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?

“Secret” Spots and Private Rooms in Downtown Austin

“Secret” Spots and Private Rooms in Downtown Austin

I handle downtown location scouting for companies setting up corporate events at SXSW and F1 (non-official), and (up until very recently) planned monthly parties all around downtown for the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, most of my friends see me as a “go to” in terms of finding a cool party and private dining spot downtown.

And it’s true, I know a lot of places that are considered a bit “off the beaten path,” in terms of private spaces for meetings or parties that are in downtown Austin.  This week, I thought I’d share some of them with you, our loyal readers!

Depending on your party size and budget, one or more of these options may be a perfect fit for your next event.

Note: I’m not including write-ups on the big guys, the traditional event venues that everyone knows about and come up all the time (Brazos Hall, Fair Market, Trinity Hall, Malverde etc), nor am I including bar and other venues that are widely known to do and be set up for buyouts (Alamo Drafthouse, hotel spaces, etc). Most of the list below is intended for smaller groups / parties. Also, this is a NON-EXHAUSTIVE list – it’s not intended to have every cool or different spot in downtown!  If you think there’s a spot that we all just HAVE to know about – just put it in the comments!

Max’s Wine Dive | The Underground (Convention Center District)

I threw a NYE party a few years back in the Black Door Wine Lounge and it was FABULOUS. The Black Door Wine Lounge is perfect for private events of around 30 people, but The Underground offers larger spaces, as well.

La Condesa | Vault Room / Flour House (2nd Street District)

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It’s gorgeous and it’s well run.  The team at La Condesa will make sure your event is as flawless as this private dining space.

Departure Lounge | The Escape Hatch (Warehouse District)


This travel agency / coffee shop is right next to the Plaza Lofts, and honestly, I think the whole space is perfect for a special private event (and reasonably priced) – but if you need something smaller for a meeting or something like that, the private room that they have fits the bill pretty well. It can accommodate up to 12 people and only requires a $50 food / beverage spend.

No Va Private Dining Room (Rainey Street District)


This Rainey restaurant is one of my favorites.  It’s got a great menu, great look, and it’s very close to our brokerage firm’s office on the ground floor of The Shore Condos – what’s not to love?!

No Va not only has this streamlined private dining area, but also allows other portions of the restaurant to be reserved by buyout. It’s very flexible and convenient.

Palazzio Lavaca (North Downtown)

photograph by Jake Holt photograhy

photograph by Jake Holt photograhy

Stunning.  This place is simply stunning in every way.  The pictures in their gallery are not an exaggeration – the place really looks and feels like that when you are inside.  But it ain’t cheap.  I highly recommend it for high-end corporate gatherings and especially one-of-a-kind weddings. I’ve put a client in there for an F1 product launch event and they loved it.

The Clay Pit (North Downtown)

Definitely off the beaten path and certainly not for all palates, but a compelling and different choice for sure for a private gathering. They have a small private room downstairs and a private banquet space upstairs.

Some other ideas:

Condo Common Areas

Use your building’s common area spaces!  Depending on the event, you may have to get creative, but I’m a big believer in using the common area space in your downtown Austin condo building for private functions. Different buildings have different rules and rates regarding reservations of common areas, but the reality is – you paid for the ability to use of these spaces when you moved to that building – so you should take advantage of it!

Available Commercial Space


This takes a lot of legwork, but if the event is super special – you may scout around for some empty, finished commercial spaces that are currently being marketed for long-term leases.  Reach out to the listing agent and make a proposal.  This is what I did for my wedding and it worked out awesomely.

To that end, if you are interested, here’s the post about Jude and I’s downtown wedding, with a sample menu, pictures, and some other off-beat venues that could work for weddings.


Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

Prioritizing Pedestrians Over Parking With Proposed Pocket Patio

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.



Art in Downtown Austin – ArtProm by Big Ass Canvas

Art in Downtown Austin – ArtProm by Big Ass Canvas

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.

Visiting Seattle

Visiting Seattle

Jude and I like to travel in December, and we recently took our annual winter trip.  This year’s trip began in Seattle, WA. Neither of us had ever been to Seattle before, and were pleasantly surprised at the cultural similarities that the two cities have, while also, in my opinion, having very different “feeling” downtown areas.  Naturally, we began comparing the two downtowns, and while Austin is doing a lot of things right within the urban-core to make it one of the most desirable places in the country to live, downtown Seattle is also doing a lot of things right, and is anchored by beautiful natural scenery. Our City leadership can look to Seattle in terms of continuing to optimize Austin’s potential, notably their [troubled] effort to tear down the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a hideous highway separating the city from the bay.



But, before I begin really comparing, I think it would be a good idea to start with some historical facts / population stats for both cities:

Population of downtown area:
Austin: around 10,000 (Downtown Austin Alliance), close to 1% of Austin’s total population
Seattle: around 60,000, close to 10% of Seattle’s total population (Downtown Seattle Association)

Public  / Communal Transportation:
Austin: CapMetro Buses, Red Line Commuter Rail, Taxis, BikeShare, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar
Seattle: Metro Buses, Ferry, Seattle Center Monorail, Seattle Streetcar, Link Light Rail, Taxi, Uber, Lyft, Car2Go, ZipCar

Public Market:
Austin: Sunday Farmer’s market in Republic Square park
Seattle: Pike Place Public Market, a permanent installment open 7 days a week

Size of downtown area:
Austin: 9 districts, approximately 1.5 square miles overall (.005 of total size of Austin)
Seattle: 12 distinct neighborhoods, approximately 4 square miles overall (.03 of total size of Austin)

Population Growth:
Austin and Seattle are the two fastest growing cities in the nation.

