For longtime fans of the Republic office tower plan, announced all the way back in 2018 atop the full block directly south of Republic Square at 401 West Fourth Street in downtown Austin, seeing the start of substantial site prep on the project over the last few months is something like a dream come true.
But even without taking into account that a neat-looking building is eventually set to rise here, the really inspiring thing about the Republic site is that there’s no longer a block-sized surface parking lot sitting next door to Republic Square, a real eyesore adjacent to one of downtown’s best public spaces — as part of the tower’s ongoing site prep on behalf of its development team at Lincoln Property Company, Phoenix Property Company, and DivcoWest, that lot is now closed and torn to pieces:
Thankful this wasn’t a historic parking lot pic.twitter.com/qlWXTJsBcq
— Greg Anderson (@WalkableAustin) May 30, 2022
We’re proud to call ourselves some of Austin’s nastiest haters of surface parking lots in the downtown core, a wasteful and anti-urban land use category capable of outright killing what makes cities memorable places for people. You might recall that the park at Republic Square next door to this site, now so intrinsic to the pleasant urban fabric of its surroundings that a casual visitor to Austin might easily believe it’s looked exactly this way since the city’s founding, was instead used for decades as a parking lot until its conversion back to green space during the bicentennial in 1976.
From that early success all the way to this month’s removal of the parking lot at the Republic site, we are slowly but surely clawing back our cities from the paved supremacy imposed on many downtown cores by the combined impact of 20th century development patterns and urban renewal — block by block, piece by piece, the rescue of these spaces illustrates the endless possibilities we’ve hidden under asphalt for a generation. The irony of even the most hard-fought removals of parking in favor of real buildings and real places is that once these projects succeed, it becomes instantly absurd to even entertain the possibility that we’d ever return that land to its previous use. It’s just hard to see until you break through the pavement.
When a parking lot is removed, people find other places to park, often in parking structures that serve their purpose more efficiently by actually containing a building on top. There are still caveats to all this feel-good stuff at the Republic site, since the future tower contains an approximately 15-floor garage podium we’d vastly prefer was both smaller and situated below the ground, not to mention the presence of two other block-sized over-parked eyesores elsewhere around Republic Square we still need to deal with. But don’t let our city’s many land use failures tarnish the enjoyment of this particularly odious parking lot’s demise — almost anything is better than what it was.