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Republic Square Salt & Time sign takes more time

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Republic Square is one of the original squares in the city of Austin, but it has long been an underutilized spot in the city center. In an effort to activate the space, the city has worked for the past few years to revitalize the park, and this year, there will be another addition to the square.

The restaurant Salt & Time will be opening a 342-square-foot kiosk at 422 Guadalupe St. However, because the park is historic, the owners came before the Historic Landmark Commission at its Jan. 27 meeting to request approval for their two signs, which are both larger than what is permitted in historic districts. The sign on the south side of the building is 29 square feet and the one on the east side is 37 square feet. The review standards for historic districts limit sign size to a maximum of 20 square feet.

There is also a neon ampersand on the signs, and neon is prohibited on pre-1950 building facades.

Due to the tree canopy that inhibits the view of pedestrians, the commission and city staff agreed it would be appropriate for the signs on the concession stand to be larger than what is allowed under city code. Commissioners expressed a preference for a sign that is wider than it is tall. After offering their design suggestions to Natalie Davis, the owner and design director for Salt & Time, the commission voted unanimously to postpone the case until February to allow Davis a chance to redesign the sign on the eastern facade.

Several commissioners, including Chair Emily Reed and Commissioner Kelly Little, called the situation “unique,” saying a visible sign is required to draw attention to the new amenity and ensure the success of the park. Commissioner Kevin Koch agreed that having the park successfully activated with regular visitors to the historic site “trumps” the conventional restrictions on sign size. “To me, it’s not really distracting from anything historic,” he said of the current sign design.

Commissioner Blake Tollett noted that such a large sign was unnecessary in a park where the kiosk café will be the only amenity. “It will be very difficult to confuse where the concessions are,” he said.

Molly Alexander, the executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation, told commissioners the large sign is not simply to attract those in the square but to alert passersby who are in their vehicles or getting off the bus. Since the kiosk is intended to be open seven days a week and serve beer and wine, Alexander said attracting the before-work and after-work crowds will be essential to its success.

However, the sign was not the only addition to the square that commissioners discussed.

“It’s a little back-asswards to consider the sign when we haven’t seen the building,” said Commissioner Terri Myers, who explained that she did not recall reviewing this building in the master plan for the square. “I would really like to have a discussion with someone about the building.”

Commissioner Little agreed that she would like to review the building, but said, “I think the sign itself is fine.”

A spokesperson for the Downtown Austin Alliance clarified for the Austin Monitor that the concession building was a part of the original master plan and was completed in June 2018.

With commissioners divided on their opinions regarding the sign and Davis in agreement to explore a redesign for the sign, the commission voted unanimously to postpone the case. Commissioners Ben Heimsath and Emily Hibbs were absent.

Rendering by fd2s courtesy of the city of Austin.

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