Higher & Better Use For Downtown Alleys

Higher & Better Use For Downtown Alleys

This effort could yield some cool results.  The idea is in focus as Art Alliance Austin will feature in April an alley installation adjacent to the Austin Club.

Councilmember Tovo’s office is capturing the attention of downtown stakeholder groups, including Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association and the Downtown Commission, which has spun off a working group, for consideration of a masterplan for downtown Austin’s alleyways.

“Traditionally [alleys] are associated with garbage collection and can be associated with crime,” Tovo says “so, there’s the notion of kind of taking another look at them and really thinking about what kind of potential they might bring to our downtown area.” – KUT News

Repurposing alleys is not a new idea, and many cities around the world have embraced them as valuable real estate.

In fact, the concept for revitalizing downtown alleys has come before Austin City Council at least once before.  Back in 1971, architect David Graeber proposed repurposing the alleys behind 6th Street, from the Driskill Hotel to Waller Creek.

“By establishing cafes, boutiques, business offices and unusual shops, the alley could be a major economic stimulant to the downtown area.  Businesses could face either the alley or 6th Street, or more advantageously, both.” – David Graeber

Austin Architect, David Graeber's "Serendipity Alley" concept from the 1970s.  Daily Texan, September 24, 1971

Austin Architect, David Graeber’s “Serendipity Alley” concept from the 1970s. Daily Texan, September 24, 1971

[Image credit Art Alliance Austin/Creative Action and TBG/Dan Cheetham (Fyoog) and Michelle Tarsney]

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.

Photo Of Waller Creek Flooding In 1935

Photo Of Waller Creek Flooding In 1935

Thanks to LoneStarMike at SkyscraperPage for finding this.  What a great photo.  It looks as if this photo was taken from the vantage point of where the Austin Convention Center is today.  You can see the intersection of Red River and Cesar Chavez St (formerly and appropriately known as Water St, historical map).  It’s striking to see a large house on the southeast corner where we now have a surface parking lot.  It appears that gas cost $0.12 per gallon.  And, what is the sign on the shed towards the right?  Crazy.

You can see a BBQ joint on the left, but it doesn’t seem to be located where Iron Works BBQ is today.  The structure in the photo looks like it is west of Waller Creek …interesting.

From the Weigl’s website“Fortunat quickly filled the hole and the Weigl’ operation found a new home in 1935. Shortly after their opening, disaster struck. On June 5, 1935, one of the worst floods Austin has ever seen raged throughout the city. After the waters receded, the Weigls were forced to cut out pieces of floorboard to scrape massive amounts of mud into the basement.”

Click on the photo to enlarge.


Waller Creek flooding Cesar Chavez (Water St) @ Red River in 1935

Waller Creek flooding: Cesar Chavez (Water St) @ Red River in 1935

For Real This Time: The I-35 Makeover Is Happening

For Real This Time: The I-35 Makeover Is Happening

I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective

I-35 Makeover, Day Perspective

In 2006, neighborhood associations on both sides of the interstate were empowered to develop a concept to enhance East-West pedestrian movement beneath I-35.  The vision was to take what is the most trafficked overpass in Austin, and create a landscape that is lighter and smaller in scale than the one currently dominated by the car.

The downtown Austin segment of I-35 was constructed in 1962 and served to physically reinforce the racial divide that East Avenue had historically represented.

Now, the City of Austin leases from the State the land below the I-35 freeway.  The area is uninviting to say the least.  As part of the makeover, that area will remain parking, while the perimeter and sidewalks connecting East Side to downtown will get something closer to the “Great Streets” treatment including trees, wider sidewalks, and benches.

From Cotera+Reed Architects:

“Fourteen curved and tapered galvanized steel poles will be supported under the freeway deck, and area lighting is attached along the undersides. Individually, the shape of the poles resembles a suspension bridge – re-associating the spot with connecting. Connecting land masses, across an interruption of the landscape, proposing the idea of separation and connecting at the same time. It is intended to be a gesture – a handshake under the freeway.”

Construction is scheduled to begin as early as February 2010.


I-35, night perspective

I-35 Makeover, Night Perspective

Historic Downtown Austin Property SOLD!

107 W 6th Street, 78701

107 W 6th Street, 78701

Back in December, DAB reported on this mid-century modern Texas Comptroller building for sale.  According to the Statesman, Kemp Properties has purchased the 75,000 ft building and plans to preserve the building’s character.  25,000 feet will be occupied by local advertising firm McGarrah/Jessee.  This is great news!  Officially named the “Starr Building” the property was marketed without a price.

Part of the space will become retail.  Downtown Austin doesn’t need more bars or boutiques, so hopefully they will be progressive in their decision.  Below is an image of what existed before the building we see today.  It used to be an H-E-B.  Let’s try Royal Blue Grocery!


H-E-B at corner of 6th and Colorado

H-E-B at corner of 6th and Colorado