Downtown Austin

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The Austin skyline in 2011
Local businesses and recreational venues like 6th Street often are next door to office buildings.

Downtown Austin is the central business district of Austin, Texas. Downtown is located on the north bank of the Colorado River. The approximate borders of Downtown include Lamar Boulevard to the west, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and the University of Texas at Austin to the north, Interstate 35 to the east, and Lady Bird Lake to the south.[1][2]

It is where the city's highrise buildings are located, as well as being the center of government and business for the region. Downtown Austin is currently experiencing a building boom, with many condos and high rise towers being built.


The story of Downtown Austin began with the Republic of Texas and President Mirabeau B. Lamar in the 1830s. Lamar tapped Edwin Waller to direct the planning and construction of the new town. Waller chose a site on a bluff above the Colorado River, nestled between Shoal Creek to the west and Waller Creek to the east. Waller laid the new city in a simple grid pattern on a 640-acre (or one square-mile plot) with 14 blocks running in both directions. Much of this original design is still intact in downtown Austin today.

One grand avenue, which Lamar named "Congress," cut through the center of town from Capitol Square down to the Colorado River. The streets running north-south (paralleling Congress) were named for Texas rivers with their order of placement matching the order of rivers on the Texas state map. The east-west streets were named after trees native to the region, despite the fact that Waller had recommended using numbers (they were eventually changed to numbers in 1884). The city's perimeters stretched north to south from the river at 1st Street to 15th Street, and from East Avenue (now Interstate 35) to West Avenue.[3]

Waller reserved key spots for public buildings and four public squares. Three of Waller's original squares survive to this day: Wooldridge Park, Republic Square and Brush Square.[4]

Downtown districts[edit]

Congress Avenue[edit]

Edwin Waller, the first mayor of Austin, designed Congress Avenue to be Austin's most prominent street. Planned as the widest street in the original 1839 Austin plan, the 120-foot wide Congress Avenue initially ran from the Colorado River north to the State Capitol. Not coincidentally, Congress was the most important street in Austin city life during the 19th century. Early structures along Congress Avenue included government buildings, hotels, saloons, retail stores and restaurants. By the late 1840s "The Avenue" formed a well-established business district. The mid-1870s introduced gaslight illumination and mule-driven streetcars as well as construction of a new Travis County courthouse at Eleventh Street.

Stretching from First Street north to Eleventh Street, the Congress Avenue Historic District was created on August 11, 1978. Stylistically, the dominating structures of significance reflected general Victorian form and detailing, tempered by local materials and building techniques.[5] Notable structures along Congress Avenue north of the Colorado include the Texas State Capitol, Paramount Theatre, the Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Building, Gethsemane Lutheran Church and the Old Bakery.

Sixth Street[edit]

Sixth Street is a historic street and entertainment district in Downtown Austin. Sixth Street itself stretches from Mopac Expressway in Old West Austin to Interstate 35 and beyond. The western portion includes the historic West Sixth Street Bridge at Shoal Creek. The nine-block area of East Sixth Street roughly between Lavaca Street to the west and Interstate 35 to the east is recognized as the Sixth Street Historic District and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 30, 1975.[6]

The area around nearby 4th Street and 6th Street has been a major entertainment district since the 1970s.[7] Many bars, clubs, music venues, and shopping destinations are located on E. 6th Street between Congress Avenue and Interstate 35 and many offer live music at one time or another during the week.[8] Traffic is generally blocked on E. 6th Street and most crossroads from I-35 to Brazos Street on weekend evenings, and football home games (depending on pedestrian traffic), as well as holidays and special events to allow the crowds to walk unfettered to the many venues that line the street. E. Sixth Street plays host to a wide variety of events each year, ranging from music and film festivals (such as South by Southwest) to biker rallies (such as The Republic of Texas Biker Rally) and the Pecan Street Festival.[9] The area of Sixth Street west of Lavaca is known as the West 6th Street District. Recently, there has been a growing movement to develop this area as an entertainment district of its own, geared toward the live music crowd.[10] As of May 15, 2014, in response to a deadly crash during the SXSW festival and the increase of intoxicated patrons, vehicular parking between Brazos and Red River Streets is prohibited between the hours of 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.[11][12][13]

Second Street District (2ND St. District)[edit]

Second Street District is a six-block infill and redevelopment project located north of Town Lake and along the southern edge of downtown Austin, Texas. The city’s vision for the project is broad: “to enhance the identity and image of downtown Austin as a civic and cultural destination for residents, visitors and businesses while preserving and enlivening Austin’s sense of place.” More specifically, the Second Street District Streetscape Improvement Project (SSDSIP) calls for “the inclusion of a critical mass of retail (and other pedestrian- oriented uses) linked by a coherent and uniquely identified, pedestrian environment. . . linking two important civic destinations– the new City Hall and the Convention Center. Complex–along what will become downtown’s key shopping or ‘pedestrian-dominant’ spine: Second Street.”

With an original goal of adding over 168,000 square feet of retail space mixed with office, hotel, civic and mostly high-end, high-rise condo and apartment developments, the Second Street District is being positioned as Austin’s new core downtown retail area, where no retail core existed before. Taking into account adjacent projects and the city’s goal of making a contiguous, pedestrian-oriented connection between the Convention Center on the east and Lamar Boulevard on the west, the District’s impacts and influence extend well beyond its official six-block footprint. The SSDSIP scope actually extends the Second Street District streetscape improvements four block lengths eastward, beyond the six-block district, from Colorado to Trinity, and includes two block lengths along Brazos and Colorado north and south of Second Street. The city had owned five of the six blocks long before project inception, enabling the city to implement its vision without “the haste that often arises from market forces,” says Fred Evins, Austin’s redevelopment project manager.

While the district’s architecture has been defined as “eclectic modern urban style,” it also has a distinctly Austin flavor, in part because of a series of sustainability goals outlined in guiding documents, including principles of urban forestry and the use of locally available materials in construction.

