Downtown Thriving as a Live-Work-Play Community

Downtown Thriving as a Live-Work-Play Community

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Artist’s rendering of the office tower now going up at the site of the former Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant in downtown Austin where Google will take more than 200,000-sf. CREDIT: Gensler Austin

Nice story in The Statesman about the vibrant community that continues to grow downtown – not just in terms of nightlife, but also new economy jobs and associated residents:  Austin’s Tech Scene Heats Up Downtown.

It’s worth pointing out however that all this has not “just happened” by itself.

It has been 15+ years in the making with great purpose by the likes of the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA), Mayors Kirk Watson, Will Wynn, Lee Leffingwell and their City Councils, the Downtown Austin Plan, and many more driving forces.

Except for weekday lunchtime and weekend nights on East 6th, it was a veritable ghost town when my team first opened an expanded Wild About Music down here in 1995, then started living here in 1999.

There’s still a ton of work to be done around issues of homelessness and vagrancy (two different matters), affordability (having only $50/ft rents and million dollar condos is not sustainable), traffic (a car-free zone?), and that IH-35 east-west barrier.

Dave Sullivan, longtime Austin civic leader during this big growth period, also just told me: “When I joined the City Planning Commission in 1994, software development was a prohibited use Downtown. I remember voting to change that in the late 90s. Seems incredible.

Incredible indeed, Dave.


And a worthy update:  After this story published I received a note from a longtime steward of Downtown Austin’s evolution, Michael Knox, of the City’s Economic Development Department.  He filled in another 10 years of preparation that went into the creation of today’s Downtown before my timeline even picks up.  Mike says:

“I started working on downtown in 1988, when it was part of AustinPlan’s Sector 1.  Of course AustinPlan, the comprehensive plan update to replace Austin Tomorrow, was never adopted.

“In 1989 we (Jose Martinez and I) started working with the Downtown Commission, actively promoting a thing called R/UDAT.  The 1990 R/UDAT application we co-wrote was accepted, and in 1991 we got the R/UDAT team visit and report, followed in 1992 by “A Call to Action: R/UDAT Implementation” that, in 1993 gave birth to the Downtown Austin Alliance and the Austin Downton PID.  These efforts involved hundreds of dedicated Austinites.

“Downtown initiatives were kicked up a notch in 1997 when Kirk Watson became Mayor, and Assistant City Manager Jim Smith (now Aviation Director) and I put together Kirk’s first six downtown initiatives, including the Waller Creek tunnel, Downtown Design Guidelines and the Poleyard and AMLI developments.”

So there you go…another of Downtown Austin’s many unsung heroes.  We thank you, Michael Knox.

~Fred