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Commission ponders demolition permits for 21c Museum Hotel project

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Historic Landmark Commission on Monday cleared the way for the demolition of one property in the Rainey Street Neighborhood to make way for the new 21c Museum Hotel and gave the property owner two weeks to work on plans for moving an adjacent home that dates back to the mid-1880s.


Developers plan to break ground on the new hotel, condominium, and museum project in 2009 and hope to open in 2011. Plans call for a 243-room hotel to be built first, followed later by a separate 49-story condominium tower with 295 units. The project had originally been slated for a site at Third and Brazos streets, but developers announced earlier this year they had picked a new location at Cesar Chavez and Red River.  The total investment for the project will be $350 million.


The project will require the demolition of the building that currently houses the Chain Drive Bar at 504 Willow, which is a one-block street that connects to Red River. “The building itself is not historic,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowski. The structure dates back to 1968. “But I thought this should come to the commission for review. I think the Chain Drive has some iconic business connotations within the city.” The Chain Drive is a gay bar that has been in its current location since 1989.


Property owner Perry Lorenz is working with the owners of the bar to help them re-locate. “The owner of the business and the owner of the building are long-time friends,” said Ben Turner, who represented Lorenz at the meeting. “This particular landowner has other facilities that might be suitable, and we’re most willing to help move his business.”


Lorenz also owns an adjacent property at 96½ Red River Street and is seeking a demolition permit for that building as well. The Cumberland plan-style home dates back to the mid-1880s and is currently being used as a duplex. Turner, acting on behalf of Lorenz, requested that the commission delay consideration of that demolition permit—or beginning the process of declaring the structure historic—until next meeting. That will allow city staff to conduct further research on the home and for Turner and Lorenz to work on plans for relocating it. Staff recommended that the home be declared historic as an alternative to demolition.


“What I’d like to suggest is that we explore the possibility of moving it,” said Turner. “What we would hope that would be allowed to work with staff and move it if we can…Mr. Lorenz does have property in East Austin he could move it to.” That option was also considered in 2000, when the site was discussed as a new headquarters for the high-tech firm Vignette.


“Generally, I’m opposed to moving houses, but I know that this house is like a hostage in this area,” said new Commissioner Terri Myers. “Even though it hasn’t been maintained, it is a remarkably intact house. We have remarkably few houses from that period.” The request for a demolition permit will be back on the HLC’s agenda on August 25.

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