All six city blocks and streetscapes have been completed: Austin City Hall and its public plaza on Block 3; two six-story Computer Sciences Corporation (now Silicon Laboratories) office buildings with street-level retail on either side of City Hall on Blocks 2 and 4; the seven-story AMLI Downtown apartment building with street-level retail on Block 20; the 37-story W Hotel and Residences with street-level retail and the 2,900-seat Moody Theater on Block 2; and the 18-story AMLI on Second Street apartment high-rise with streetlevel retail on Block 22. In total, Second Street District is home to 609 multifamily residences; 106,700 square feet of retail comprising 18 restaurants, 25 stores, a four-screen independent movie theater, two spas and other services such as dry cleaner and dentist; 385,000 square feet of office space; Austin’s City Hall and public plaza; a promenade along the south side of Cesar Chavez Street; and 2,677 underground, structured and on-street parking spaces.

Project History: A Call to Action for a Vital Downtown Second Street District grew out of city visioning and planning processes. Local and national experts, along with the public at large, first came together to craft a series of policies and plans addressing Austin’s general livability, then turned their attention to its downtown design, and finally focused on Second Street District itself.

In 1989, Austin’s Downtown Commission received approval from City Council to invite a Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) of the American Institute of Architects to Austin. Since 1967, the R/UDAT program has used volunteer technical experts, including architects and urban planners, to promote the importance of urban and regional planning, stimulate local public action and improve physical design in communities throughout the nation.

In 1991, a three-day R/UDAT planning charrette was conducted with more than 800 Austinites who “assessed conditions and community interest in Downtown Austin and provided a framework for implementing actions to revitalize Austin’s vital central core,” says the R/UDAT. The resulting report, R/UDAT*Austin, spawned a set of implementation actions outlined in R/UDAT Austin Implementation: A Call to Action, published in May 1992.

Approved by the Austin City Council as a “guide for implementing downtown Austin revitalization,” A Call to Action provided detailed recommendations in the areas of urban design, natural environment, community issues, cultural arts, transportation, economic development and creation of a downtown management organization.

The Downtown Austin Alliance, a partnership of individuals and businesses “devoted to promoting and maintaining a safe, clean, attractive, accessible and fun downtown environment,” according to its literature, was subsequently born of the 1993 creation of a Downtown Austin Public Improvement District. Funding for the Alliance comes from a special assessment on privately owned large properties within the District. In 1996, the Alliance began a Great Streets program with the goal of improving “the quality of downtown streets and sidewalks, aiming ultimately to transform the public right-of-ways into great public spaces,” says the Alliance. Later that year, Austin voters approved $5 million in bonds for the new Austin Great Streets Program.

In 1997, an Austin R/UDAT conference generated a short list of downtown revitalization projects and in 2000 the R/UDAT held another conference, at which then-mayor Kirk Watson discussed the emergence of Austin’s downtown waterfront, including a new city hall, the new CSC buildings and their 3,500 employees, and the new retail core. “Austin gets an A for creating, in a very short time period, a Downtown Digital District with all the elements of a great downtown,” he said

While the “Digital” portion of the District has not necessarily materialized, Austin’s initiatives to redevelop downtown continued in two ways: 1) through the adoption of Downtown Austin Design Guidelines in May 2000 (and updated in January 2009), and 2) through the city’s ongoing Great Streets Program.

Mayor Watson’s comments were predicated on City Council’s 1999 passage of a resolution “intended to ensure that the West (Second) Street area support pedestrian and retail-oriented businesses that could complement the proposed City Hall as a major public destination.” Because of the resolution, the two planned, six-story CSC buildings were reconfigured to provide street-level retail. The city also retained AMLI Austin Retail, in collaboration with HSM Urban Partners, as its retail developer for Blocks 2 and 4. HSM Urban Partners created a strategic retail program for the new Second Street Retail District through contracts with various project developers. In 2010, the city transitioned Second Street District’s retail oversight and marketing from HSM to Plat.form, a “locally established and integrated firm that is more in touch with the Austin vibe,” says Evins.

The city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office was at the forefront of the implementation efforts associated with the Council’s 1999 resolution–and continues to provide city oversight through project completion and beyond.

In 1999, ROMA Design Group was hired by AMLI Residential to develop a retail and streetscape concept plan, which proposed converting Second Street to a two-lane (one lane each way) shopping street, with parallel parking located on the north side, adjacent to a 32-foot-wide sidewalk with a double-row of street trees. The resulting Austin Second Street Retail District – District Streetscape Plan was published in early 2000. That year, the city also commissioned Street Works to help create a vision for “main street retail” along Second Street, says Evins.

Defining Streets as Places Great Streets Master Plan: After extending the District Streetscape Plan boundaries eastward to the Convention Center in July 2001, the “Second Street Retail District Plan” was subsequently incorporated into the “Downtown Austin Great Streets Master Plan”, which was completed in December 2001 by urban design consultant Black & Vernooy + Kinney Joint Venture. ROMA Design Group’s concept plan was further detailed and specific siting criteria within the public right of way, such as street and pedestrian lighting, were established.

The “Great Streets Master Plan” is based on the Downtown Austin Design Guidelines created by the Austin Design Commission and adopted the previous year (and revised in January 2009). Key areas addressed in the Guidelines include sense of history, unique character, authenticity, safety, diversity, humane character, density, economic vitality, and civic art.

Based on Second Street Retail District work, the design consultants suggested six guiding principles for the Great Streets Program, identified in the Master Plan itself: Principle 1: Manage Congestion Congestion is a fact of life in successful urban places. By definition, a place that supports a great concentration of economic and social activities within a pedestrian-scaled environment is going to be congested.

Principle 2: Balanced/Active Streets Downtown streets must balance the needs of pedestrians, bicycles, transit and the automobile in creating an attractive and viable urban core. Downtown streets are for people first, commercial second, parking third and through-traffic fourth.

Principle 3: Streets as Places The Great Streets Program envisions downtown as a vital focus of city life and as a primary destination. Our downtown streets are our most important and pervasive public space and common ground.

