North Loop’s a great neighborhood, but it’s not particularly dense. The eastern boundary of the region, which is generally agreed to end around Airport Boulevard, is known for its interesting restaurants and such, but as you go north towards East Koenig Lane (also known as Texas State Highway Spur 69), the attractions dry up a little. North of East 53rd Street, you’ll find car dealerships and not much else, except for the building housing Burger Tex and the supremely divey joint Barfly’s on the second story.
I’m only describing this area in detail because it’s the last place on earth you’d think to put a (self-described) “luxury” apartment development, but then again, we live in Austin. Take that to mean whatever you like — anyway, they’re building apartments behind Barfly’s, and it’s kind of a weird spot, okay?
Flora is the name of the project, with developers Journeyman Group bringing 194 units to a 1.32 acre site at 5406 Middle Fiskville Road. That’s directly behind the Burger Tex / Barfly’s building, next door to a small apartment complex dating back to the 1960s, some industrial buildings, loading docks for the backside of Lammes Candies, and one dog training facility that definitely also used to be an industrial building.
You might describe Middle Fiskville Road and the surrounding streets as “gritty,” which is why it’s the perfect environment for one of the best dive bars on the planet — but it seems the project’s willing to bet on this area’s continued growth enough to justify a higher-end apartment community.
That’s probably not a terrible idea, considering what’s going on around here — ACC Highland, the Lincoln Center’s redevelopment, and the various injections of density set to transform the former Highland Mall site, to name a few.
To that end, this complex is designed as a four-story vertical mixed-use building, satisfying the city’s requirements that 75% of its frontage be designated as commercial space by including six live/work units facing Middle Fiskville Road. It’s also got two floors of underground parking, with excavation already underway — there’s also a crane up at the site, which is something you don’t see that often on this side of town.
I’m always fascinated by the first developments to stake a claim in these quiet extremities of the city’s usual growth areas. Projects like the Guthrie (which also coincidentally includes live/work units) and the South Shore Highline mixed-use building are arguably the first of their kind in the areas they’ve chosen, and I believe developments that come after these early adopters will replicate their designs.
That’s why, despite it being an admittedly bizarre spot to put live/work storefronts, I’m glad this project’s doing what it’s doing — if we’re going to build in this area, I’d prefer the buildings to do a little more than single-use apartments would. Mixed-use design is always going to lead to better places, although I’d be curious to see what kind of commercial uses these spaces end up getting in an area with little existing foot traffic besides bar patrons.
Speaking of which, I know it’s a little out of character for me as an advocate for smart development, but I really hope this project doesn’t signal the end of Barfly’s. That bar and its dollar beers must be preserved at all costs.