The Other Downtown Austin

The Other Downtown Austin

the streets are adorned with lush, green trees

It’s an exciting time to live in and be involved with Downtown Austin.  Major developments being announced, and construction commencing pretty regularly.  Population and commerce increasing exponentially each year.  More places to eat.  More feet on the street. More energy.  Austin, and downtown Austin specifically, garners a lot of local, regional, and even national attention… well, most of downtown gets attention.

See, there’s this “other” downtown.  A hidden-in-plain-sight curiosity.

Let me preface the point.  Take look at a map of downtown Austin.  Visualize downtown as four quadrants, with axes along 6th Street and Congress Avenue.

First, the southeastern quadrant of downtown is home to the monumental Waller Creek redevelopment, has fortunate proximity to most downtown and East Side venues, quick access to the Hike & Bike Trail, several exciting and new hotel developments, including the The Fairmont and the Hotel Van Zandt, and an array of existing and proposed apartment and condo developments.  70 Rainey, for example.

Second, the southwestern quadrant, the media darling of downtown Austin, with heavy economic investment, has a rich mix of residential, office, and recreational uses, and seems to be constantly boasting some sort of development activity.  Major, sexy condo tower projects like the Seaholm, the Greenwater Treatment redevelopment, and the newly announced Independent have put the area on the forefront of media coverage.  Substantial office projects like the recently completed Colorado Tower and the under-construction office tower at 5th and Colorado are also making news.

Third, the northeastern quadrant is bubbling as an “Innovation Zone” – with developments bringing new life to the medical and tech industries, as well as activity related to our state Capitol.  Very recently, Foundation Communities opened it’s affordable housing development: Capital Studios.  This area is also filled, FILLED!!, with blighted parking garages.  Fortunately, Texas State Capitol complex has started getting some attention in recent years.

And, now we’ve arrived at the subject of this post.

Fourth, and finally, the “other” downtown.  The oft overlooked top left corner of downtown.  The tranquil, lush, historically quaint, attorney office dense, northwestern quadrant of downtown!  (Bookmark this: OANA’s terrific historic online tour, block by block)

We simply don’t hear much from this neck of the woods, even though it’s among the most peaceful and pleasant places to live in downtown, with plentiful tree canopy, open parks, myriad law offices, Shoal Creek, ACC, and tasteful restorations.

It’s also some of the most expensive residential property in the City.  Most of the residential in this area is comprised of single family homes, like this, and this, and this one.  Many of these homes have become office uses, generally of the law firm or other office-practice variety (although some other fun stuff is starting to pop up!).

Austin Panic Room

The Austin Panic Room, a fun new concept that just opened in NW downtown Austin.

The reason we don’t hear of these big, shiny, fabulous, skyline changing developments?  Zoning.  It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that.

For better or worse, many of the lots in the northwest part of downtown Austin simply aren’t zoned for high-rises.  It’s no simple task to get an area that’s this passionate with historic sentiment and neighborhood protections to simply approve mass zoning changes willy-nilly.  Some of the City’s most prime and walkable downtown real estate is almost completely untapped as far as density goes, with most lots being inhabited with one-story or two-story Victorian style homes.  To be clear, we like it this way, too!

There are a few dense developments in northwest downtown, like the newly constructed apartment tower, Seven.  And, Aspen Heights is under construction.  Also notable, are Westgate and Cambridge Towers, which are along major boulevards.  Typically, in this part of downtown, we expect to see mid-rise developments like 904 West, Park West Condos, and the Nokonah, along with a handful of off-the-radar apartment communities, like the Nueces Flats.

You can be on W 6th Street at midnight, then walk stumble 2-3 blocks north along Nueces and it feels like a different, quieter, world.

No doubt we will continue to read headlines about downtown Austin.  Along the way, it will be interesting to observe how the “other” downtown Austin remains relatively media mute.  Maybe it’s better that way.

-Jude





Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Things to do in Downtown Austin – Austin Panic Room

Austin Panic Room

Are you itching for something a little different – a little outside of the normal weekend routine of brunch, shopping, frisbee golf in Zilker, etc?

Well, have I got a recommendation for you – Austin Panic Room.

It’s one of the funnest group activities that I’ve done in a very long time, and they have recently relocated from East Austin into downtown Austin at 1205 Rio Grande, near ACC and Pease Elementary.

Here’s the scoop:  Austin Panic Room is basically just a big puzzle you solve with your friends (and maybe some strangers) in about an hour.

[Read more…]





Downtown Austin Alley Activations – Open House for Rainey Alley

Downtown Austin Alley Activations – Open House for Rainey Alley

rainey-alley-featured

A little over two years ago today, we wrote about a very cool Alley Activation project done by Art Alliance Austin.  In the article, we said that many cities around the world are starting to embrace alleys as more than just loading / unloading and trash dumpster zones.  We think that for certain alleys, the concept of revitalization and activation makes a ton of sense.