Principle 4: Interactive Streets Urban Streets are the stages on which the public life of the community is acted out.

Principle 5: Pride of Place Visible caring and upkeep are critical to the vitality of urban street life.

Principle 6: Public Art Art in the public environment can help to establish a stronger sense of place and a continuity between the past, present and future.

Additionally, a number of Principles and Elements were included, ranging from pedestrian orientation to sidewalks, roadway lane width to bike lanes, street furniture to street trees and public art to enhanced key transit stops. Three street typologies were identified in the Master Plan, including the “Pedestrian Dominant Street.” This typology referenced Second Street, ensuring the District would be pedestrian-oriented:

Pedestrian Dominant Streets generate high volumes of pedestrian traffic due to active retail uses at street level. City Council has demonstrated their commitment to creating Second Street as the new retail spine of downtown Austin. The north sidewalk . . . extends 32 feet wide, allowing for a double row of trees, sidewalk cafés, generous seating areas and impromptu street life. The vision of a premier retail district is particularly powerful when one imagines the sun-filled wide sidewalk stretching from Shoal Creek on the west to the door of the Austin Convention Center to the east.

Over the next three years, the city conducted engineering and archaeological and historical studies. The engineering study resulted in the creation of prototypical design solutions for handicap access and intersection geometry, resolved utility and tree conflicts and prepared plans for grading, drainage, utility relocation, traffic management, construction phasing and cost estimates. The archaeological and historical study explored the history of the corridor, which includes 19th- and 20th-century railroad and industrial uses, a red light district, underground vaults and a large Hispanic population until the 1920s.

Second Street District Streetscape Improvement Project The “Pedestrian Dominant Street” typology of the “Great Streets Master Plan” was implemented through the Second Street District Streetscape Improvement Project, which began in July 2003 when the city selected a design team led by Copley Wolff Design Group of Boston. The project’s Request for Design Consultant Qualifications clearly set forth the streetscapes’ intent in five areas: • Urban design, reinforcing the city’s vision of a sense of place for the Second Street District • Sustainability, in such areas as heat island effect, storm drainage and water quality, reclaimed water, renewable energy, light trespass, recyclables and public transit • Context-sensitive design, so that the District integrates “the ideas and work of central Texas historians, artists and/or artisans to impart a distinct Austin sense of place and cultural identity through revealing its forms, meanings, values and history” • Public involvement, led by the Downtown Austin Alliance’s District Stakeholder Group with city oversight, to “be informed by a high level of stakeholder input” • District maintenance, calling for a strategy and mechanism for the ongoing management of maintenance and services

The project has been implemented in two phases: Phase 1 is roadway reconstruction from San Antonio Street to Colorado Street (within Second Street District) and Phase 2 is Great Streets sidewalks and roadway construction from Colorado Street to Trinity Street (extending beyond Second Street District).

The first phase resulted in reconfiguring Second Street from one-way, westbound traffic from Brazos Street east to its end at San Antonio Street, to two-way traffic from Brazos Street west to Colorado Street, spanning them major Congress Avenue/Second Street intersection. It was completed just prior to the opening of the new City Hall in November 2004, and provides vehicular access to, and visibility into, the southern portion of Second Street District, as well as Town Lake

Design work for the second phase was completed in 2005, providing for 32-foot-wide sidewalks and a double row of street trees on the north side of the street, providing broad space for sidewalk cafés adjacent to store fronts. Between the double row of trees, a path of large-size pavers, “used to enhance walkability and wheelchair user comfort, meanders like a dry stream bed, inviting a leisurely stroll through the retail district,” according to city literature. Construction on the first block, from Colorado Street to Congress Avenue, was completed in 2011 and construction on the remaining two blocks began in 2012.

The District has also implemented the Great Streets lamppost, “uniquely designed for Austin’s downtown [that] elegantly reduce[s] clutter in the streetscape by consolidating into one system roadway and pedestrian lighting as well as traffic and pedestrian signals, street signs/wayfinding systems and special events banners,” says Evins. The street’s south side includes similar streetscaping, but at an 18-foot width.

Improvements along Cesar Chavez Boulevard from Brazos to San Antonio included widening the street and creating an esplanade with an alley of trees along the southern curb line, forming a transition from the Second Street District’s built fabric to the grassy slope and riverside trail of Town Lake Park. Cesar Chavez was rebuilt first–transitioning from one- to two-way traffic in 2008. Second Street improvements were completed in 2009.

Streetscape, plaza and other public infrastructure maintenance around City Hall were funded by a tax-increment financing reinvestment zone that encompassed four blocks in the Second Street District.

The street and sidewalk improvements have made a significant difference in the vitality of the area, especially on 2nd Street between Colorado and Guadalupe. Effectively and artistically integrating the District’s mix of retail, restaurant, office, and residential uses, the wide sidewalks create an inviting outdoor public space that is heavily utilized by pedestrians throughout the day–and particularly at lunch hour, in the evening, and on the weekend. Restaurants take advantage of the new public space through the use of outdoor patios, while shops often display merchandise outside, opening their doors to invite pedestrians in.

The Role of Public Art at Second Street “Rivers, Streams and Springs” is the Second Street District streetscape project’s theme and ties into the city’s Art in Public Places program. Accordingly, where Second Street intersects the north/south streets, which are named for Texas rivers like the Brazos and Colorado, special paving treatments with medallions that interpret the social history and ecology of each river’s watershed are being created and installed by local artists. Though art installations have been slow-going–“because of Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements, implementing public art on sidewalks is challenging,” says Evins–artwork has been installed at the intersection of Second Street and Colorado. Additional, sidewalkbased artwork will not be installed until after streetscape improvements along Second Street take place in 2012 and beyond.

A “Spring” sculptural zone will additionally be located between San Jacinto Street and Brazos Street, while a larger-scale “Spring” is being implemented in partnership with Austin Water Utility, at the intersection with Congress Avenue. So far, one sculpture has been erected.

Two percent of the SSDSIP construction budget was set aside for the design and implementation of “context-appropriate” civic art. Other partners were pursued for additional water-related art projects along Second Street, and $200,000 in private developer funding has been obtained.

