If you’re a real Towershead, you’re aware of our laser focus on the northwest region of downtown Austin as the next big hotspot for development around here. Upcoming residential tower projects like the Linden, Shoal Cycle, Annie B, 14th & Lavaca, and many more are set to bring a new population all across this region over the next few years, and we’re hoping that development sparks a more vibrant commercial life on the street — as we’ve pointed out before, the Linden is the first real residential tower built in this part of downtown since the 1960s, a factoid that often makes people’s eyes bug out and wonder where we went wrong. (The State of Texas didn’t help here.)
A typical view of downtown from the low-rise environs of the Lawyer District.
Spend some time in the area bound by Lavaca Street and North Lamar Boulevard between, say, East Seventh Street and MLK Jr. Boulevard, and you’ll mostly see old homes occupied by law offices — there’s a few small apartment projects and other office uses, but outside of stuff like ACC’s Rio Grande campus, you can call this area the “Lawyer District” of downtown and most people know what you mean. The Downtown Austin Plan calls this general area of downtown the “Northwest District,” but we can probably do better:
What’s unique about this part of downtown is its density of historic properties, which means the increasing development in the area has to be a bit more strategic about its placement. What we’d really like to see over the next decade here is the development of taller buildings on the large number of surface parking lots and otherwise non-historic buildings in the area, with adaptive reuse transforming some of the former homes now used as offices into more pedestrian-friendly residential and retail.
While we’re not expecting the creation of a new downtown district overnight, there’s some promising plans currently in motion that could take us a few small steps in that general direction. A rezoning passed earlier this month by Austin City Council at its May 4 meeting for 707 West 10th Street, a collection of law offices occupying a three-story former residence dating back to 1901 at the southwest corner of West 10th Street and West Avenue, could be big for the area — the zoning change takes the 0.23-acre property from General Office (GO) to Downtown Mixed-Use with a Conditional Overlay (DMU-CO) limiting the height of any development here to 60 feet.
The purpose of the rezoning is to allow the property’s new owner, an LLC connected with local developer LV Collective, to adapt the existing building into a mixed-use project that could contain residential or hotel uses along with a cocktail lounge on the ground floor, as described in the rezoning application. The developers even scored the approval of the Old Austin Neighborhood Association for the rezoning — despite its Board of Directors stating that bars are typically not an “acceptable” use for the area — by agreeing to limit the size of the cocktail lounge to under 1,000 square feet.
While details aren’t yet available about how the hotel and/or residential uses mentioned in the rezoning application factor into what’s planned here, it’s still a massive breath of fresh air to see a business like this proposed in the Lawyer District. We’re not saying this part of downtown needs to become the next Rainey Street, but a more eclectic mix of businesses and housing in this area could help downtown’s sleepiest corner become a place people actually like to visit — let’s put a few more projects like this nearby and just see what happens, huh?