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Landmark commission makes no exceptions for sign standards on Congress Avenue

Tuesday, October 11, 2022 by Kali Bramble

Austin-based health care provider Curative will have to rethink its storefront design thanks to the Historic Landmark Commission, which unanimously voted last week to reject signage for the startup’s flagship clinic on Congress Avenue.

The rejected proposal would have rendered Curative’s logo in 72 square feet of halo-lit white vinyl lettering on the lowermost facade of 900 Congress Ave., where the company plans to open a health and wellness facility sometime next year. Design standards for buildings in the Congress Avenue National Register Historic District restrict the signage per facade to a maximum of 40 square feet.

Curative, which formed during the pandemic to fill the demand for Covid testing, purchased the site in March 2022. Spokesperson Brooke Biddle says the proposed signage was an attempt to respect Congress Avenue’s historical context while navigating their shared space with Prosperity Bank, which currently enjoys 259 square feet of signage at the top of the building.

Biddle explained that the new facility will focus on the “preventative care aspect” of Curative’s business. “We obviously have tenants we are working with … and in order to work around that, we proposed a sign that was not going to draw too much attention, but would make it clear where our folks should go for these health and wellness opportunities.”

Congress Avenue Historic District, which runs the length of the street from Cesar Chavez to the Capitol, was recognized in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Since then, the city’s Historic Preservation Office has been charged with the careful review of design choices, including renovations, murals, sculptures and commercial developments. Unfortunately for Curative, the department’s standards for building signage are some of the most rigorous in the city’s arsenal.

“I make it a point to never make exceptions to the city’s sign standards,” said Commissioner Kevin Koch, who made the motion to deny the proposal. “I don’t want to get into bartering or adjudicating whether there’s a great enough need to violate them …it may seem difficult to adhere to, but if we were to make the same exception to every property on Congress Avenue, it would have a much different appearance.”

While the vote was unanimous, sentiments among commissioners were more divided.

“I’ll support the motion, and I agree with everything said, but for the record I think the design standards are terrible,” Commissioner Witt Featherston said. “But they are in writing and they’re the rules we live by. I’m not sure if there’s anything in the sign standards that give exception to graphics behind storefront glass … just throwing that out there.”

Project rendering by Building Image Group. This story has been changed since publication. Originally, we reported that the site was purchased in spring 2020. In fact, it was purchased in March 2022.

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