Plans for improvements on the ground floor of downtown Austin’s historic Scarbrough Building appear to be moving forward, based on new documents out of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission. Remember, everything built in the Congress Avenue Historic District has to hit the commission’s desk at some point, and this project’s up for discussion at tonight’s meeting, giving us a closer look at what to expect.
For what it’s worth, the project is listed as recommended for approval by the commission, with an additional recommendation that the applicants “reconsider the use of steel planters in favor of a material and design more compatible with the historic character of the adjacent Scarbrough Building, or refer the application to the Certificate of Appropriateness Review Committee.” That’s not a huge concern, so this plan will probably make it at tonight’s meeting, but if something changes we’ll update this post as soon as we learn more.
EDIT: The commission unanimously voted to refer the application to the HLC’s Certificate of Appropriateness Review Committee for further discussion. Looks like those planters might be an issue after all. Can we make them out of historic steel or something?
Anyway, what are we looking at? These designs, by landscape architecture firm dwg., show outdoor patio space providing an alfresco dining area for two restaurants — at least one of which will be hipster Chuck E. Cheese’s competitor Punch Bowl Social — along with a coffee shop, all of which are planned on the building’s ground floor at the corner of Congress Avenue and Sixth Street. There also appears to be a sculpture destined for the corner, but we’ll get to that later.
This plan relocates existing bike racks and benches currently on the corner, and also reclaims four parking spots in front of the building along Congress Avenue — this appears to be enabled by the city’s street patio program, and actually isn’t the first space of its kind designed by dwg.
The design keeps the trees fronting the building along Congress Avenue while adding greenery in planters on both sides of the corner. It appears the planter facing Sixth Street is shaped to create additional bench seating separate from the cafe-style chairs.
Although it’s nice to see, this whole thing is pretty straightforward, and little has changed since the last plans we looked at — except for one extremely important new detail, that is.
Older documents for this project described a sculpture of some kind sitting at the corner of Congress Avenue and Sixth Street, but didn’t include any detail beyond that. Curiouser still, the plans showed a bat-shaped bronze inlay at a certain spot on the sidewalk, seemingly to mark where you were supposed to stand to look at the statue. Spooky! Anyway, here’s what that’s all about.
Stand in the wrong spot, and you’ll see something like this:
But the brave soul standing upon the bronze bat sees this:
Now that’s what I call keepin’ it weird, folks! Actually, this sculpture serves as a striking commentary on the whole “Keep Austin Weird” thing, whether or not its artist intended for me to interpret it that way — namely, that the famous edict of our city’s most cherished marketing campaign only grants such tolerance of difference to a narrow selection of its population, and might as well be invisible from other perspectives. But I’m no art critic!
Anyway, improving the street-level experience on Congress Avenue is something Austin’s talked about for years, decades, perhaps even more than a century. But things are finally, actually looking up for the city’s main street, with multiple patios, parklets, and outdoor dining spaces either built or currently planned along the downtown stretch of the avenue.
This is the future urbanists want. pic.twitter.com/ndGAET2WX0
— Fire+Furry (@Mateo_in_ATX) April 23, 2018
For example, another similar space is expected at the Littlefield Building across the block in the near future, not to mention the friendlier ground floor underway at Bank of America Tower on the other side of the street. It’s enough to make you want to sit and stay a while, isn’t it?