Implementing the Plans: Beyond the City’s Vision While the plans and projects establish a vision for the Second Street District, they do not set requirements for sustainability measures such as energy efficiency and renewable energy use or specific percentages for retail or residential uses. “Block-by-block, the city has negotiated with developers to include project elements that further the city’s vision,” says Evins.

As owners of five of six blocks, the City of Austin used an array of funding and other civic mechanisms to support development under the Great Streets Program and Streetscape Implementation Project guidelines. For example, the city was able to provide expedited permitting, development fee waivers, project-area design standards and funding for streetscaping, landscaping and parking on the two CSC (Silicon Labs) buildings on either side of City Hall completed in 2001 (Blocks 2 and 4). The city also constructed a connecting tunnel and funded improvements to city property and rights-of-way.

During negotiations with Computer Sciences Corporation on its development of Blocks 2 and 4, the city paid CSC $9.3 million towards the design, construction and subleasing of retail shell spaces on these blocks. AMLI Austin Retail, in collaboration with HSM Urban Partners, was selected as the retail developer and the retail sub-leases were then assigned to the developer, which was responsible for funding the development costs associated with leasing and finishing out the Block 2 and 4 retail spaces, according to Evins.

On Blocks 21 and 22, however, the developers were responsible for the construction, leasing and management of the retail spaces in their mixed-use projects. The city did agree to lease terms “that made AMLI’s mixed-use development financially viable” on Block 22, says Evins. HSM Urban Partners was under contract to provide retail consulting services on Blocks 20, 21 and 22 (as well as Blocks 2 and 4) through 2010 to ensure a coherent retail mix and produce a viable destination retail center. Plat.form replaced HSM when the District received some criticism that the new retail echoed the retail of Dallas too much. As a local firm, Plat.form has a better sense of “how to preserve while transforming to keep Austin unique,” says Evins. “We believe a strong, local retail presence is just as important as the streetscape improvements in making the District successful.”

A Dynamic Mix of Urban Uses Austin’s goal for the Second Street District was 168,000 square feet of ground-level “destination” retail. Blocks 2 and 4–the retail uses in the CSC (Silicon Labs) buildings–also had a goal of 30% local business inclusion. Combined, the two six-story buildings have 350,000 square feet of office space, originally serving both CSC and Silicon Laboratories, which subsequently purchased CSC’s interest in both buildings. The buildings contain 700 parking spaces above 30,000 square feet of retail. Additionally, the city partnered with CSC to stabilize and sublease the historic, twostory Schneider Building, which was developed as Lambert’s restaurant by UP Schneider, L.P.

Block 20, AMLI Downtown, features a220-unit, seven-story apartment project above 43,000 square feet of retail and restaurants and 326 underground parking spaces. Apartments range from 700 square feet (renting at $1,500 per month in fall 2011) to 1,660 square feet (renting at over $2,500 per month). With the street’s double row of trees, street furniture and outdoor patios–the redevelopment’s first implementation of the Great Streets streetscape typology–the block provides a classic urban aesthetic and functionality. Street-level retail and restaurants provide an eclectic mix of destinations, from the popular Jo’s Hot Coffee and Crú wine bar to milk + honey Spa

Stratus Properties, Inc., purchased Block 21 following a competitive proposal process managed by the city. Proceeds from the sale of the land have been reserved for Austin’s new Central Library and three downtown trail and pedestrian improvement projects west of the District. Block 21 is home to W Hotel and Residences, a 37-story, $300 million project that includes 251 luxury hotel rooms (averaging $248 per night in 2012), 156 luxury condominiums, 35,000 square feet of office space, 29,000 square feet of ground floor retail and restaurant space and 490 underground parking spaces. It also houses the 1,500-seat Moody Theater, the new home of the popular Austin City Limits music series. The project is currently under LEED Gold certification review and the hotel features high-efficiency lighting and water fixtures (including dual-flush toilets), occupancy sensors, organic waste composting, recycling bins in all guest rooms and participation in a carbon-offset program. The Residences at W Austin opened in 2010 and range in size from one bedroom and 640 square feet to three bedroom + den and 4,255 square feet for a penthouse. Prices in fall 2011 ranged from $405,000 to over $3 million, averaging $1 million.

“It has been an amazing year for us,” said Cindy Hill, director of W Austin sales and marketing, on the hotel’s one-year birthday. “This market was thirsty for a hotel with the W’s personality [and even] a person who lives here in Austin can come in and have a different experience every time.” An Austin American Stateman profile notes that “the trendy W . . . has quickly become the city’s place to see and be seen, playing host to scads of big-name musicians, film and TV stars–and even President Barack Obama.”

The Moody Theater, designed by BOKA Powell and Rios Clementi Hale Studios, is located on the southwest corner of the block and hosts about 50 Austin City Limits Live concerts per year, plus another 100 concerts as well as a variety of conferences, presentations and gatherings. “We’re doing quite a few highprofile events here,” says theater private events manager Keri-Dawn Solner. “I really do see this venue becoming a national destination.” The dramatic, state-of-the-art building, completed in 2010, brings an entirely new audience into Second Street District, says Evins. “It has filled in the missing space; completed the streetscape. The theater has taken the project to a whole new level.”

Block 22 was also developed by AMLI Residential, which constructed an 18-story building of 231 rental residential units called AMLI on 2ND. Apartments are sized from 626 to 1,380 square feet and in fall 2011 rented from $1,600 to $3,000 per month. The project includes 12 affordable housing units (5% at 80% of mean income for 15 years) and was the first high-rise residential project to achieve a four-star rating under Austin Energy’s Green Building Program. AMLI on 2ND hosts over 41,000 square feet of retail space and 421 parking spaces. Additionally, it preserved historic underground vaults discovered during site clearing in 2006.

