AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to initiate historic protections for properties on Fourth and Colorado Streets.
The decision comes as development company Hanover sought to demolish the properties in order to build a 40-story high rise. Its plan was to also reconstruct the demolished building facades in order to maintain a historic visage.
Speakers opposed the construction as a threat to Austin’s LGBTQ+ community, as the proposal would have demolished a significant portion of the city’s gay bars, namely Oilcan Harry’s, Neon Grotto and Coconut Club.
The board first heard from the developer and their supporters. Oilcan Harry’s general manager spoke in support of the demolition, citing a deal with Hanover to subsidize the bar’s rent for the next 25 years.
Far more plentiful were those opposed to the demolition. This group of mostly LGBTQ+ Austinites identified the proposal as a threat to their community and safety.
Discussion by the board members balanced between the strictures of their criteria and a desire to protect something fundamental to Austin, with board member Terri Myers likening the proposal to “killing the goose that laid the golden egg.” Board member Ben Heimsath recalled a prior hearing, where an Austin citizen said that a similar project was like “ripping pages out of a book until it can’t tell a story.”
Board member Kyle Koch made the motion to initiate historic protections, which passed unanimously after additional discussion.
David Ott, a regional development partner with the Hanover Company, declined to comment after the hearing.
Ott sent a statement to KXAN Thursday afternoon: “We respect the City process and will continue to work diligently and collaboratively with all parties involved, including the Historic Landmark Commission and staff. Our goal from the beginning has been to play a part in meeting the need of Austin’s growing housing crisis, while doing everything we can to protect the history and character of this part of 4th St. We are optimistic a compromise will be found that is in the best interest of everyone involved.”