News broke Friday that the shelved White Lodging Services Corp. plans for a 1,000-plus hotel at 2nd Street and Congress Avenue are back on the stove.
NEWS FLASH: According to a source at City Hall, the Austin Transportation Department is slated to give a big presentation June 14 that will be “a substantial briefing” on urban rail and begins to start answering Uncle Lee’s 30 crucial questions and “then some.”
The mayor has pushed a 2012 bond election funding a first leg for a new mode of mass transit in Austin.
We are awarding 2 free tickets ($44 value) to 1 lucky DAB reader for this AWESOME bike tour happening this Saturday, April 23rd, beginning at 9:30AM. MEET UP AT WHOLE FOODS ON LAMAR. Winner will also receive 2 FREE Downtown Austin Blog t-shirts (priceless?)! [Read more…] about Downtown Austin Home Bicycle Tour (Free Tickets – $44 Value)
Jude and I are both on the board of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association (DANA) – a grassroots community organization dedicated to improving the lives of those who live, work, and / or play in the Downtown Austin Community. It’s an organization that we believe in, and an organization that is affecting positive change in our community.
For our readers who are downtown residents (or, who spend a significant amount of time downtown for work or for pleasure), I urge you to become a member of the organization.
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.
Part 1 of 2 Parts – The Overview
If you browsed the Austin American-Statesman or Austin Business Journal yesterday, no doubt you saw the headlines:
At first glance, it might sound like an appealing proposition, this Boardwalk project. What’s not to like?
The term “boardwalk” itself conjures up images of a pretty little wooden footbridge traversing burbling creeks and meandering through soggy sections of beautiful dense forest. It’s a project of the Parks Department, and we all do love our parks, yes?
Finding a way to “extend” Downtown Austin’s wonderful riverfront hike-bike path through one of the sections where it currently follows a narrow sidewalk along a busy road, Riverside Drive — well, that sounds like a no-brainer, too, right? At least to those of us who frequent the Town Lake Trail multiple times a week.
(Sidenote for those of you paying attention: City Council changed the name of the urban portion of the river from Town Lake to Lady Bird Lake after the former First Lady and Trail Founder passed away in 2007. The name of “the simple walking path along the shore” that she envisioned back in 1971 is still called the Town Lake Trail in Parks Department materials. Hard to tell what to properly call it.)
And $85 million, though it’s a big number for a still-sluggish economic recovery, nevertheless is a comparatively small chunk of change when you apply that spend against a truckload of “transportation projects”. Concrete and asphalt don’t come cheap.
To find the serious problems in this equation I’m afraid there’s no substitute for having to dive into the details. As with so many of life’s problems and issues, that’s where the devil is hiding. Let’s take a look.
First off there’s the topline math. $16 million for a single project — one that is a luxury add and carries no financial ROI with it — out of a total $85 million bonding capacity. That’s almost one-fifth of the total ask! For just one project. According to the ABJ story, the Transportation Department and the Bond Review Task Force were charged with evaluating 500 projects that had to be divided into “A,” “B” and “C” categories.
The “A” list of “highest priority” projects added up to about 45 and still carried an estimated total cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, three to four times the total bonding capacity. Somehow the Boardwalk, in its totality, made it to the further shortened list of “A” projects left standing. What about the other 480 or so projects? What about all the other regions of the city and their transportation, sidewalk, pothole and trail needs?
Then there is the matter of the Boardwalk project itself. While it hasn’t been an entirely secretive endeavor, its details have been less than well publicized or understood by the broad Austin citizenry, that’s for sure. For the past three years, this project has been marching its determined way through the city conceptual and design process, rubber-stamped by two unanimous city councils every step of the way, and fueled by almost $4.3 million in dedicated allocations out of the past couple city budgets. For the past year, that’s been a reported spend rate of about $40,000 per week for consultants, plans and documentation.
Next let’s check out this purported Boardwalk and find out what it’s really made of using the City’s own slides from its presentation decks. The following pictures are quite self-explanatory.
How can this be?
There are no boards in this boardwalk!
The entire battleship structure is made of concrete and steel!
And it’s out IN the friggin’ river!
And that, friends, is how we end up with something like THIS rather than the “simple walking path along the shore” that Lady Bird Johnson had sought.
Can’t help but wonder: what would she think of all this?
Though about a year out of date now, what information the city has provided on this project can be found here. There is some bare bones stuff there about the proposed routing, construction materials and answers to about 20 FAQs. Check it out.
Lot’s of news coming out of downtown Austin.
- A very nice slide show of a finished out Austonian residence. This will no doubt become one of their model units. Back in November, the Austonian team invited Downtown Austin Blog to take some interior pics. You can see those here. BTW, the first Austonian closing is scheduled for June 7th. (!)
- Texas Facilities Commission has big plans for the Capitol complex over the next couple of decades. They are calling for more dense development surrounding the Capitol with enough square footage to fill 13 Frost Bank towers.
- The re-envisioned Block 51 development is gaining new traction. A 28 story condominium and 16 story office building could replace the surface level parking lot just west of the downtown Austin post office.
- It appears that Aquaterra is prepping to break ground. Perhaps re-branded, and as an apartment building rather than a condominium.
- The Austin Convention Center is facing a potential cash shortage. More downtown hotel space is needed in order to recruit more and bigger conventions.
OK, not really troubled water, but I couldn’t resist a title so apropos for a city that likes to bitch and moan about growth, yet doesn’t make the hard decisions necessary to steer growth and prefers to react to it, (breath) imagine the hostility we’re going to see for this bridge. One look at the notoriously poorly moderated comment sections of the Statesman’s online posts (seriously, take a look to feel less good about humanity) is all you need to run far, far away from the headaches of local public policy making and sound urban planning.
Last week’s commentary by a Milago resident about the perils of walking in the Rainey Street district has spurred the City into action. “Those people” move into the district and now they want to change it with crazy things like sidewalks. Less than 48 hours after this video editorial aired, there were pneumatic traffic counters straddling the district’s streets recording passing cars, and adolescent kids (primarily DAB readers/writers) jumping on them.
City approves the use of eminent domain, should it be necessary, to get control over an important piece of land for the Waller Creek Tunnel Project. For decades this assemblage of lots that front I-35 has been a surface level parking lot. For the next 4-5 years it will be a staging area for creek diggin’.
We don’t watch much TV, so we missed this KXAN piece highlighting the potential shortage of new downtown Austin condos. The report claims 408. Downtown Austin Blog’s count is 475. I deal in downtown condos everyday, and this report is a little misleading. Reports like this ignore the approximately 175 downtown resales currently available for sale. Still, it’s very encouraging to receive some positive press reflecting the vibrancy of downtown.
Thanks to the Jdawgboy at SkyscraperPage forums for the heads up!
This week’s Chronicle is packed with interesting articles.
1) Wells weighs in on downtownAustinfacts.com.
2) Katherine Gregor nearly writes a book comparing Austin’s efforts toward regional sustainability to Copenhagen’s embrace of sustainable mobility and bicycles. BTW, have you seen the BIXI system of shared bicycles? 🙂
3) Is a planetarium bound for Austin? Richard Garriott believes it’s a good idea.