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Three Congress storefronts will soon be dismantled

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

For over a decade, three properties at 907, 909 and 911 Congress Ave. have stood vacant as they awaited a plan to restore their original facades. In September of 2006, two of the properties were approved for dismantling, but now the owner, Dalton Wallace, has approached the Historic Landmark Commission to ask that all three be approved for deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction.

At their June 25 meeting, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky presented the commissioners with very specific instructions about how to handle this request. “The best proposal here is to deconstruct these facades and then reconstruct them after the (high-rise) behind them is completed,” he said. “The question before the commission tonight is whether you all believe this is appropriate treatment for these buildings.”

Although the commission was concerned that this request was putting the cart before the horse, it unanimously approved the dismantling and storage of these three historic facades while the planned high-rise project behind the facades is constructed.

“The concern is letting the dismantling happen separate from the project,” explained Commissioner Keith Koch. He asked if it would not be easier to deconstruct the walls while the project happens and “do it all at once.”

According to project architect Tom Hatch, the approval to dismantle the walls does not necessarily mean that it would occur well in advance of the project. He said that the recommendation to approve the proposed treatment of the walls is the logical next step to ensure that the project design can move forward knowing that the walls will safely be tucked away during construction.

Staff agreed. “If they cannot get an affirmative decision … they’re hesitant to go forward with the whole project because they don’t know what they can do,” explained Sadowsky.

Wallace, too, assured the commission that he has no intention of doing anything but safely reconstructing the facades once the project is complete. He even offered to do so beforehand if the project does not come to fruition. “I will reconstruct the walls within two years whether or not the project is finished,” he said. Wallace even offered a cash bond to guarantee that he would reconstruct the walls within the promised time frame.

He explained that the high-rise project, although not fully designed, would be beneficial for both him and the city. “(I want to) get some money on the tax rolls for the city of Austin and make a couple bucks for myself, maybe,” he said. Even though the commissioners requested that they would like to see project plans, both Wallace and Hatch explained that producing the plans before they were granted approval to take down the walls would not be fiscally responsible. According to Wallace, it would cost $850,000 to produce the project plans.

This chicken-and-egg argument turned around several times before the commissioners agreed to approve the dismantling and storage, and then reconstruction and restoration, of the historic walls pending the approval and completion of Wallace’s larger project. There was, however, one additional recommendation made by Commissioner Alex Papavasiliou. He noted that he would like to have the location of the facades documented so that they are not lost if an accident happens or the project remains incomplete for an undetermined period.

Facade rendering courtesy of the city of Austin. Photo of current facades via Google Maps.

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