AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission will meet tonight to discuss a proposed demolition of bars in the 200 block of W. 4th St, which opponents say will damage the city’s LGBTQ+ entertainment district.
The project will create a 40-story apartment complex, but will demolish Oilcan Harry’s, Neon Grotto and the Coconut Club. Hanover’s, the company proposing the project, argues in their presentation that the bars do not meet the city’s criteria for historic protections. The presentation promises to return Oilcan Harry’s to its original location after the construction and reconstruct the original building facades.
The commission is expected to decide tonight on if they will recommend the demolition to city council. According to the meeting agenda, the commission’s staff recommends demolition of the area solely on the promised reconstruction of the facades.
The Historic Landmark Commission’s meeting agenda page lists 327 submitted public comments that oppose the demolition. More are expected to speak at tonight’s meeting.
Alex Hall, who recently moved from Austin after living in the city for two years, set up a website to help people register to speak at tonight’s meeting, as well as send in their 4th St. stories to city council.
“Even if you don’t win this battle, you want the receipts that you did everything you could to win, because this is just going to greenlight developers to keep doing this stuff,” Hall said. “They’ll just come for Red River next, and develop that to hell and back, they’ll just keep tearing out our places.”
Hall calls the construction of another luxury apartment building in downtown Austin “absurd”, and said that the majority of such buildings are not fully occupied.
“I really am proud of everyone that’s gonna show up today, because it’s not over and it could change people’s minds,” Hall said. “Just because the building isn’t 150 years old, that doesn’t mean that it should be torn down.”
Ben Hlousek, another Austin resident, created a petition on Change.org to oppose the demolition. The petition had 4,327 signatures as of 3 p.m. Wednesday.
“I’ve seen the total displacement of so many restaurants and small businesses, mostly from real estate developers. When I got wind that it was affecting 4th St and the LGBTQ+ community, I knew that I had to do something,” Hlousek said.
Beyond the petition, Hlousek plans to speak in-person at the commission meeting.
“Fourth street has been kind of a second home for me since college, when I was in the closet, to now that I’m an out gay man and want to spend time with my community in a place that I and the community finds safe compared to other options. It means a lot to me to preserve it,” Hlousek said.
David Ott, the project’s developer with the Hanover Company, will talk with KXAN after the commission makes their decision tonight.