AUSTIN, TX — (04-29-22) — LGBT business owners and residents are concerned over a new residential development project proposal that would change one of Austin’s essential LGBTQ neighborhoods.
The Downtown Development Proposal plan would build a mixed-use tower on 201 to 213 West Fourth Street, meaning the destruction of several important LGBT bars that have been their for years, including Oilcan Harry’s, Coconut Club, Neon Grotto, and the shuttered Sellers Underground.
In order to try to preserve the area’s status as a major LGBTQ community in downtown Austin, part of the proposal includes creating a street-level space for Oilcan Harry’s in the new building with a 25-year lease, according to KXAN, and the developers finding a temporary space for the bar during the construction period, as reported by Community Impact.
However many in businesses in the community are not thrilled about the potential development which would change the landscape of the downtown corner.
In fact Coconut Club’s Instagram account is making fun of the project’s proposal. Performance artist Katie Drackert (aka KD Kinetic) is encouraging members of the community to speak out against the downtown development project during the May meeting through email, phone, or in person.
The plans for the project were announced during the April 11 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission’s Architectural Review Committee. The current Oilcan owners posted a statement on Instagram on April 11 acknowledging the proposal:
“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.”
View this post on Instagram
Houston-based real estate company Hanover Company and 201/213 West Fourth Street property owner Michael Girard, who also operates downtown bar Speakeasy are behind the project.
Hanover partner David Ott told KXAN News that the project aims to honor the roots of the neighborhood:
“We’re not trying to change the character other than on the masonry facades,” said Ott in reference to plans to reconstruct warehouse facades onto the new building since it’s the Warehouse District.
Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the LGBT community told CBS News… “Many people in my district who are worried about the project reached out to me. It will remain to be seen how the project will ultimately affect the neighborhood.”
And while the development would take over buildings currently housing gay bars Coconut Club and Neon Grotto, 201/213 West Fourth Street property owner Michael Girard says that he wanted to find new locations for the businesses.
Girard, who has been working on his proposal since before the pandemic, claims that the businesses in the LGBT Community were fully aware of these tentative plans before the pandemic and have been operating on month-to-month leases because of them.
We must also note that relocating or reincorporating existing restaurants, bars, and buildings into new construction projects isn’t new for the Austin area. In fact Rainey Street development is scheduled to demolish the now-closed Container Bar and Bungalow. But note that the owner of the Container Bar and Bungalow will open their bar in the new building upon completion.
Article by: Paul Goldberg, Staff Writer
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