These two Rainey Street bars could be torn down to make way for new 53-story tower

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Two bars on Rainey Street would need to go to make way for a new 53-story tower in the popular nightlife district, and Monday the city’s Historic Landmark Commission will meet to discuss whether to preserve one of them.

Container Bar and Bungalow (90 and 92 Rainey Street, respectively) sit in the footprint of the new tower, which would include residential, hotel and commercial space.

A new 53-story tower proposed for Rainey Street, as shown in developer renderings published by the City of Austin. (Image Courtesy: Urbanspace / Nelsen Partners / dwg.)

Bungalow, a former home built around 1911, contributes to the character of the Rainey Street National Register Historic District, the commission says, but it is not a landmark itself. The commission will decide whether to designate the spot as a landmark to preserve it, but the city’s historic preservation officer, Steve Sadowsky, told KXAN that’s unlikely.

Renderings from the developers published by the City of Austin show both bars existing in some form in the street-level commercial space. (Image Courtesy: Urbanspace / Nelsen Partners / dwg.)

That would mean the bar would either be relocated or demolished to allow the tower’s construction to start. Plans for the new building show both Container Bar and Bungalow incorporated into street-level commercial space, but not in the same form as they currently exist.

That has some worried about the continued loss of Rainey Street’s historic charm.

Ward Reid leads running tours of downtown Austin, and his most popular route cuts up Rainey from Lady Bird Lake. “People are really amazed and delighted to see these gorgeous old structures on this part,” he said.

Since 2011, when he started giving the tours, the area has changed dramatically. High-rises have gone up, and the character of the area has changed. “I suppose like any weed infesting a vegetable garden, they’re slowly changing the landscape,” Reid said.

Anthony Cohn, owner of the food truck Stony’s Pizza, has noticed the dramatic change, too. He first parked his truck on Rainey about seven years ago, when there were just a handful of bars. “We actually asked the parking guy about it, and he thought we were crazy,” Cohn laughed.

The street has grown with the city. Much like the Domain, “this is becoming like a built-in environment, basically,” he said. “We have grocery stores down the street, you know, there’s bars, restaurants, everything you really need on this street.”

Container Bar on Rainey Street. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

What the commission can do

Bungalow was substantially redone in 2010, the Historic Landmark Commission notes, to turn it into a bar. The facade was saved, which means it still contributes to the character of the district, but there’s little to indicate the structure is of significant historical value.

If the commission decides not to designate Bungalow as a landmark — its only avenue to preserve the home — then the developers can tear it down or relocate it, Sadowsky said.

Commissioners can delay a vote on the landmark designation up to six months; preservation staff members are recommending a delay Monday until the developers can meet with the Architectural Review Committee, which can suggest alterations to the building’s street-level appearance to fit in more with the character of the historic district.

But that committee’s recommendations are not binding, Sadowsky said, and it will be up to the builders whether they want to change their designs.

The most recent plans the developers sent to the city include 424 hotel rooms, 198 residential units, and 19 affordable apartments, plus commercial space and a rooftop patio and pool.

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