The Revitalization of Austin’s ‘Dirty Sixth’ is a Bit of a Mess

Stream Realty’s Lee Belland and the corner of I-35 and Sixth Street (LinkedIn, Google Maps, iStock)

The fate of Austin’s ‘Dirty Sixth,’ a divisive issue in the Texas’ capital community, won’t be decided just yet, the city council said.

Stream Realty Partners picked up more than 30 storefronts along East Sixth Street during the pandemic, when the downtown bar scene was temporarily shut down. Now the firm is looking to make a return on that investment with plans to demolish some of them to allow for office and hotel construction.

City Council Member Kathie Tovo introduced a resolution earlier this month to designate the area a Local Historic District. Last week, the item was pulled from the agenda and put on hold until July 27— the Council’s first meeting after its summer recession. The Austin Monitor reported Monday that there were not enough staff members present to fully discuss the historic district process.

Attorney Richard Suttle, who represents Stream Realty, told the council that the developer opposes creation of the historic district, and that Tovo mischaracterized its position.

“The facts are Stream real estate is not in favor of Council Member Tovo’s proposal, as are many property owners along East Sixth Street,” Suttle said. “I just want it clear because there was some discrepancy, whether or not Stream is in favor of it.”

Later in the meeting, Tovo cited a text message from Suttle reading, “if it can go fast and design standards make sense, it may be OK.” Suttle later apologized to Tovo for his frustration.

Stream Realty’s redevelopment project necessitates the demolition of at least eight properties within a district that had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, according to Tovo’s resolution. While the resolution would not prevent the Dallas-based developer from moving forward with the project, it would be bound by height restrictions and guidelines for preserving historic facades.

“The process is something that happens in sync with and in collaboration with property owners in that area, and the initiation of a local historic district is not the designation of one. That happens much later if it has enough community and Council support for a final decision,” she said.

Depending on who you ask, Austin’s Sixth Street is either a cultural epicenter or a stain on the community. Both sides agree the space is in need of revitalization, however the matter of preservation has become increasingly divisive.

Mayor Steve Adler had some concerns about preservation efforts possibly slowing down the revitalization of the district.

“The more I look at these two things I’m really wondering whether it ends up in a different process either way. I’m not sure, and I just have lots of questions about it and want to add further description of the process that was initiated and give it further definition,” he said.

Preservation Austin also chimed in with a memo calling for the city to make up to $250,000 from the Heritage Grant program available to encourage preservation.

“Local historic districts serve as a planning tool for neighborhoods to preserve heritage while agreeing on a clear set of guidelines to shape more compatible development,” the memo read, “a local historic district here would support a balanced approach between preservation and density so that the most intact blocks of contributing buildings retain their historic character.”

[The Austin Monitor] — Maddy Sperling

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