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Photo by city of Austin, 606 E. Third St.

Fairmont Hotel financiers take a second shot at historic home relocation

Friday, October 7, 2022 by Kali Bramble

After six years of thwarted negotiations, Manchester Financial Group is still eyeing 606 and 608 E. Third St., a site just blocks from the Austin Convention Center and dead center of downtown’s burgeoning Palm District. But first, the Fairmont Hotel financiers will have to face the Historic Landmark Commission, which is determined to salvage the two 19th-century dwellings already standing there.

The case dates back to 2016, when Doug W. Manchester first proposed relocating the two homes across the street. The plan appeared to be in motion as of 2019, but Manchester says the deal has since been stalled by the city’s Watershed Protection Department, which took issue with compromising an existing water retention pond at the proposed relocation site.

608 E. Third St. via the city of Austin.

Manchester and Travis Young of Studio Momentum Architects believe they have found a solution at 1005 Lydia, located at the easternmost edge of the Robertson/Stuart & Mair Historic District just a mile northeast of 606 East Third. Housing nonprofit Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation owns several duplexes on the lot, and Young hopes to leverage development bonus programs to secure a place among them for the larger structure as affordable housing. The new plan would have the smaller home at 608 E. Third demolished.

Unsurprisingly, many on the Historic Landmark Commission were less enthused with the plan. Beyond the loss of one historic structure, commissioners argued that the new site would provide inappropriate context, noting that the neighboring Wedding House and Hofheintz-Reissig Store were integral to the structure’s landmarking of the Waterloo settlement that preceded Austin proper. Neighbors Mark Czigan and Joseph Tracy, as well as Jordan Baxter of Moonshine Patio Bar and Grill, occupant of the Hofheintz-Reissig Store since 2003, all voiced support for further time to pursue alternatives.

“There’s a lot happening at that corner of Lydia and 11th; it would just be like moving the Alamo to another city,” Chair Terri Myers said. “Waterloo Complex is a low-scale, modest little community that gives you a sense of what the frontier city of Austin was like back in the day … out of context it’s kind of like a fish out of water.”

Commissioners unanimously voted to postpone, hoping to iron out details with Watershed Protection and revisit the initial relocation deal. Commissioner Carl Larosche noted it would not be the first time Watershed has approved building atop a water retention pond.

“I would love to revisit that if it’s still on the table … we just don’t have the luxury of time to wait on the Palm Park Master Plan, so we’d like to come up with a solution rather than wait another six years to make a decision on this,” Manchester said. “I would love if you were able to put pressure on Watershed or city of Austin to reconsider that location because that would be perfect … that was my original vision for the area.”

The landmark commission will give the case another shot at its Nov. 2 meeting. In the meantime, Commissioner Witt Featherston says he could live with the proposal as it stands.

“I’m just willing to accept a beautiful, awkward fish in water that desperately needs them.”

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