Austin: Panel Delays Rainey Street Demo Request; Knocks Tower Location
Featured Photo (above): The 90-92 Rainey Street tower project requirs demolition of the Bungalow Bar structure built in 1911, and the neighboring Container Bar; both would be incorporated into the high-rise. Image: Google Streets
By Edmond Ortiz
Austin (Travis County)–The city’s Historic Landmark Commission has again postponed hearing a request to demolish an early 20th century bungalow-turned-bar on Rainey Street, and further pushed back against the proposed mixed-use high-rise that would replace the structure.
The commission voted 8-0-1 on June 22 to postpone Urbanspace Real Estate’s request for a demolition permit at 90-92 Rainey. The panel voted 6-1 in May to postpone the same request.
The proposed mixed-use tower at 90-92 Rainey St. would join a growing number of residential and mixed-use high-rises in the Rainey Street Historic District. Image: City of Austin
Preliminary plans for the 53-story tower call for residential units, a hotel, ground-level retail, a roof deck, and an underground garage.
The project would require the razing of the existing Bungalow Bar at 92 Rainey, which is contained in a house built in 1911. It has since been modified multiple times. Local company Nelsen Partners is the lead project architect, and the firm dwg. is the landscape architect.
Urbanspace has indicated that their new tower would incorporate a rebuilt Bungalow Bar and a new Container Bar at 90 Rainey.
City staffers agreed that while the bungalow contributes to the Rainey Street Historic District, it does not qualify for designation as an official historic landmark because it has been modified so many times.
However, some commissioners felt that the Rainey Street neighborhood south of Austin’s central business district has lost a significant amount of history and character amid the surge of redevelopment in recent years.
The largely residential community has seen many structures cleared in favor of new bars, restaurants, hotels, and mixed-use towers.
Residents in newer apartment high-rises have prime views of and quick access to Town Lake.
Commissioners added that Nelsen Partners’ design of the proposed tower at 90-92 Rainey has improved, but that alone does not justify it replacing one of the remnants of the neighborhood’s past.
Commissioner Ben Heimsath moved to continue to deny the demolition application, which city staffers said expires in July. There’s also a limited number of times that the same project may come up on a commission’s agenda.
“They could have replaced (the bungalow) with something sensitive,” Heimsath said of Urbanspace and its planned tower.
“The new building has nothing to do with the historic district. It makes no reference to the historic district. It doesn’t have anything to do with the scale of its surrounding neighbors as an architect.”
Heimsath called the tower at 90-92 Rainey “a very competent design” but that it would be “appropriate somewhere else.”
The proposed 90-92 Rainey Street mixed-use tower is to feature a zipper-style exterior among an increasing number of new and planned multi-story developments in the Rainey district. Image: Nelson Partners/Urbanspace
Commissioner Beth Valenzuela expressed what she called “disappointment” in the proposed high-rise location and, in a larger sense, the diminishing history of the Rainey Street neighborhood.
Valenzuela said other Austin neighborhoods undergoing rezoning and redevelopment could experience a similar fate — the loss of historic and contributing structures to new developments that may not reflect the community’s heritage.
“That’s why I voted each month to keep this case active and to postpone it,” she added. “We cannot stand by while the history of our underrepresented communities are erased.”
Commissioner Witt Featherston abstained from casting a vote on June 22. He has said he does not support repeatedly postponing the demolition request in the commission’s hopes that the application would simply expire.
Edmond Ortiz is a lifelong San Antonian and a 20-plus-year veteran in local journalism, He previously worked full-time at the San Antonio Express-News, and has been freelancing for outlets such as the Rivard Report.