Retail on Block 22 includes apparel, home furnishings, gifts and art and specialty stores such as Austin MacWorks, while restaurants offer italian and Mexican cuisine. Most notable, perhaps, is Violet Crown Cinema, a four-screen arthouse cinema and restaurant that opened in April 2011. Considering that retail development on that portion of Second Street–which ends at San Antonio Street and the fenced portion of the city’s former Green Water Treatment Plant–has been slow, the cinema was quite welcome. “Our block just doesn’t see as many people as the other blocks,” says tapas bar manager Lisa- Marie Pinder, according to an article in the Austin American-Statesman. “When we moved here two years ago we doubled our size, but we haven’t really doubled our business.” Planning and construction of the cinema took two years, so it will make a go no matter how slow traffic is: “It was not inexpensive to build the Violet Crown,” says owner Bill Banowsky, “and I intend to be here a long time.”

Austin City Hall: Civic Sustainability at Its Most Local The Austin City Hall (Block 3) is four stories and 115,000 square feet and features an iconic design by architect Antoine Predock. The LEED Gold-certified building, which received a 2008 Award of Excellence from the Green Roof Infrastructure Industry Association, among other awards, opened in November 2004 to wide acclaim. With the goal of being Austin’s civic landmark for generations, the $56 million building is intended to befit Austin’s eclectic nature, sense of place and spirit of sustainability.

The City Hall terraces down from Second Street toward Town Lake, “mediating between this busy city grid and the natural realm,” describes the architect. The building is designed to reflect the warmth of Austin by incorporating native natural materials as well as a structure that angles away from adjacent streets, creating several “mini-plazas” around the building. Says Predock:

“Landscape dominates the project. A massive arc of Lueders limestone, emerging from bedrock at the lowest level of the parking garage, anchors the project to the site. Metamorphosing out of this wall is a limestone base that encloses the first two stories. A scrim-like copper skin, resting on the limestone base and capped with a folded copper roof, encloses the upper levels. As the arcing wall cuts through the building it creates an open fourstory lobby transected by catwalk-like bridges at each level. A reflective copper ceiling over the lobby reflects light from a skylight into the space below. On the exterior, limestone, copper, glass, water and shade come together to create the city’s “living room.” Terraces spill out of the building into the plaza in the same way the geologic forces in Austin’s hill country produce the limestone overhangs known as balcones. These terraces, shaded with trees, are prime locations for viewing the activities on the plaza below and Lady Bird Lake beyond.”

A large plaza with a limestone stage for performances and an amphitheater provides public meeting space at the base of City Hall. The large terrace hosts many public gatherings and demonstrations, and reflects Austin’s openness to public feedback, in design and reality. When Street Works conducted its Second Street retail assessment in 2000, it noted “the value of having a civic center as part of the mix, contributing to the district’s identity,” says Evins. “To integrate City Hall with the retail district, we incorporated retail spaces in the corners of city hall.”

Austin City Council’s goal was to create a sustainable public building that would serve as an educational model for green building. Energy and environmental features include: • High degree of recycled content in construction materials, including 99% of the reinforcing steel, 90% of the sheetrock, 82% of the copper material (66,000 square feet of copper is used in the building) and 45% of the concrete masonry • Condensation from the air-conditioning system, at an average of 486 gallons per day, provides the water source for a multilevel waterfall and may also be used for irrigation • More than 80% of the construction debris was recycled, primarily provided to artists and schools • During excavation, workers hit a water source which had to be pumped to protect the foundation–that water was saved and is being used to irrigate the landscaping • All landscaping is native to Texas and large trees have been planted in the plaza to provide shading and reduce heat gain • Photovoltaic cells on the building’s awning above the stairs on the south-side plaza generate an average of 9 kW of electricity daily • The building is part of Austin Energy’s downtown district cooling system, a large thermal energy storage system that produces ice during the night when electricity is cheapest; the ice then creates chilled water used to cool buildings the next day • Interior materials such as paints, carpets and adhesives have low or no volatile organic compounds, increasing indoor air quality • Bicycle storage, showers and lockers encourage alternative transportation • The building features intensive green roof areas

City Hall is not the only building tied into Austin Energy’s district cooling system; most of the Second Street District blocks, at least the retail and commercial portions, also take advantage of the energy-efficient system.

The City Hall sits above 740 underground parking spaces and includes 3,700 square feet of restaurant space along Second Street “to help the retail district wrap around,” says Evins. The space is currently occupied by Austin Java, an independent coffee shop.

Extending Second Street: The New Downtown Austin Plan In 2011, Austin’s City Council adopted a new Downtown Austin Plan that establishes action priorities through 2021, with outcomes that will last well beyond. The plan is based on the continuing growth of the downtown area since 2000, even through two economic downturns. In that time, 6,000 new residents, more than 6,000 new jobs, 1.7 million square feet of office space and 1,500 hotel rooms were added to downtown Austin. Second Street District is a significant part of downtown Austin’s growth, and because of the District’s success and the importance of extending Second Street–both physically and symbolically–the city is building on its public/private partnership development experience for other nearby projects.

Second Street District and the surrounding area are located within the new Downtown Plan’s Core/Waterfront District. Through the district, the plan strives to: • Enhance the Core as the premier employment, cultural and visitor center of the region • Improve the quality of the pedestrian experience • Make it easier to get to downtown and move around without a car • Restore and activate the historic squares • Ensure that the district is a welcoming and affordable place for all • Preserve the historic building fabric

Directly east of Second Street District, two new, iconic mixed-use high-rises incorporate the Great Streets streetscape typologies and extend Second Street’s dynamic urban context. The Ashton was developed by MetLife, Inc. and designed by HKS, Inc., of Dallas. The 36-story tower on Colorado and Second Street includes 258 luxury rental units and a fivelevel parking garage, ground-floor lobby (without retail) and a seventh-floor sky lounge and rooftop pool. The Austonian–located at the northwest corner of the Second Street/Congress Avenue intersection–is a mixed-use tower developed by Benchmark Land Development and designed by Ziegler Cooper Architects. The 700-foot building has 250 luxury condominiums above retail and restaurant space at the northwest corner of Congress Avenue and Second Street.

