The community engagement process for the design of a new downtown electrical substation at 55 East Avenue on the edge of the Rainey Street District has reached a conclusion — of the three themes put to a vote a couple of months ago, Austin Energy announced yesterday that the “modern” design option for screening the facility eventually won out. Here’s what that looks like, if you don’t recall:
We also had an opportunity to vote on a name, and despite the bold submissions of Sparky McSparkface, Volty McVoltface, and Subby McSubstation, the simple, yet sufficiently-descriptive Rainey Street Substation took the gold. Austinites taking the survey also submitted landscaping preferences, which included some interesting options like artificial boulders and succulents — but in the end, natural boulders and landscaping with native grasses and wildflowers were the clerar winners. Per Austin Energy, finalized renderings of the substation and its chosen design features will come out by the end of the summer.
The modern design is attractive and likely the best choice of the three options presented — the system works, folks! — but the most important feature of this substation will be its improvements to the sidewalk and streetscape of East Avenue, a section of the Rainey Street District currently rivaling the actual Rainey Street itself for upcoming development and future potential, not to mention its own access and mobility concerns.
If we seem weirdly invested in this seemingly mundane piece of infrastructure, it’s because the conditions that led to its placement at 55 East Avenue didn’t anticipate the current growth patterns of the neighborhood — the city bought the site in 1999 — and now the downtown substation’s design must do its best to not completely screw up the street-level experience in a small corridor with multiple hotels and at least one condo tower in the works on either side of it.
By improving the sidewalks, and screening the station with some “colorful metal elements” alongside other landscaping, seating, and so on, the intent is to elevate a traditionally ugly facility to something that arguably improves the district, or at least doesn’t do anything to seriously harm it. Some of the survey responses highlighted in Austin Energy’s report make it very clear this is a priority for residents, with at least one person politely begging the city not to “make it an ugly eyesore like the Seaholm substation.” The pressure’s on!
Not to brag, but this very site shows up quite a bit in the community engagement report — turns out the forms embedded in our two articles on the substation captured more than 200 survey responses alone, meaning our readers had a significant influence on which design eventually won the day. Did you know you could actively shape the future of downtown just by reading our blog? Just one more reason to subscribe to our newsletter!