting New Restaurant Concepts

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.