KXAN Austin

Reimagining 4th Street? What changes could be on deck for Austin’s Warehouse District

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The owner of several buildings on West Fourth Street in downtown Austin is currently in talks with a developer that would potentially put a 40-story apartment complex in the Warehouse District.

On Monday, the Austin Historic Landmark Commission’s Architectural Review Committee is offering feedback to applicants on proposed projects in the city, which includes a new permit application for ‘total demolition with reconstruction of selected façades’ on a part of West Fourth Street.

The addresses listed for the project are 201-213 W. 4th St., a block known for its iconic gay bars, including Oilcan Harry’s.

“Initial reaction, right, is outrage,” Kolby Duhon, an Austin resident, said, reacting to seeing the docket of the hearing over the weekend.

Duhon said the memories made at these businesses go back years, and he hopes the Warehouse District doesn’t lose what it has today.

“When we won the right to marry, I can remember, I went right down to Fourth Street and celebrated with our community,” Duhon said. “Ultimately, we want to see the Fourth Street District remain a queer district right where it is, with all of the amenities that are in play, and the ability to keep it all kind of tight-knit like a family.”

Developer David Ott with Hanover said his company recognizes the significance of the district and will incorporate the community into its design.

“The rainbow crosswalks, rainbow flags, like you’ll see in some of the visuals, we’re not trying to change the character other than on the masonry facades, that we would be reconstructing into more of their original historic state. We would be taking them back to more of their original warehouse quality and character,” Ott explained.

The new plan for the proposed 400-unit apartment complex would also guarantee a lease to the Oilcan Harry’s owner for the next 25 years.

“We’re working with him to make sure that it’s a better space with more outdoor space than he has today. And with, you know, as much square footage or more than what he has today,” Ott said.

Ownership of Oilcan Harry’s told KXAN it’s working with landowner Michael Girard to ensure its business could continue to operate right on Fourth Street.

The full statement reads:

As Austin’s Oldest LGBTQIA+ business in operation for 32 years, we know how important it is to ensure our community maintains our safe space on 4th street. This block is a part of our identity. We know Austin is inevitably changing, but we are determined to find a way to ensure our community on 4th street is not pushed out. Working with developers is crucial. We are in productive talks with our landlord who is offering a possible compromise solution which would allow us to stay on 4th for decades to come. We believe this type of compromise is the only way to guarantee 4th street is maintained as one of the city’s vital community centers.

Oilcan Harry’s Ownership

“We are also bringing them back into the project at a below-market rate rent. So essentially, a subsidized retail space for them to make sure that they thrive,’ Ott said Monday.

Girard said he began working on the potential project a year before the pandemic began, but COVID slowed things down. Now, if everything goes to plan, construction could begin as early as next spring.

“We’d like to be constructing, starting construction one year from now,” Ott said. “So essentially getting through South by Southwest 2023. And then we would commence right there right after that.”

Girard said the other businesses on the block, including Neon Grotto and Coconut Club, were aware of the project when they moved in before the pandemic.

“Those businesses went in right before the pandemic, with the understanding that this was being worked on. So they’re currently month-to-month leases and have been for have been for a period of time. If we move this forward, we’re gonna go to work on trying to find a replacement site also,” Girard explained.

The placement of Oilcan Harry’s would also be right next to Rain, which is not part of the land included on the project.

“With getting him in on the design early, we’re able to locate him on the western edge of our project adjacent to Rain. So those those two bars can now have a little bit more proximity and coexistence to one another, which I believe is a positive thing,” Ott said.

Ott said the first floor of the building will also include a new restaurant.

“Hopefully it’s a local, chef-driven restaurant, but we wanted to bring a restaurant into the corner space, and then our residential lobby would be kind of a smaller space located off of Colorado, closer towards the alley,” Ott explained.

“Fourth Street has been pretty much kind of ‘the Mecca,’ if you will, of the gay bar district, which has been instrumental in the LGBT scene for years and is a big part of our community,” Tina Cannon, with the Austin LGBT Chamber, said Monday.

Cannon said she’s not concerned the new development will rip away from the community.

“This is the city of Austin, and nothing’s going to happen here fast. From what I understand, the developer has been in open talks with the owners and the tenants for some time now. I think it’s new on social media. I don’t think it’s been a new discussion,” Cannon added.