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


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


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?

9th Annual Downtown Living Tour – May 19th, 2013 – Reserve Your Tickets

9th Annual Downtown Living Tour – May 19th, 2013 – Reserve Your Tickets

The 9th Annual Downtown Living Tour is a couple of weeks away.  Produced by the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA), the tour is a great way to tour downtown living, at your own pace, all in one day!

Get your DLT tickets now

This year, although the tour will still be self-guided, the tour will also have shuttle service to facilitate access to each tour stop (nice!), and will showcase the following buildings:

  1. The Whitley Apartments
  2. The Shore Condos
  3. Park West Residences
  4. 360 Condos
  5. Avenue Lofts (one of the few Art Deco buildings downtown)
  6. The Four Seasons Residences -RECEPTION – (VIP only, and only open from 4pm-5pm)
  7. Brazos Lofts (check out the history, formerly Capital Chevrolet)
  8. Towers of Town Lake (Penthouse, VIP only, only open from 1-4pm)
  9. Capital Studios (to-be-built Foundations Communities project designed by Dick Clark Architecture)
  10. LBJ’s apartment at JJ Pickle Building (VIP only, only open from 1-4pm)
  11. More stops to be announced!

There are some stops of particular note, primarily the official office suite of President Lyndon Baines Johnson at the JJ Pickle Building, an office suite he used during his presidency and the site of such landmark meetings as the Cold War discussions on December 6, 1966, which culminated in the first agreement with the Soviet Union to limit nuclear weapons, known as the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT).

The JJ Pickle building itself is part of a two-block complex of Federal Buildings in downtown Austin, and was designed by Texas Firms  Page-Southerland-Page and Brooks & Barr, and is textbook 1960s high-rise design.

Here are a few exclusive pictures of the interior of the office suite, which is remarkably intact.

The LBJ Suite is only open to VIP ticket holders, and there a very limited amount of VIP tickets – so we would recommend…

Get your DLT tickets now


Marathon Planning Effort Pays Off: 7 Rio Site Plan Permitted, Awaiting Construction

Marathon Planning Effort Pays Off: 7 Rio Site Plan Permitted, Awaiting Construction

An Englishman once said: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find you get what you need.”

And so it was for the folks behind a tower planned at Seventh & Rio Grande, named 7 Rio, who this month saw the City of Austin approve a site plan, allowing construction to move forward.

It was exactly one year ago that DAB posted that the 7 Rio apartments still had legs.

The project was one of a handful of [for sale] condo projects that took a back seat when lenders got squeamish in the midst of the Great Recession. In 2008, on the eve of the housing-crisis fallout, the builders projected a 3Q08 groundbreaking on a 34-story luxury residential 158-unit “point-tower” building.

That vision has been scaled back, and what is coming is a shorter building, with 24-stories, but packing in about 70 more apartments [for rent].


original rendering of 7rio has since been scaled back

Part of the site is in the Capitol View Corridor, but a point-tower over podium design could have gone up as high as 50 stories. Given that demand remains so high for units in the urban core, this feels like a bit of a missed opportunity for CWS Capital Partners – the Orange County, California based developer – to create something striking, and the Austin community to reap some additional property tax and density.

One other observations is that the current site plan application says only “residential & parking,” while the initial proposal included 7,300 square feet of retail space.

Site vs. CVC

I’m just hoping CWS doesn’t sacrifice developing an inviting, pedestrian/shopper friendly building, for something barren of storefronts.

It is nice to see a project developed by a great local architect Brett Rhode getting off the ground, and we’ll all accept that the client calls the shots. (Note: Rhode: Partners portfolio still shows specs for the first design.)


Partying for a Cause – Ghoulwill Ball at The W Tomorrow Night

Partying for a Cause – Ghoulwill Ball at The W Tomorrow Night

I have been honored to have served on the host committee for Goodwill Industries of Central Texas’ 2012 Ghoulwill Ball event, being held at The W Hotel in downtown Austin tomorrow evening. Helping promote a very worthy cause (GICT’s mission is to generate lifelong connections to work) has been rewarding.  All proceeds of this event will go to GICT.  Free food, free drinks, a killer DJ, at one of the swankiest downtown hot-spots, AND you get to dress up in a Halloween costume.  I couldn’t think of a better time!

And, if you live in The Residences at The W – you can literally just stumble home after the party.

Buy your tickets here.

ZOMG – Topfer Theatre at ZACH Theatre Brings Austin Theatre Back to the Forefront of Austin Culture

ZOMG – Topfer Theatre at ZACH Theatre Brings Austin Theatre Back to the Forefront of Austin Culture

I was lucky enough to be invited to a personal tour of ZACH Theatre’s new mainstage, The Topfer (pronounced top-fur) Theatre earlier this week.  This theatre allows ZACH to truly make the jump from a small professional theatre to premiere regional theatre by providing a new, state of the art performance facility as part of downtown Austin’s already growing culture and arts scene. Downtown Austin needs a real regional theatre, and this structure and the excitement it will bring to the theatre and arts community is a huge step in the right direction.

Per an article in the Austin Chronicle (link) – ZACH Theatre had been contemplating building a third theatre in its complex as early at 1985, when they held over some funds from that year’s bond election to help fund building a third theatre.  In 2000, the economy stalled, putting the project on hold, but,  through a kick-start of funding of $10 million through the 2006 City of Austin bond election, and then fueled by direct private donation – the project was revived in 2007.  Overall, it’s a $22 million project, and they still need to raise about $2 million for completion.

The ZACH Theatre compound falls within the Zilker Neighborhood Association, but it is easily accessible to downtown Austin condos and homes and, really, feels like a part of downtown to many. I was told the ZNA was supportive the variances Zach Scott needed to build the Topfer Theatre.

As a college Theatre Major and all around theatre nerd, I was soooooo impressed with the Topfer Theatre and Kuykendall Stage.

Some tidbits:

  1. Celebrated Austin actress Karen Kuykendall has her ashes kept under the stage, isn’t that crazy?! (What’s even crazier is that there are no “r”s in “Kuykendall”!)
  2. The Topfer Theatre has a LEED Silver Certification
  3. Over 70 new parking spots have been added to the ZACH Theatre compound
  4. 40 new trees were added to the lot, as well
  5. The AC and other mechanical components of the theatre have a separate foundation from the stage – this is to minimize any possibility of noise and rumbling during performances.
  6. The theatre’s design is taken from the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago (the house is a little narrower)
  7. The theatre house seats ~420
  8. The theatre was designed by the same architects who did The W – Andersson-Wise Architects
Now, for the good stuff – the pictures (please note that the theatre is still having final touches done to it – not fully finished yet)!

For more incredible pictures and theatre fun facts – check out Bryan Kosarek’s Gay in Austin Texas Blog.


Interested in searching for Austin homes for sale in or near Downtown Austin?  Be sure to check out our property search to view Austin homes for sale.

Additionally, here are some condominiums in Downtown Austin that are near the theatre – to learn more about these individual buildings, visit their pages: