AUSTIN (KXAN) — A newly-released drawing shows how different West Fourth Street could look if an apartment tower is built in the downtown Warehouse District.
The rendering from the Chicago-based architecture firm Solomon Cordwell Buenz provides the first glimpse of a developer’s vision for the block, which would include demolishing a string of LGBTQ bars like Oilcan Harry’s, Neon Grotto and Coconut Club. However, the plans call for the proposed tower to have a newly-redesigned space for Oilcan Harry’s that would push its location down the block next to the nightclub Rain on 4th.
If the plans are ultimately approved, the entrance and the signage for the new Oilcan Harry’s would appear where the now-shuttered Sellers Underground is located. Additionally, the plans call for construction of an open-air plaza and a recessed glass lobby down the block at the corner of W. Fourth and Colorado Streets.
Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission will meet Wednesday evening to vote on applications for demolition of addresses 201 to 213 W. Fourth Street “with reconstruction of selected façades.” It’s a regulatory hurdle to clear before the city approves permits for the developer Hanover to move forward with the 40-story apartment complex.
According to the city’s documents detailing the three different demolition applications related to the project (201-209 W. Fourth Street, 211 W. Fourth Street and 213 W. Fourth Street), crews will save and reuse existing brick “with paint removed or the bricks turned to reveal the unpainted side.”
According to these reports, city staff members are recommending demolition of the buildings if the developer commits to reconstruction of the building’s façade.
Developer David Ott with Hanover previously told KXAN the proposed 400-unit apartment complex would guarantee a lease to the Oilcan Harry’s owner for the next 25 years.
As details about these plans became more publicly known, however, some Austinites pushed back on the project. A petition sprang up online, garnering more than 4,100 signatures as of Monday afternoon, which called for people to “#BlockTheBuild and Preserve Austin’s Historic LGBTQ+ District.”
“Erasure of the LGBTQ+ community and our culture will not be tolerated, and we will fight to the end to preserve it,” the petition’s author wrote.
The owners of Oilcan Harry’s posted on social media recently they appreciate people’s concern and support, but they’re hoping neighbors won’t oppose the plan currently under consideration by the Historic Landmark Commission.
“Rest assured, our mission is to keep 4th St alive for a long time, & if we navigate these waters correctly, we will succeed,” the Oilcan Harry’s social media post read. “However, in our unique case, we need you to know a historical declaration is NOT the way to do it.”
The owners said they believe designating Oilcan Harry’s as an historic landmark will result in the business “being forced out of the block in less than 10 years by individuals & factors outside of our control.” They argued instead that their current lease puts them in the best place to remain open in the area.
“We believe our landlord has found a good development partner in Hanover, & their desire is to keep 4th St as a safe space for our community,” the post read. “With that essential requirement in mind & met, we have come to a basic agreement on terms which will allow for our legacy business to continue on in a blend of historic & new.”
Oilcan Harry’s planning to move to temporary space
During an interview Tuesday afternoon, Scott Neal, the managing member of Oilcan Harry’s, explained more about the bar’s plans. If the Historic Landmark Commission approves the demolition permit Wednesday, he said Oilcan Harry’s would not likely have to close its doors until next year — possibly around the time South by Southwest happens in mid-March.
He urged customers not to worry too much, though, because the bar intends to open in another space on Fourth Street and remain there temporarily until the space at the base of the new apartment tower is ready.
“For our community, and for the city of Austin, Oilcan’s will not be leaving Fourth Street,” Neal said. “We may move doors for a few years during the construction project, but our place is on Fourth Street. This is where we belong, and I’m going to ensure that we stay here, even during construction.”
Right now Oilcan Harry’s owners cannot share the exact location of where the bar will move during the construction phase. It’s also unclear what the date will be when the move happens.
Michael Girard, who’s part of the Oilcan Harry’s leadership team, previously told KXAN construction on the new apartment tower could begin as early as next spring. The first floor of the building may also include a new restaurant, the developer said last month.
Coconut Club reaction
The demolition plan for the proposed tower would also take out Coconut Club, which opened its rooftop dance floor and bar about three months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Its owners released a statement Tuesday addressing the community.
They assured customers that they would remain in their current space at least through SXSW next year. After that time, though, they said they intend to open somewhere else since they have about 11 months left to hammer out plans and find a new location.
“With Oilcan Harry’s being provided a home in the new building, we are happy to see that a vital institution in Austin will be allowed to remain in its historical location,” the Coconut Club’s owners said. “On our end, we are seeing the change of space as an opportunity to do something even better, taking what we’ve learned from this first manifestation and putting it to use in our next. Coconut Club has always been a passion project for us, and we assure you that passion will carry over.”