Other new projects adjacent to Second Street District include the revitalized, historic Republic Square (which hosts a weekly farmers market); a new federal courthouse; upgrades to the Third Street pedestrian bridge and Lance Armstrong Bikeway; and the stunning Ballet Austin Butler Dance Education Center at Third Street and San Antonio. A new 1,000-room Marriott and convention center is scheduled to be built on Second Street adjacent to the Austin Convention Center. The 44-story 360 Building, a 432-unit high-rise residential tower above 15,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and Second Street District and downtown Austin as viewed from Town Lake. streetscape. restaurant space, overlooks Shoal Creek from Third Street and Nueces Street. The city will also extend Second Street west to the 1950sera, Art Deco-designed Seaholm Power Plant and the surrounding 13 acres. The site is being redeveloped as a “high-quality, mixed-use cultural attraction,” according to the city, that will include the newly approved 200,000-squarefoot Austin Central Library plus more than two million square feet of mixed-use development.

Additionally, Evins notes that the city hopes to extend its fledgling streetcar line down Third Street from the Convention Center. The existing line runs from the Convention Center to northwest neighborhoods beyond the state capitol. A November 2012 ballot initiative was scheduled to approve the Third Street extension and provide the necessary $300 million funding.

Conclusion: A Promising Market for Urban Living Given that city leaders hope to draw as many as 13,000 new residents to downtown Austin in the next ten years and provided the growth of nearby hotels, conference centers and entertainment venues, the future for downtown retail and housing is promising. Indeed, “Second Street District has proven to the development community, as well as everyone else, that downtown retail can be viable in Austin,” says Evins, “There is a market for urban living.” Five-thousand residential units are in the works for downtown, including several mixed-use, high-rise projects that are poised to break ground “when the market is ready,” according to Evins. These projects are a direct result of Second Street District’s success.

While Austin experienced its share of challenges from the recent economic downtown, Second Street District has remained economically viable. In 2010, the six-block core area spun off $4.55 million in property taxes–a number that does not reflect the $300 million W Hotel and Residences, completed in late 2010. The project produced $2.29 million in sales taxes in 2010, as well. According to Rodney Gonzales of Austin’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office, “The success of the district, in spite of the recent economic downtown, has regenerated investment in residential and retail projects throughout downtown Austin.”

Downtown Austin Alliance associate director Molly Alexander focuses on the project’s retail mix, saying, “The increase of pedestrian activity on Second Street can be attributed to the number and mix of retail stores and restaurants that are located in the District.” She recognizes that the City’s Great Streets program has been essential, but contends the project’s success is based upon its mixed uses:

Creating the streetscapes was only one component of creating this destination. The most critical aspect to creating vitality and value is the mix of uses that occur at the street level. What the City of Austin and AMLI have done very well is to combine the best use of publically invested dollars into a private-sector model that creates values at and above the street level. The mix of office workers, residents and hotel guests add to the vibrancy of the street, but at its core, it is the mix of uses that create the destination and brand that is Second Street. Longterm, the success of the District will rely heavily on the success of the retail and restaurant businesses.

Austin’s Second Street District is a powerful example of how community vision and collaboration can help redefine place. By incorporating principles of sustainable design, building from the spirit of the place itself, taking an active role in project design and buildout and ensuring a rich mix of uses, the city has achieved its goal of creating a premier, mixed-use retail spine downtown. [14]

Rainey Street[edit]

The Rainey Street Historic District is a community positioned near Lady Bird Lake and Interstate 35 in a southeastern pocket of downtown. The situation at Rainey Street is unique in that the area was once a sleepy residential street, albeit nestled right next to downtown, was rezoned as part of Austin's central business district in 2004. The hope at the time was to incentivize development near the Austin Convention Center and the since-built Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. But while grander development has stalled, bars and eateries have flocked to Rainey, since CBD zoning enables traffic-heavy cocktail bar or restaurant use without any additional zoning request. As such, old bungalows have been fixed up and turned into bars and cocktail lounges with ample backyards and porches.[15]

West End/Market District[edit]

The West End or Market District of Austin is located in the northwest section of Downtown Austin, just north of the Seaholm District and to the west of the Warehouse District.

Seaholm District[edit]

The Seaholm District is a formerly industrial section of southwest downtown Austin that the city wants to transform into a vibrant urban neighborhood. The city of Austin has designated the area from Lady Bird Lake to 5th Street and from Lamar Boulevard to San Antonio Street as the Seaholm District. At the core of the district is the decommissioned Seaholm Power Plant, which will be redeveloped into a landmark residential and retail destination. After several years of delays and false starts due in part to a recession that dried up financing for development, construction is expected to start on redevelopment projects at the former Seaholm Power Plant and the site of the former Green Water Treatment Plant east of Seaholm in 2012. Austin-based Southwest Strategies Group, the project's lead developer, announced plans to begin work on the 450,000 square feet of development to be built on the 7.8 acre site. The projects will transform the decommissioned plants on downtown's southwestern edge into lively hubs with shops, hotels, condominiums, apartments and other development.[16]

Bremond Block Historic District[edit]

The Bremond Block Historic District is a collection of eleven historic homes located in the west corner of downtown, constructed from the 1850s to 1910.[17] The block was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and is considered one of the few remaining upper-class Victorian neighborhoods of the middle to late 19th century in Texas.[18] Six of these houses were built or expanded for members of the families of brothers Eugene and John Bremond, who were prominent in late-19th-century Austin social, merchandising, and banking circles. They are located within the square block bordered by West Seventh, West Eighth, Guadalupe, and San Antonio streets. The district also includes several houses on the west side of San Antonio and the south side of West Seventh, at least three of which were built or altered by the North family.[17]

Judges Hill[edit]

Judges Hill is a largely residential neighborhood is located north of the central business district of downtown Austin on the eastern bluff overlooking Pease Park, bordered by Rio Grande Street, 15th Street, Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Lamar Blvd. In 1851, Elijah Sterling Clack Robertson built the first home in present-day Judges Hill near the corner of 18th and San Gabriel. Although the house was subsequently demolished in 1966. Judge Robertson was the first among the neighborhood resident judges and attorneys who earned the area the name of Judges Hill. The area includes many historically designated properties from the late 19th century, some significant mid-century modern design, student communities and limited multi-family housing.[19]

Red River Cultural District[edit]

The Red River Cultural District is an entertainment district in Downtown Austin. The Austin City Council approved a resolution creating the district on October 17, 2013. The district runs along the 600 - 900 blocks of Red River Street. The resolution also directs the City Manager to address parking and loading and unloading issues in the area and to investigate the state process used to designate an area as a state cultural district. The nightclubs Stubb's, Beerland Mohawk, Red Eyed Fly, Elysium, Barbarella, Metal and Lace, Swan Dive and Plush and a handful of other clubs on nearby side streets are included in the district.

