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nyone who has visited Austin’s eclectic strip of retail and restaurants along South Congress knows the SoCo entertainment district to be a vortex of bohemian conviviality. The city’s head-long rush to grow and densify is readily apparent along the wide avenue that stretches below downtown. SoCo encompasses a few commercial blocks comprised of small buildings, none more than three stories tall. Residential neighborhoods back up to the businesses, and the homeowners are notorious for opposing the slightest change in the street frontage. Given that perceived risk to obtaining the necessary endorsement from the neighborhoods, the successful outcome of the mixed-use project called 1400 South Congress is instructive. What began as a plan to adapt a former used-car dealership for a new retail strip with surface parking dramatically grew in scope. The result is a 142,000-sq. ft. complex of shops, restaurants, and a five-story building with 28 condominiums, along with an above-ground parking structure large enough to accommodate 200 cars. The developer group originally hired local firm Dick Clark Architecture to adapt the auto dealership for retail with surface parking on most of the west side of the block to alleviate the lack of adequate parking in the neighborhood. One of the investors is the owner of Güero’s Taco Bar, a very popular eatery located in a converted feed store on the south end of the same block. The old dealership had languished for years for several reasons but primarily because of the expected objection by the adjacent homeowners to a new commercial development. And without their endorsement of city variances, conventional wisdom held that no project would be economically viable. Indeed, the South River City Citizens to the east and the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association to the west are conscientious gatekeepers and custodians of SoCo’s eclectic charm. According to project architect Jeff Krolicki, the citizens’ groups were instrumental in the project’s change from retail to mixed use, which was the architect’s original recommendation. One of the neighborhoods’ requests was to relieve traffic congestion in the area and they recognized that the proposed 70-car surface parking lot would not be adequate to provide effective relief. Thus, the need for a parking structure was realized early on, which resulted in the eventual metamorphosis of the project. Still, there were several critical caveats, including the demand that the new parking garage not to be too tall or otherwise obtrusive. Fortuitously, since the footprint of the parking structure would be relatively compact, the remaining vacant part of the property spawned the project’s fourth

(this page) The architects inserted a breezeway to link the two rehabilitated buildings. The view of the east-side elevation shows the parking garage in the background. (opposite page, clockwise from top left) Full-height walls of tinted glass enclose the former automobile showroom. Retail spaces have high visibility along the south elevation. The residences along the north side are oriented for views toward downtown. Balconies with custom glass rails extend each unit’s living area. The complex was configured to integrate existing live oaks. The outdoor dining connects restaurant patrons with pedestrian activity along South Congress.

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Texas Architect March/April 2008: The Walkable City  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...

Texas Architect March/April 2008: The Walkable City  

Texas Architect is the official publication of the Texas Society of Architects, each edition features recently completed projects and other...