At its meeting earlier this week, Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission approved a demolition permit for the 1946 commercial building at 812 West 12th Street, a storefront that for 15 years was home to the beloved local skate shop No-Comply. The presence of the shop around the corner from a city skatepark and the hilly topography of West 12th Street itself adds up to a sort of microculture in this area we’ve called the city’s “Skateboard District” — it’s the only place downtown where you’ll reliably see kids on skateboards at all hours, and there’s also a BMX park down the street that fully rounds out the area’s improbable reputation for adventure sports.
That culture is safely intact thanks to Austin Community College, the landlords of the former No-Comply building now slated for demolition — which responded to widespread public outcry over the pending eviction by offering the shop’s owner, former pro skater Elias Bingham, a new space for the shop just steps down the street at 824 West 12th Street, in the vacant ground-level retail space of its parking garage for the nearby Rio Grande Campus. ACC really fumbled into this situation, gracelessly posting a demolition notice on the door of the shop and only working to reach a compromise with the new space after receiving seemingly unexpected pushback from all corners, but ultimately saving the shop in this location is commendable.
Despite a lack of associations or specific character making it eligible for historic preservation, the demolition of the old structure at 812 West 12th Street is still a minor injury, since it’s a type of small-scale commercial architecture in short supply around today’s downtown — we aren’t building any more of it, after all. But the big insult is why ACC wants to demolish the building: an expansion of its existing parking garage next door, which will roughly double the structured parking space in this area with more multistory garage extending all the way to the corner at West Avenue.
The demolition of an old, but not historic building for an active use like housing would be understandable, but the college removing such an interesting structure for parking seems deeply short-sighted, especially in light of the increasing pandemic-era demand for remote learning among its own students. ACC bought the 812 West 12th property in 2009, and released the first draft of its campus master plan designating the site for a future garage project in 2011 — the 205-page campus master plan document uses the word “parking” a whopping 379 times. According to a letter of opposition to the demolition by the Old Austin Neighborhood Association, by the recommended metrics of ACC’s own plan the Rio Grande campus is already overparked by 175 spaces.
More than a decade later, the context of this site has clearly changed, with a number of new commercial and residential projects planned in the immediate area. For what it’s worth, representatives of ACC told members of the HLC this week that no funding is currently being sought for a parking garage project at the site, and there is always the potential for these existing campus expansion plans to adapt with the times. At the very least, we hope that ACC integrates ground-level retail into any future parking structures at this location, since including such a space in its previous garage is how No-Comply was able to survive here in the first place.
Even as they ultimately approved the demolition due to the building’s lack of landmark eligibility, some on the Historic Landmark Commission expressed a similar sentiment from the dais, including Commissioner Witt Featherston — who commented that despite the operation of affordable retail space not being explicitly within the purview of the community college, it seemed like a valuable asset for the benefit of the surrounding student population, and was at least spiritually aligned with other forward-thinking initiatives by ACC like the adaptive reuse of the former Highland Mall as a dynamic and creative campus. We’re inclined to agree, but we also realize with No-Comply safely relocated there’s no real fight left for preserving this building. We just hope that whatever ultimately replaces it is more complimentary to the unique culture of this pocket of downtown than a parking garage.