Tallest buildings[edit]


Local government[edit]

The city hall is located in Downtown Austin and is the administrative office of Austin. Originally built in 1871, the city hall was demolished and rebuilt multiple times before the current one was built in November 2004.[20][21] The current city hall cost $55.6 million to build and contains a total of seven stories, of which three are underground.[22] Within the building, city council meetings take place in the council chambers.[23] The city council, including the mayor, are voted by Austin's residents. In 2014, Austin changed its at-large system of electing city council members to a 10-1 district-based system. The mayor serves a four-year term.

Austin Central Fire Station 1, 2, and 4 of the Austin Fire Department, all of which are located in downtown, provide fire protection.[24]

County government[edit]

The Travis County government offices, including the Commissioners Court, district courts, county courts, and other facilities, are located in the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse and other buildings in the Downtown Complex.[25]

State government[edit]

Downtown Austin is dominated by the Texas State Capitol and associated government buildings.

The University of Texas System is headquartered in Downtown Austin.[26] O. Henry Hall, the main headquarters, was originally a federal courthouse and post office.[27] The Thomas J. Rusk State Office Building is located in Downtown Austin. It includes the Texas State University System headquarters.[28]

The Texas Third Court of Appeals is located in the Price Daniel, Sr. State Office Building in Downtown Austin.[29]

The Texas Department of Public Safety operates the Region 7 Capitol office in Downtown Austin.[30]

Federal government[edit]

The United States Courthouse for the Austin division of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas is located in downtown Austin, adjacent to Republic Square Park.[31]

The United States Postal Service operates the Downtown Austin Post Office in Downtown Austin.[32]

Diplomatic missions[edit]

The Consulate General of Ireland in Austin is located in Suite 1720 of Bank of America's financial center at 515 Congress Avenue.[33] The Consulate-General of Mexico in Austin was located in Suite 330 within the 800 Brazos Street/Brazos Place complex.[34] It is now located west of Downtown Austin.[35]


Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority provides public transportation services, including bus, paratransit and since 2010, commuter rail services to Downtown Austin. The Downtown Capital Metrorail is located near the Austin Convention Center on Fourth Street, between Neches and Trinity; the station is outside of the Austin Convention Center.[36]


Whole Foods Market headquarters

Major employers in Downtown Austin include the corporate headquarters and flagship store of Whole Foods Market and GSD&M Idea City.[37][38] Schlotzsky's has its headquarters in the 301 Congress Avenue building in Downtown Austin.[39] The Texas Observer, a magazine, has its headquarters in Downtown Austin.[40] Gowalla also has its headquarters there.[41]

Texas Monthly has its headquarters at 816 Congress Ave. It occupies a 21,610 square feet (2,008 m2) area on the 17th floor of the building. As of 2011 it has about 80 employees. The headquarters was scheduled to move to its current location in the summer of 2011.[42] Previously the headquarters were in Suite 1600 of 701 Brazos.[43]

The Downtown Austin Alliance is a partnership of individuals and business dedicated to promoting Downtown Austin.[44]


Colleges and universities[edit]

Rio Grande Campus of Austin Community College, formerly Austin High School and John T. Allan Junior High School.[45]

Austin Community College operates the Rio Grande Campus in Downtown.

Primary and secondary schools[edit]

Pease Elementary School

Austin Independent School District operates area public schools. The zoned schools are located outside of Downtown. All residents south of 15th Street are zoned to Mathews Elementary School, O. Henry Middle School, and Austin High School. Some residents north of 15th Street are zoned to Lee Elementary School, Kealing Middle School, and McCallum High School. Other residents are zoned to Bryker Woods Elementary School, O. Henry Middle School, and Austin High School.[46] In addition, Pease Elementary School is located in Downtown Austin.[47]

Pease was built in 1876.[48] Mathews was built in 1916.[49] Bryker Woods and Lee were built in 1939.[50][51] McCallum and O. Henry were built in 1953.[52][53] The current Austin High School campus opened in 1975.[54]

The Khabele School, a private middle and high school, is located in Downtown Austin.[55]

Arts and culture[edit]

The Austin Museum of Art – Downtown

Downtown Austin is famous for its culture and 6th Street, a historic street and entertainment district.[56]


Located at 719 Congress Avenue near the capitol building, the State Theater was built in 1935; it was the first theater constructed specifically for the airing of films.[57]

The Paramount Theater is an Austin cultural icon.[58] Built and completed in 1915, it was originally made for vaudeville. Over the years, as movies became the leading form of entertainment, the theater was remodeled with upholstered chairs and a state-of-the-art sound system.[58] The theater would nearly close in the 1960s as people made the move from theaters to television.[58] However, the building would be restored before closing, leading the Paramount Theater to avoid demolition. Today, the theater continues to operate, viewing popular movies.[58]


The Contemporary Austin Jones Center is located at 700 Congress Avenue. The Contemporary Austin is Austin, Texas's primary community art museum, consisting of two primary locations and an art school.


