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Landmark commission gives green light to five-story makeover for West Sixth

Thursday, August 18, 2022 by Kali Bramble

After hurtling successfully through the Historic Landmark Commission earlier this month, investment firm Riverside Resources is one step closer to carrying out a project that would transform 2 acres of restaurant and retail space on West Sixth Street into a five-story commercial and residential development.

The project previously known as Clarksvillage – the name is pending change following preservationists’ criticisms – involves significant alterations to two contributing buildings in the Castle Hill Local Historic and West Line National Register districts, thus requiring the commission’s blessing. Despite some calls to postpone for further tweaking, commissioners ultimately approved the plan in a 6-3 vote, with commissioners Kevin Koch, Caroline Wright, and Beth Valenzuela in opposition.

Rumblings of the project first surfaced back in July, when the development team first shared plans for the block with the Historic Landmark Commission’s Architectural Review Committee. Switzerland-based architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron says it aims to maintain the “rhythm” of West Sixth’s current silhouette, using setbacks to soften the jump in scale and taking aesthetic cues from existing facades to inform its design.

While most buildings between present-day Swedish Hill and Woo Woo Burgers are to be demolished, a two-story Spanish Revival brick storefront built in 1927 and commercial building currently home to the Rapha clothing store will retain their facades. As the face of the project – which will bring ground-floor restaurants and retail alongside a boutique hotel, penthouse condos and office space – the two buildings will transform into public courtyards intended to “activate” the streetscape, according to the architects.

“Basically the plan is an urban carpet of shops and restaurants … organized around accessible, planted courtyards,” architect Lukasz Szlachcic said. “What we love in Austin is the idea of an indoor-outdoor relationship in spaces, so we really want to use those buildings as anchors within the project, where you go and have a coffee, you sit down, you really use the building and they become public spaces.”

Not everyone was on board, with Wright arguing that beyond the streetscape, the plan would destroy the fabric of the historic buildings beyond recognition. Still, the commission as a whole opted to pick its battles, noting that the development team had been repeatedly amenable to compromise.

“Most of the conversations we have with these types of buildings are how to delay the inevitable destruction,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said. “If we can show that constructive engagement with our commission is something to be celebrated and rewarded … I think that is a win and we take it.”

As for the general public, neighbor Linda Cangelosi was pleased to hear of the project’s three-story underground parking garage, but wished developers would consider more housing.

“Do we need a project that takes up 2 acres of land spitting distance from downtown for more offices, high-end retail, a boutique hotel, and nine penthouse condos?” Cangelosi wondered. “I’d love to see more housing at his location … if we’re not going to have people out in the suburbs, if we’re going to let them live centrally, this would be a fabulous place to do that.”

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