Earlier this summer, we were pretty darn proud to bring our readers the first-ever look at 80 Rainey Street, a 644-unit apartment and retail tower planned by local developers Lincoln Ventures for an assembly of properties between 78 to 84 Rainey Street currently occupied by a food truck park. We find this plan remarkable not only for its unique location — sitting mid-block in the heart of Rainey Street itself, not on a corner like many of the area’s recent towers — but also in its efforts to preserve and integrate both of the historic bungalows currently sitting at either end of its site into the project’s design rather than removing them.
The development’s application for a density bonus, necessary to achieve its desired maximum floor-to-area ratio of 20 to 1, is scheduled to appear before the city’s Design Commission at its meeting this coming Monday. We won’t know for sure until then whether 80 Rainey will receive its bonus, but judging by the considerable additions of its ground-level design — containing more than 12,000 square feet of retail and bar space spread between several locations around the tower’s base including the site’s two preserved bungalows and a so-called basement “speakeasy” — we can’t imagine the project falling short on any urban design metrics requesting a vibrant streetscape.
The tower’s density bonus application doesn’t include any new renderings we haven’t already seen from our comprehensive overview back in September, but one illustration caught our eye in a big way — the folks at Lincoln Ventures, or at least the architects they hired at Chicago-based firm Pappageorge Haymes, went to the trouble of putting together a 3D massing of Rainey Street’s future skyline based on all the towers currently planned here, as a way to show the 80 Rainey project in proper context. We do this sort of thing all the time with our famous green boxes, but imagine how it might look if someone with any artistic skill whatsoever took a stab at it:
The gang’s all here, and the 3D massings actually look pretty close to the real towers, both existing and planned. It’s a shocking reminder of how far the Rainey district has come even in the last few years — recall that when 70 Rainey opened in 2019, it was the tallest tower in the neighborhood, and now it barely stands out in this lineup. The Rainey area, comparatively isolated from the rest of the skyline due to its location on the little peninsula between the lake and the highway, has felt lately like a separate downtown Austin within downtown Austin — and soon, it’s going to have its own skyline, part of the larger whole from a distance but notably dense with new construction even compared with other fast-growing pockets of downtown.
The common refrain from those that remember the earlier stages of Rainey Street’s transformation from a residential neighborhood to a district of bars is that this newer development risks robbing the area of its historic character, and with an emphasis on preserving its site’s original bungalows, projects like 80 Rainey clearly don’t want to contribute to this perception. But it’s important to recall that the presence of bars on the street in the first place represented a transitional phase, a pleasant unintended side effect of the 2008 financial crisis slowing down longstanding plans for the street’s development after its 2005 rezoning — an action notably supported by a majority of the neighborhood’s residents, for what it’s worth.
Since then, the plan was always for towers to rise on Rainey, but the unexpected cultural draw of the street’s bungalow conversions has changed the narrative around here somewhat, creating a natural tension between new (towers) and slightly less new (cocktail bars) that’s sort of ironic considering the neighborhood’s actual working-class residential origins. As both a curious experiment in urban design and an eye-popping testament to the transformative power of zoning, the exploding Rainey Street reflects the less rapid, but constant change we see across Austin — so it’s only fair that your feelings on the neighborhood these days probably reflect your position on the city’s growth as a whole. No matter how you feel, it seems easy for us all to agree that preserving the old while raising 49 floors of the new in the middle of Rainey Street is probably a new benchmark for developing downtown without pissing everybody off.