City outlines plans for improvements to corridors along 11th and 12th streets
Wednesday, June 29, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki
The city has shared some of its initial plans for improving the African American Cultural Heritage District along 11th and 12th streets with place-making, entertainment options and development proposals expected in the coming months.
In a memo released last week, Economic Development Department Director Sylnovia Holt-Rabb shared three possible strategies to address some City Council directives contained in a 2021 resolution intended to strengthen the cultural fabric and economic vitality of the area just east of Interstate 35. The resolution included eight actions plus several follow-on requests for the city manager and staff, including creating an inventory of cultural assets in the district, creating an incentive program to attract and nurture creative-focused businesses, and finding ways to accelerate further investment throughout the area.
Holt-Rabb wrote that recently confirmed contracts with Sabre Development and Found Design will be used to improve the overall design and place-making throughout the district, including creation of a heritage wayfinding manual that is expected to be finished this fall. There will also be branded design work, and fabrication and installation of selected wayfinding elements completed through separate contracts.
The Sabre contract calls for identifying ways to economically enhance the district with relevant programs and policies from the city.
The call to improve the district’s entertainment and cultural offerings will rely in part on the recently created Live Music Fund Event Program, which was approved by the Music Commission in February to promote diversity while creating opportunities throughout the music industry, including live events and production of recorded music. As a whole, the Live Music Fund is expected to be launched and active in awarding grants by next summer because of short staffing in EDD and the need to hire an outside administrator.
Council’s goal of receiving proposals for the redevelopment of the 1100 block of East 11th Street will be handled primarily by the Austin Economic Development Corporation, which will assist in the administration of three development projects and evaluating the feasibility of the district’s Urban Renewal Plan. The EDC will also solicit a consultant to create a strategic plan for the African American Cultural and Heritage Facility, which was recommended by a recent audit of the city’s cultural centers.
The district, which has boundaries that reach I-35 to the west, Airport Boulevard to the east, Manor Road to the north and East 11th/East Seventh to the south, was created in 2007 to recognize the concentration of African American landmarks and historical and cultural assets that need to be preserved. Redevelopment and enhancement efforts throughout the decades have had mixed success, though Council and community leaders hope recent changes to development rules will have a positive impact.
In April, Council voted to make changes to the area’s Urban Renewal Plan while leaving underlying zoning categories in place. The proposed changes on the two corridors would remove floor area ratio and compatibility requirements, and somewhat modify height limit to allow for greater density.
Residents’ biggest concern when discussing those changes is the inclusion of more live music venues and cocktail bars, with the goal of returning some of the Old Austin feel to an area that was once thick with nightspots featuring performances by popular touring musicians.
At a second reading of the changes earlier this month, Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents the area, said her amendments to allow more hospitality uses were widely supported throughout the area, with those opinions expected to be voiced at the third reading scheduled to take place July 28. It will take nine votes in favor to pass the changes because of residents’ creation of a valid petition opposing them.
Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.
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