As part of our longstanding beef with the mismanagement of Austin’s numerous historic properties on East Sixth Street, we’ve often complained that one of the reasons this entertainment district’s conga line of seedy shot bars remain so similar to one another in character is that they’re mostly owned by the same handful of people, who for years have had a vested interest in keeping things just the way they are.
But in the wake of several recent shootings, with a sort of reckoning underway at the city on how we might improve public safety in this landmark district, we’ve started thinking about the problem another way — what if one entity owned a large portion of the street and elected to use its powers for good? We’re hoping that’s the case with the folks at Dallas-based real estate firm Stream Realty Partners, Austin’s largest commercial property management outfit and now the proud owner of approximately 32 separate addresses in the East Sixth bar district, per county records.
According to previous reports in 2020, these sites were bought up under various Stream-connected entities from a number of owners including shampoo magnate and major Sixth Street landowner John McCall, with current records indicating the transactions took place over the last two years or so — over a year ago, coverage named 10 properties changing hands, a number that has now more than tripled.
Though it’s not quite the whole street, at the moment Stream runs the show on the north side of two full blocks between Neches and Sabine Streets, except for a lone apparent holdout at 502 East Sixth Street, operating as the Lone Star Souvenir & Food Mart and owned by an entity seemingly unrelated to Stream, FRC&A LLC. It’s also highly likely that the firm has more properties in its crosshairs on Sixth, with some transactions potentially not yet public or via LLCs we haven’t yet identified.
Stream also owns a dense cluster of former McCall holdings on both sides of the street at the district’s “gateway” near the I-35 frontage road, including the former home of the Downtown Austin Community Court at 719 East Sixth Street, the now-shuttered original location of bakery and beer garden Easy Tiger at 709 East Sixth Street, and a parking lot that could potentially be developed at 712 East Sixth Street. Earlier this year, Stream applied for a Capitol View Corridor assessment for that north parking lot and the area on the south site of the street east of Waller Creek between 709 and 725 East Sixth Street, a region mostly constrained by multiple view corridors but potentially capable of some form of low-rise infill development.
But what does it all mean? Previous reports suggest that Stream is simply making a good investment, but even if that’s the case, we think a large professional outfit wouldn’t buy up such a vast assortment of adjacent sites without at least some sort of vision in mind for that investment — perhaps not major development, since the district is largely (and rightfully) protected by its historic status, but at least a more active form of stewardship that could elevate the region’s public safety standards in line with some of the latest ideas we’ve seen.
The deep pockets and organization of a major corporate landowner could more easily partner with the city on improvements to the district, maintaining consistent policies between multiple retail spaces and possibly even seeking rezonings for more diverse uses on Sixth, perhaps enabled by assorted infill development along the way. It’s all a little hazy at the moment, but let’s take a look at two recent quotes that suggest this direction, the first from a podcast interview with Stream partner Preston Young:
Ralph Bivins: Your firm has also acquired a lot of retail, bars and old commercial buildings and parcels along Sixth Street entertainment blocks in downtown Austin. What is your vision for this expanding assemblage?
Preston Young: It’s like the old adage from Mark Twain: “Buy land. They’re not making any more of it.” We are big believers in Austin. We all felt Austin was a special place before others did, and we are heavily invested in it. We are looking at the real estate and the place making. We are looking at the residential resurgence in downtown Austin, the walkability factor there. When you have a good handle on the real estate in a certain area, you have options. I can’t look you in the eye right now and tell you what our plans are for the next 10 years. But we know from pure history that tying up land sites will portend good things for the future.
And the second from some guy on Reddit:
Little insider info here, Stream has quietly bought up most of the bars on 6th street and will be attempting to emulate Broadway St in Nashville.
More daytime bars and restaurants, live music, family friendly, etc. The vast majority of crime on 6th street is committed by minors and imo pandering to an older audience will help dramatically.
If you can’t trust a guy named “Shpoopler,” brother, who can you trust? Anyway, if anyone at Stream’s reading this, how do you folks feel about a night market?