City of Austin v. Harry Whittington: the saga of a parking garage

17k square feet of retail held hostage by the court

17,000 square feet of empty retail space rests at the base of the Convention Center’s parking garage. This retail space has the potential to add vibrancy and day time services to the Entertainment District.  This is the only retail space within a few hundred feet of the 555, the Sabine on 5th, the Hilton, the Hilton Garden Inn, and the Convention Center.   So, why hasn’t this space been filled?

After the jump:  Part 1 of the chronology of City of Austin v. Harry Whittington
[Read more…]

Downtown Austin's Entertainment District: Observations part 3 of 3

Downtown Austin Entertainment District Still Has Room For Improvement – Part 1 of 3
Night time observations on the Entertainment District: Part 2 of 3

The effort to revitalize the Entertainment District is about recognizing problems and offering solutions.  It is about a higher and better use of Austin’s historic landmarks.  It’s about preventing decay.  It’s about offering an array of services to the people who use the Entertainment District everyday.  Adding more day time services is not a slippery slope to J Crews and Baby Gaps!  This is about making the Entertainment District safe for everyone.  This is about visitors leaving Austin with a more positive experience.

Flickr slideshow of day time photos

one of Austins historic landmarked buildings with a plywood sign (???)

one of Austin's landmarked buildings adorned with a plywood sign (???)

Day time tour
Saturday, November 22nd (11am-1pm)

  1. Where is everybody?
  2. Narrow sidewalks, empty parking
  3. “No, I don’t have a cigarette you can bum”
  4. “No, I’m not giving you change”
  5. A sandwich on the sidewalk
  6. Broken glass
  7. An empty Austin Visitors Bureau with a broken neon sign
  8. Landmarked buildings that look abused and neglected
  9. “Couldn’t they at least paint those doors?”
  10. Landmark plaques next to broken windows
  11. An ATM that someone had tried to rob
  12. Jail-style bars on doors and windows
  13. Awnings torn, tattered, and covered in dirt
  14. Too much chain link fence
  15. ATMs are everywhere
  16. A pay phone booth without a pay phone
  17. Waller Creek is shamefully littered
  18. There is 17,000 square feet of unused retail space at 5th & Sabine.

Towards the end of Saturday’s day time tour, Marshall Jones (President of DANA) and I were standing on the northeast corner of 6th and Brazos sharing observations.  We see a guy across the street.  He’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt, picking up litter on the street, and putting it in the trash.  Turns out this was John Erwin, owner of B.D. Rileys Pub.  John had no idea that Marshall and I were watching him do this.  We caught up with him and chatted for a few minutes.  What I like about John, and people like John, is that he is proactive and doing right by our community.  Kudos, John!

Downtown Austin's Entertainment District: Observations part 2 of 3

typical weekend on sixth street

typical weekend on sixth street

Yesterday, I posted about the revitalization study underway for Downtown Austin’s Entertainment District.  Below are my observations from our night time tour.

Night time tour
Friday, November 20th, midnight – 3am.
The focus is on the entertainment district as a whole – not just Sixth Street.  Five of us rendezvoused at the Driskill hotel at midnight and we were on our way.  Our mission was not to drink.  We were there to observe.  We were directed to walk the alleys, the side streets, and take notes on anything we found to be interesting.  In general, I never once felt uneasy or threatened.  Most people were out having a great time.  Good or bad.  For better or for worse.  Below is what I observed.

  1. People still wait in lines? I’m getting old!
  2. Sixth Street, east of Neches was desolate. Minimal activity and seemingly an area which only exists to get from Red River or I-35 to the “good” clubs west of Neches.
  3. Police congregate on Trinity and Sixth.  Couldn’t they spread out?
  4. Most people looked to be less than 25 years old.
  5. Concessionaires are doing good business (best wurst had a fifty foot line!)
  6. Hoek’s Pizza is blasting music louder than some clubs.
  7. I see and hear more iPod DJs, than I do live bands
  8. There are crews of guys full of alcohol and testosterone that could easily be instigated into a fight.
  9. I see one fight in front of the Texas Lottery Commission.
  10. We stopped and talked with homeless people outside of the ARCH.  Some were under the influence of something, but generally not hostile.  If anything, they were very chatty and candid about their problems, and the problems surrounding the ARCH.  Below are some of the more interesting things we were told.
    • Drug dealers arrive from other parts of town to sell to the mentally ill and homeless
    • The southeast corner of 7th and Trinity (Caritas) is a big drug corner
    • Crack house at 8th and Neches (pic)
    • Crack house on Neches btw 8th and 9th (pic)
  11. Why on earth did they place the ARCH across from a major liquor store and a block from Austin’s biggest weekend party?
  12. Red River, IMHO, is keeping the “live music capital” brand alive.
  13. The owners of Koriente maintain a beautiful small garden at the southeast corner of 7th and Sabine.  They should be acknowledged for giving to our community.
  14. None of the lights on Waller Creek were turned on.  Who’s in charge of this?

Next, I’ll share my observations from our day time tour

downtown austin entertainment district still has room for improvement – part 1 of 3

downtown austin entertainment district

downtown austin entertainment district

On Friday and Saturday I participated in a tour of 6th street.  This wasn’t a bar hop.  This was to observe.  I’ve joined the ‘Community’ group for the Responsible Hospitality Institute’s (RHI)- ‘Austin Hospitality Zone Assessment for Sixth Street’.  This effort is the result of 6ixth Street Austin and the DAA teaming up to develop a revitalization plan for Sixth Street.  Our first mission is to tour the entertainment district and simply observe.

The convention center is located east of Congress.  Several residential high-rises are located east of Congress. Have you noticed that all of Downtown Austin’s big hotels are located east of Congress!  Sixth Street is the anchor.   What do you imagine is the experience of visitors to Austin when they visit Sixth Street?

Sixth Street should be Austin’s historical and cultural hub.  Landmarked buildings should be required to meet minimum aesthetic standards.  Instead, as it is today, Sixth Street is in disrepair and needs to be cleaned up.  This is the movement to do just that.  There is opportunity to provide a better mix of services and overall experience for hotels guests, the convention center, and all of the residential buildings east of Congress.  I’m not alone in this opinion as hotel operators, Sixth Street proprietors, city council members, city staff, police, and many outspoken residents were in attendance at the initial RHI meeting on November 4th.

Still to come, my [not under the influence] observations of Sixth Street.