Notable Corporate HQs:
Austin: Whole Foods, HomeAway, GSD&M
Seattle: Amazon.com, Tableau, Starbucks


The original and, ahem, more anatomically correct Starbucks logo that you see much more prevalently in Seattle

The most interesting of these statistics, to me, is that the relative size and population of downtown Seattle to the overall city is a much higher percentage than with Austin.  One way of interpreting that fact is to say that downtown is a bigger part of the total Seattle experience, and I have a feeling policy and funding follow suit (which brings more dollars and more vibrancy back into their downtown to flow out to the rest of their city).  However, I would say that most people in Austin realize that downtown IS the city’s cultural center and a must see / do.   I think all Austinites can continue to keep that perspective top of mind while encouraging continued growth in our urban core – realizing that a vibrant and engaging downtown brings benefit to the entire city.

However, despite their difference in scope – downtown Seattle and downtown Austin do have similarities. For instance, where downtown Seattle has graceful Gulls, whose calls evoke the sounds of the calming sea that traces the edges of Seattle’s downtown,…downtown Austin has Grackles.  (Okay, so Seattle wins that one.) Where downtown Seattle has insane hills that are the stuff of sleigh-riders dreams, downtown Austin has a gentle southeastern slope that makes outdoor activities a dream. Downtown Seattle has the Needle, downtown Austin has … the Austonian.  Downtown Seattle has a crazy Gum Wall, downtown Austin (well, close to downtown) has a graffiti wall (Hope Outdoor Gallery).

The examples above are a little in jest – but I will say that the culture of downtown Seattle did, in fact, feel pretty similar to downtown Austin.  For one, the city is very dog friendly.  Dogs were everywhere.  Additionally, many of the restaurants and night-life spots in downtown Seattle could have just as well been in Austin.

The natural surroundings, however, could not have been more different.  There were mountains viewable from downtown Seattle, as well as an active ocean port.  The weather is very rainy and generally much colder than in Austin. Likely, because of the weather (and maybe the hills), I did not see NEARLY as many folks jogging or bicycling around downtown Seattle, where in Austin, that’s the definite norm. One thing that REALLY struck me is that downtown Seattle and downtown Austin are very close to the same age, both “founded” in the mid-1800s. Downtown Seattle had a broader historic feel, but Austin is simply effervescent with youth and new growth.

The public transportation was robust and almost effortless (at least to us) in Seattle.  Also, downtown Seattle had more shopping – department stores and mom and pop shops happily co-exist in downtown Seattle.

Nordstrom Rack right next to the Monorail

Nordstrom Rack right next to the Monorail

Additionally, and this is a very timely issue for Austin, but busking in Seattle certainly felt MUCH more professional than what I see in downtown Austin…here’s one of the many talented street performers sprinkled around downtown Seattle. It’s important to note that Seattle has some very lax regulations on busking, however. In Austin, I think it should be monitored and systemized more than it is, and stakeholders like DANA agree (the City is currently obtaining more stakeholder feedback before re-presenting their proposal on busking regulations).

Now, it may sound like I just think Seattle is the greatest thing since sliced bread and why don’t I just marry Seattle because I love it so much….but, it’s not like that.  I LOVE downtown Austin, I really do. I believe we are a relatively “new” downtown (in the modern sense) and an incredibly fast growing one, at that. And the opportunities that brings for those of us in on the ground floor of this burgeoning downtown are incredible. And it only benefits us to look to more established downtown centers across the country and take what we can from those that have done it before.  City leaders and policy influencers are already doing this, of course – but it never hurts to keep it top of mind.

And, I think it’s important to note that more isn’t ALWAYS better.  For instance, the amount of vagrancy in downtown Seattle was frankly overwhelming.  Austin certainly has vagrancy issues as well, but, at least, anecdotally, Seattle felt FAR worse. And, there’s controversy as to whether Seattle is really doing their best to solve the problem in a sustainable way.

From searching a few online sources, Seattle’s cost of living seems quite a bit higher than Austin’s.  Most online source quotes that housing is at least 25% higher in Seattle than in Austin. This figure does not compare the downtown areas specifically, but I would think there is some disparity there.

In the last 90 days, downtown Austin’s median sold pricing is observed to be $490 per foot.  Semi-reliable online sources quote a recent median sales price for downtown Seattle the last 90 days at around $475 per foot.  So, if this is accurate, it may be that downtown Austin, is in fact, the more expensive housing market, at least at this specific point in time.  One reason for that may be the relatively lower inventory.

I think looking to Seattle can really help those that are shaping the new downtown Austin – especially in terms of public transportation, the city’s relationship with its natural surroundings (the Waller Creek redevelopment and Shoal Creek Conservancy efforts certainly are on the right track), and the SCOPE of downtown in relation to the size of the overall city: encourage vertical development in the urban-core, in order to preserve the beauty of our hill-country.

One thing is clear, Austin is a fabulous place to live – and it’s sunny.  Seattle can keep all that cloudy gloom for itself.