“Welcome” to the Police State of 6ixth

“Welcome” to the Police State of 6ixth

It’s a warm and breezy Saturday night in Austin on Texas Relays Weekend. We did up a special store window at Wild About Music in Bob Marley + hip hop theme to welcome our 40,000-ish athletes, families and guests to town like every year. Daytime business was great, both Friday and today. But by 6pm things died off to nothingness and never revived by the time we normally close at 9pm. Totally deadsville. Absolutely not the norm for a weekend evening in Spring.  So we hit the street to see wazzup. [Read more…]

Tipping Points & Lawsuits

After months of complaints, Enzo night club is being sued by the Monarch apartments.  This is not surprising, but the suit could be unfounded if Enzo has been operating in compliance with existing laws.  According the article, city police and fire officials believe they have been.  Behind the scenes, various advocacy groups are discussing the bigger question: are existing compatibility laws failing a mixed-use downtown?

Outside of the established entertainment districts of E 6th Street and the Warehouse District, there’s unrest brewing between downtown residents and night clubs.  These two groups evolved in the same playground over the past decade.  Now, both seem uncertain about the rules and who’s playing by them.

Can’t we all just get along?

One of my favorite books is Freakonomics – a book that challenges our core economic motivations.  I’m a perfect example of irrationality.  I am a downtown property owner.  I believe that scarcity creates value.  Using purely economic instinct, I should support the anti-height and anti-density sentiment we’re used to seeing from ANC, since the expected result would be less real estate for my properties to compete with.  However, I have qualitative interests that go beyond simple economics.  So, I do support height and density initiatives designed to create more housing in downtown.

In similar fashion, a club owner might want to limit the creation of new bars in downtown Austin in order to preserve their existing fiefdoms.  Why desire more competition, right?  I know many bar owners, but I’ve never once heard them say “there’s too many bars”.  It makes sense, as they don’t want to be blocked from opening future concepts/locations.

There’s also the argument for economies of agglomeration, which helps to explain why destination entertainment districts thrive.

Responding to exogenous forces

Remember when the City of Austin banned smoking inside bars?  If you do, you might recall the uproar from bar owners suggesting that would kill their business.  In the long run, bars adapted.  The response was to take business outdoors to rooftop decks and open air lounges.  This phenomenon paralleled the residential boom in downtown, and created new Outdoor Music Venue challenges for lawmakers (to be discussed in another article).  Look around.  Now, there are more bars than ever in downtown Austin.

Another reason for the surge of bar development: parking.  CBD bars don’t need onsite or adjacent parking.  By requirement of the law and/or lender, onsite parking isn’t as important to a bar’s success than it is for retail and restaurant uses.  So, it’s no surprise we’re see more bars.  They’re simply easier to build, finish out, and operate.  CBD zoning enables this.

Still tippin’

According to the Texas Bar Nightclub Alliance (TBNA) there are more alcohol retailers in downtown Austin’s 78701 zipcode than any other zip code in the United States!

I went to the TABC and pulled all of the permits in 78701, and found approximately 290 permits.

Big whoop, Jude.  What’s your point?

At what point are there so many night clubs that they collectively begin to erode the quality-of-life for residents and visitors of downtown?  I think the answer has to do with compatibility, more than raw numbers.

Have you seen the vision for Congress Ave?  It’s mixed-use. These pics from the holiday stroll should help you visualize it.  Downtown Austin is more than just bar-centric nightlife.  Night clubs outside of the established entertainment districts (E 6th & Warehouse) need to play nice with their neighbors.  And residents need to support the ones that do!

I support the Downtown Austin Plan’s recommendation for conditional use permits for new downtown Austin night clubs outside the entertainment districts.  It’s a softball pitch for stakeholders to foul out the bad players.

Jude, stop being lame.

Meh, get off my proverbial lawn.  Few new night clubs add to our city’s brand and goodwill.  IMO, we’re at the tipping point of problematic “bar creep” outside of the entertainment districts and into areas envisioned for more mixed-use.

Maybe I’m growing up, and through the course of business I see more families in downtown Austin than ever before.  I see, in aggregate, the billions of dollars homeowners have invested in their downtown residences.

Unlike E. 6th Street (aka. “dirty 6th”), W. 6th Street was not a major destination until there were 1,500+ high rise doors and $500,000,000 in residential multi-family/condo property tax base surrounded it.  Rainey Street wasn’t a destination until 1,000+ high rise doors and $250,000,000 in residential multi-family/condo property tax base surrounded it.

Entertainment “districts” are a piece of the Downtown Austin CBD pie.  Not the whole pie.


Major New Live Music Venue Coming to 6ixth Street

Major New Live Music Venue Coming to 6ixth Street

In case you missed the news this past week, there is a significant new music venue slated to open New Year’s Eve on East 6th Street.  Here’s a link to the Austin360 story by Michael Corcoran. 

It’s called “The Stage” and is operated by a family out of Nashville with solid experience in producing quality live music venues there where they have four: The Stage on Broadway, Legends Corner, The Second Fiddle and Nashville Crossroads.

The Sanderson’s have been in Austin quite a bit over the past year checking out the scene and trying to find a fresh angle to success in our highly competitive market.  They finally settled on 508 E. 6th, the largest single-space building for something like this on the street and former home to Bourbon Rocks and Fat Tuesday.  (Maggie Mae’s is larger in overall square footage but it is chopped up into essentially four separate spaces on two levels.)