Downtown Austin Magazine (DAM)[59] features articles and guides focused on Downtown Austin, including a restaurant guide and shopping guide. The Texas Tribune has its headquarters in Downtown Austin.[60]


External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Downtown Austin Plan" (Archive). City of Austin. December 8, 2011. p. 1 (PDF 7/203). Retrieved on February 9, 2016.
  2. ^ "Neighborhoods in Brief". Frommer's. Archived from the original on January 19, 2001. Retrieved July 28, 2009. 
  3. ^ Charles D., Spurlin. Waller, Edwin. Handbook of Texas. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ Barnes, Michael (September 7, 2011). "Thank Edwin Waller for Austin's rational plan". Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  5. ^ McGraw, Marburger & Associates. "History of South Congress". Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  6. ^ Whitacre, Whitacre (August 15, 2001). "6th Bar Blues". The Daily Texan. Retrieved July 14, 2009. [permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Barton, Laura (February 23, 2008). "We're Austin Music". The Guardian. Retrieved July 14, 2009. 
  8. ^ Ezell, Kyle (2006). Retire Downtown. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 160, 162. ISBN 978-0-7407-6049-5. Retrieved July 14, 2009. 
  9. ^ "6th Street Revealed". Celebrate Austin Magazine. Retrieved July 14, 2009. [permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Gerbe, Bret (November 8, 2006). "A night on the other side reveals a burgeoning entertainment district among the office buildings and condos". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  11. ^ "APD to ban parking on part of 6th Street during peak hours". Retrieved May 13, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Late-night parking on Sixth Street to end". Retrieved May 13, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Public safety officials to discuss SXSW crash Monday". Retrieved May 13, 2014. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Dunbar, Jr., Wells (January 28, 2011). "The Lure of Rainey Street". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  16. ^ Novak, Shonda (October 17, 2011). "After years of delays, construction in sight for areas in Seaholm District, official says". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on November 21, 2011. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Williamson, Roxanne. "Bremond Block Historic District". Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  18. ^ "TEXAS – Travis County Historic Districts". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved September 7, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Judges Hill History". Judges Hill Neighborhood Association. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Austin City Hall". The City of Austin. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  21. ^ "2nd Street District". The City of Austin. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  22. ^ "About City Hall". The City of Austin. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  23. ^ "Council Chambers". The City of Ausitn. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Austin Fire Department Station Map". The City of Austin. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  25. ^ "Travis County Downtown Complex." Travis County. Retrieved on March 10, 2010.
  26. ^ "UT System Contact Information." University of Texas System. Retrieved on October 3, 2009.
  27. ^ "Historic Federal Courthouses Austin, Texas." Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved on May 28, 2010.
  28. ^ "Contact Information Archived April 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." Texas State University System. Retrieved on November 15, 2008.
  29. ^ "Contact Information Archived February 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." Texas Third Court of Appeals. Retrieved on March 9, 2010.
  30. ^ "Regional Contact Information" (Archive). Texas Department of Public Safety. Retrieved on April 24, 2014. "Region 7 (Capitol) 1500 North Congress Austin, TX 78701"
  31. ^ Castillo, Juan (December 3, 2012). "New federal courthouse opens in Austin". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved January 17, 2018. 
  32. ^ "Post Office Location – DOWNTOWN AUSTIN Archived April 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." United States Postal Service. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
  33. ^ Affairs, Department of Foreign. "Austin - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade". Retrieved 2016-06-02. 
  34. ^ "Contactenos Archived May 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." (Spanish) Consulate-General of Mexico in Austin. Retrieved on November 17, 2008.
  35. ^ "Contactenos Archived May 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." (Spanish) Consulate-General of Mexico in Austin. Retrieved on February 23, 2011. "Contactenos Consulado General de México en Austin 410 Baylor Street. Austin, Texas. 78703."
  36. ^ "Downtown Station". Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on March 25, 2010. Retrieved May 8, 2010. 
  37. ^ "World Headquarters". Whole Foods Market. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  38. ^ "About Us". GSD&M. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  39. ^ "Contact Us Archived January 4, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." Schlotzsky's. Retrieved on February 25, 2010.
  40. ^ "Contact." The Texas Observer. Retrieved on May 6, 2010.
  41. ^ "Terms Archived November 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.." Gowalla. Retrieved on December 5, 2011. "610 W 5th Suite 604 Austin, TX 78701"
  42. ^ "Texas Monthly moving back downtown". Austin Business Journal. 2011-05-12. Retrieved 2017-02-08.  - Updated May 13, 2011.
  43. ^ "Media Kit." Texas Monthly. Retrieved on September 5, 2009. "TEXAS MONTHLY ATTN: Nicki Longoria 701 Brazos, Suite 1600 Austin, TX 78701"
  44. ^ "Welcome to Downtown Austin, Texas". Downtown Austin Alliance. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  45. ^ "Austin High School Historical Marker Text". Texas Historical Commission. Retrieved July 5, 2007. [permanent dead link]
  46. ^ "School Assignment by Residential Address." Austin Independent School District. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  47. ^ "Pease Elementary School Archived February 9, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." Pease Elementary School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  48. ^ "Campus Facts Archived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." Pease Elementary School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  49. ^ "Campus Facts Archived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." Mathews Elementary School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  50. ^ "Campus Facts Archived June 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." Bryker Woods Elementary School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  51. ^ "Campus Facts Archived June 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." Lee Elementary School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  52. ^ "Campus Facts Archived June 15, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.." O. Henry Middle School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  53. ^ "Campus Facts Archived November 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.." McCallum High School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  54. ^ "Campus Facts Archived May 5, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.." Austin High School. Retrieved on April 20, 2009.
  55. ^ Home Archived July 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.. Khabele School. Retrieved on August 12, 2011. "801 Rio Grande, Austin TX 78701"
  56. ^ "About Austin's 6th Street". Archived from the original on June 23, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  57. ^ "State Theater". Retrieved January 27, 2013. 
  58. ^ a b c d "The Paramount Theatre – History". Austin Theatre. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  59. ^
  60. ^ "Contact Us." The Texas Tribune. Retrieved on May 30, 2010.

Coordinates: 30°16′16″N 97°44′35″W / 30.271°N 97.743°W / 30.271; -97.743