One such alley in the Rainey district of downtown Austin is getting a second look, compliments of the City’s recent acquisition of funding to pave what’s currently little more than a dirt passage littered with dumpsters behind all of your favorite Rainey Street bars. The alley goes from River Street to where the construction for the Millenium Rainey apartments begin (Millenium Rainey received an alley vacation so they were able to build right over the alley).

downtown-austin-rainey-alley-map

downtown-austin-rainey-alley-today

Rainey Alley today, looking north

Millenium Rainey Dead-ends Rainey Alley

Millenium Rainey dead-ends Rainey Alley

We think this is very exciting for the neighborhood not only in the broad sense of representing “out-of-the-box” thinking to maximize public space within the limited confines of an urban area, but more practically and specific to the location – we think this activation may have the effect of “bringing in” the businesses on East Avenue that currently face I-35, encouraging more serviceable and integrated uses to make them fit into the neighborhood they inhabit, rather than being hunkering warehouses with chain-link fences, or out of place and isolated highway bars like the ill-fated Agora.**

The establishments on East Avenue are technically part of the Rainey Neighborhood, but many couldn’t feel more incongruous with their surroundings.

We encourage those interested in upgrading the alley to come to the Mexican American Cultural Center at 600 River Street on On April 7, from 9am-7pm. The City is inviting the public to come and give input on current uses of the alley and solicit constructive ideas for future uses that also preserve the “essential service functions” of the alley.  Feel free to share constructive ideas in the comments below, too.  We’ll be dropping by the Open House and are happy to share any cool ideas on our readers’ behalves!

More info here.

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**Legacy leather bar Chain Drive is currently residing in part of the structure at 84 East Avenue today.  It was formerly tucked away and hidden in plain sight on Willow Street off of Red River before being pushed out – likely due to parcel consolidation for the Waller Park Place / Waller Center.  Even though it’s not a bar we personally visit, we’d actually like to see it stay around for posterity, if nothing else.





Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

provided by dwg

Lot’s of Ps there.

There’s a new plan in place to put a pocket patio in front of the building at 804 Congress (the Bosche-Hogg office building).  This is the vision of building owner David Kahn, and if it happens we think it will be a major step towards activating Congress Avenue north of 8th Street.

Somewhat similar to the extremely successful patio concept first introduced to Congress Avenue by Royal Blue Grocery at 609 Congress in 2012 (a concept that won the ULI 2013 Award of Distinction for Public Impact), and designed by the same firm (dwg), we expect great things for the Bosche-Hogg patio.

This patio, which will benefit all the pedestrians walking along Austin’s “main street” will also have the effect of eliminating 4 city parking places.  We think this is a small price to pay for better pedestrian experience.

The City of Austin seems to agree:

Downtown Austin is comprised of more than 1,050 acres, the streets add up to 34.5% of downtown and parks and open space only consist of 12.3% of the entire area. In any city, the places between buildings need to be designed for people; well-designed, people-friendly places can beautify our city. A typical metered parking space downtown Austin will serve around 6 vehicles a day, while a parklet can serve hundreds who desire safe, attractive and welcoming public space.

The reality is, there are plenty of parking spaces downtown and the reason that there is a perceived lack of parking has only to do with the underutilization of existing parking garages – many of which remain largely empty for long periods of time.

A 2013 article from Community Impact sites:

According to city staff, in 2012, the average occupancy rate of existing off-street parking was 26 percent, with peak occupancy reaching about 67 percent. Two reasons Riley pointed out for the underused parking include garages that are not open to the public and drivers having difficulty in finding available parking.

We think Congress Avenue is the perfect place for this sort of concept to thrive.   Congress Avenue is downtown’s gem and making it more beautiful benefits the entire city.  Especially in the northern part of Congress, which needs more “non-Capitol Complex” pedestrian life breathed into it. Downtown Austin condos like Brazos Place should be extra supportive of these upgrades to their little corner of the neighborhood. We hope to see more of these concepts pop up.

Parklet-map

 





Art in Downtown Austin – ArtProm by Big Ass Canvas

Art in Downtown Austin – ArtProm by Big Ass Canvas

BAC pano

We’ve been fortunate to experience and host the work of several Austin artists, notably Hallie Rae Ward and Truth have dedicated space in the REATX office.

We’re always on the lookout for new additions, and were thrilled to discover a temporary gallery space that’s just opened in the 2nd Street district.  It’s being called ArtProm, is located at 208 Colorado, and is the brainchild of Travis Huse of Big Ass Canvas.

You’ve likely seen Travis’ work around Austin.  For one thing, he’s done the garage murals for the AMLI on 2nd Street district (if you are driving southbound on Guadalupe, you’ll see it on your right as you pass 3rd Street).  Residents of The Shore Condos may also recognize his work in our parking garage elevator bay at P1.

In our opinion, Austin is in dire need of more gallery experiences, particularly of the street art variety, and ArtProm delivers in similar fashion to SpraTX.

They’ll be around for the next couple of months, and we highly recommend stopping in and checking it out.  Art will rotate as it sells.

Additionally, Travis would also be excited to help coordinate using the space for private parties and the like. He wants to get people in the gallery and viewing the art.   If you have a guest list and need a cool space for your event – just reach out to him through his Big Ass Canvas site.

ArtProm is the best gallery addition to downtown Austin, since the Peoples Gallery started at City Hall.