Longtime building owner Terry Boothe, who owns several properties on East 6th, had loads of offers from the typical fare of 25-cent-jello-shot bar operators.  But he held tight for over two years without a tenant in order to bring a quality live music operator back to 6ixth and thus help the District’s quest to upgrade the quality of visitor experiences to be found there.  The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and 6ixth Street Austin property/business owners association assisted in landing this deal.

Live music is supposed to be presented on pretty much the same schedule as the Nashville clubs: starting as early as 2:00 in the afternoon on Mondays-Thursdays and at 11:00am on Friday-Sunday.  That should provide a welcome flow of new work for Austin’s large and talented musician community. The Stage will reportedly also serve food too.

My only caveat is that I hope The Stage will program live music with distinctly Austin and Texas-centric flavor, not a heavy Nashville bent. If you take a look at the websites for the Nashville clubs, the offerings seem a tad “formulaic” — pretty much the same stuff done under four different names, not unlike the tight-jeans-and-cowboy-hat processed “country” music that Nashville itself often cranks out.  I hope the Sanderson’s and manager, Brandon Reineke, challenge themselves further in what they do in Austin.

While country is certainly one of our basic music food groups down here, the great country-flavored sounds coming out of Texas span so much greater breadth…quickly flowing into country rock, roots rock, folk, bluegrass, swing and so much more.  Even Willie regularly crosses into jazz and blues in his sets regardless of what type of club or festival he is playing.

Would you label Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, Jimmy Lafave, Ray Benson, Carolyn Wonderland, Marcia Ball as “country”?  Hardly.  Yet these are the sorts of all-star Austin acts that I hope will be regularly presented as headliners on the stage at The Stage — for a decent ticket price and full-priced drinks — to provide visitors to The Live Music Capital with a truly memorable show to savor when they head home.

However it shakes out, The Stage is clearly a welcome addition to the music offerings Downtown and on East 6th.  As a business owner just a few blocks west of the new venue I can attest that the area is streaming with people all day long these days, 7 days a week, looking for things to do and seeking that globally heralded Austin vibe and live music reputation.  Between the Convention Center, all the great Downtown hotels, and  our many new urban residents, business has never been better.

Now…if only we can lure Antone’s back to East 6th where that legendary venue began, then we’d really have some live music anchor tenants to brag about again!  Gotta work on that some more.  🙂

Downtown Gets Magical This Weekend

Downtown Gets Magical This Weekend

For something very fresh and different this weekend to drown our mundane laborous lives, check out these cool events on tap ’round the hood:

The 1St Annual Austin Street Magic Festival TONIGHT, 6th & Red River next to Esther’s Follies (home of our own fantabulous, Ray Anderson), 6pm-2am and FREE!

And that’s just the warm up.

For you uber fans of fun and illusion, there’s an entire gathering of renown magicians from across the lands assembling all weekend at the Austin Convention Center. Details here:

Austin 2010 TAOM — that’s the Texas Association of Magicians.  Here is the TAOM Facebook page too.

Here’s a news story from News 8.

And also more info to be found on the pages of Austin corporate lawyer (but always a magician at heart — and skill), Hull Youngblood.  You can check him out — and be his friend — via the TAOM Facebook link above!

Much fun for all so make like a bunny and vanish your abode already!

Food Fight on Sixth: Bratwurst VS. Oysters

Food Fight on Sixth: Bratwurst VS. Oysters

Over the past few weeks, an interesting “struggle” has been growing between Austinites on the issue of whether the Best Wurst sausage cart should have its sidewalk permit renewed to vend in front of Parkside Restauarant.  The scene is the southeast corner of East 6th Street at San Jacinto, the heart of the East 6th Historic & Entertainment District.

Best Wurst has been selling yummy treats from its cart there for 17 years and has grown quite a popular customer following.  The owner, Jon Notarthomas, is a hard-working Austin musician and entrepreneur.  He pays $450 per year for the vending permit and transacts tens of thousands of dollars in business from his cart.

Parkside is a lovely fine-cuisine restaurant that opened in the circa-1920 building where Dan McKlusky’s steakhouse previously existed.  Shawn Cirkiel, the chef, and his Austin family purchased their building, valued by TCAD at $1.6 million, and completely renovated the property when opening the restaurant a couple of years ago.

Sidewalk vending permits must be renewed every 3 years and it is now that time for Best Wurst.  Parkside is opposing the renewal.  There are many reasons involved but the basic one is simply “incompatibility”.  This restuarant is not happy with having another food vendor directly outside of its front door.  City officials are caught in the middle.

There are many opposing perspectives arising through discussions of this matter:

“Old/Iconic Austin” versus “New/Emerging Austin”.

Upscale dining versus inexpensive street food.

Property owner rights versus temporary permitted uses.

Large investments and big taxes on property+liquor+sales versus modest investments, small fees and sales tax only.

The sensibilities of Austin’s sidewalk vending permit process versus national best-practices for kiosk-style vending in public common areas.

The growing desire for East 6th to revitalize itself to make better 24/7 use of its century-old historic district presence versus maintaining its more recent four-decade reputation as “Dirty 6th” where young folks go to get shitfaced.

Phew.  That’s a lot to take in right there.

What do you think about all of this?

Loads of media coverage and other resources available if you’d like to absorb further before weighing in:  News story on the Austin American-Statesman’s Austin 360.  TV coverage on News 8, Fox News and KXAN.  Best Wurst’s website and its new Save The Wurst Facebook site with some 3,000 fans.  Parkside’s website.