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City postpones skate shop demolition

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

A groundswell of support for a beloved Austin skate shop did not fall upon unsympathetic ears at the Historic Landmark Commission.

Austin Community College was seeking a permit to demolish No-Comply Skate Shop at 812 W. 12th St. to make way for a parking garage. The school needs permission from the city’s Historic Landmark Commission. The commission can initiate historic zoning for the building, which would prevent its demolition if approved by City Council. On Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to postpone it to their August meeting.

At the meeting, commissioners were flooded with testimony about the role that No-Comply plays in the community. Speakers highlighted charitable contributions, mentorship and support for the arts, and asked commissioners to do what they could to save the shop.

“We’ve never had this kind of outpouring of support before,” said Chair Terri Myers, who noted that in addition to the speakers, the commission had received more than 4,000 emails objecting to the demolition. In all, 70 speakers signed up to speak on the proposed demolition – two in support of the permit, 68 against.

Speaking on behalf of ACC, CFO Neil Vickers pointed to the recent $80 million preservation of the historic Austin High School just next door as an example of the school’s commitment to preserving Austin’s heritage. 

“We’re very much supportive of trying to maintain the legacy of Austin in any way we can,” he said. 

However, he said that ACC had purchased the West 12th property with the intention of demolishing it to expand the campus. A letter from Chancellor Richard Rhodes explains that the building was identified for razing in 2007 and was officially included in ACC’s master plan in 2011.

“The neighborhood where it may have fit at one point, it’s not the same neighborhood,” Vickers said. He urged commissioners to separate support for the tenant of the building – the skate shop – with support for preservation of the building itself. 

Myers acknowledged the difference, but said not taking the outpouring of support for the business into account would be a mistake. “While the residential area might be gone, there is a community of people who do frequent this building, and it’s part of their community,” she said.

No-Comply owner Elias Bingham spoke against the demolition. He asked commissioners to delay the demolition in order to give the business time to find a new location, if granting historic designation wasn’t possible.

“What has been built around this building in the last 14 years is considered of great significance to the Austin community and beyond,” he said. “No-Comply Skate Shop exists, not just as a small business, but as a community member and a platform of and for Austin.”

Many of the speakers shared that sentiment.

Mark Jackson, the chief development officer of Central Texas Food Bank, told the commission that during the pandemic, the shop raised $200,000 “to support people facing hunger and make Austin a better place to call home.”

Alejandro Castro, who identified himself as a skateboarder and former student at the ACC Rio Grande campus and UT Austin, spoke in opposition of the demolition and in favor of the community. He called No-Comply’s current location “a miracle.” 

“This center and centroplex has helped not only the Austin community, but it keeps a lot of big brands coming back because one of the things that keeps Austin weird is that their skate park is literally right around the corner from the skate shop,” Castro said. “It should not be moved.”

Michael Sieben, the managing editor of Thrasher magazine, focused his testimony on the role of mentorship the shop plays.

“I think we’d be sending a very bleak message to our kids if we demolish this property,” Sieben said. “In the age of smartphones and digital media, No-Comply is something tangible for our youth. It’s a physical space where the kids can meet up in person and share real-life experiences, and I think that’s invaluable.”

City preservation staff members support historic zoning for the building. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the commission that while there are “hundreds” of buildings similar to the 1946 shop in other Texas cities, they are relatively scarce in Austin.

“This is a very important building type,” Sadowsky said. He explained they supported historic zoning for the shop based on architectural merit and community value, which are criteria for landmark designation under the city rules.

Sadowsky, who indicated he would continue talking to ACC about its plans for the property over the next month, wondered whether there was a way to build the parking garage above the building to save the shop.

Commissioners urged Vickers to discuss plans with No-Comply as well. 

“It seems like a wasted opportunity for the college,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said. “To have this kind of energy – clearly the very constituency that you serve – to be this upset, it just seems like there has been some breakdown in communication.”

Vickers said they would continue to work with the shop on the future of its operation, but ACC wanted to press on with its plans. “All of this caught us a little off-guard, to be honest,” he said.

Following the hearing, ACC released a statement to the media that read, “ACC is listening to our community. Tonight, we heard concerns about the future for the No-Comply Skate Shop and of the deep sentimental value this shop holds among our skating community. The college has been and will continue to work with the tenant to understand their needs. It’s our goal to develop a timeline and process that works best for everyone involved.”

Heimsath said the case is “a reminder why preservation isn’t a simple thing.”

“It’s not just ‘find a couple museum pieces’ because we are going to pass that, and nothing else, on to the next generation. This is an opportunity to really look deeper,” he said. “Outstanding architecture doesn’t necessarily mean it’s on the cover of some architecture magazine.”

Commissioner Kevin Koch appeared to agree, saying, “So many times when you hear discussions about preservation and what Austin is losing, it’s the institutions that people are lamenting moreso than the buildings, but I think we need an appreciation for how that historical fabric really fosters that community-level, that neighborhood-level interaction.”

Commissioner Witt Featherston, who made the motion to postpone, called the decision to hear testimony from the public “a blessing” and said it was just too late in the night to give the case justice.

“I think we need to find a way, as preservationists, to harness the energy that this building brought to the meeting today,” Commissioner Kelly Little said.

Myers agreed. “I’m thinking of taking up skateboarding,” she said.

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This article has been updated.

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