Archive for September, 2008

Frost tower illustrates "risky real estate" feature

Everywhere around town I’ve been seeing those signs touting “office space for lease” or “commercial property available.” They’re downtown and in obscure warehouse districts north, south, east, and west, more each day. A good-sized photograph of the Frost building (credit: Ben Sklar) is the eye-catcher illustrating “Risky Real Estate Deals Helped Doom Lehman” in today’s NYT (byline Terry Pristin). The photo caption reads, “In 2007, Lehman was part of a group that bought 10 office buildings, including the new Frost Bank Tower, in Austin, Tex.”

There’s quite a bit of attention paid to this particular deal. What I found most interesting among the details is that the ten Austin buildings that included the Frost tower are reported to have been purchased in 2007 for an average of $328 per square foot at a time when others were buying Austin office buildings for an average of $221 per square foot. A person from Real Cap[ital Analytics furnished that figure.

I follow the Austin Towers blog for information on the development (and sometimes, lately, the halt in development) of various large residential schemes around town. If there’s similar regular reporting about commercial real estate, I haven’t found it yet, but would like to, since there are more see-through structures out there with each passing day. The sporadic snippets from press releases that are to be found in the local daily and in the business tabloid don’t count.

Restaurants, parking and neighbors

The subject of Residents Parking Permits has come up multiple times in recent discussions about businesses on South Congress and, especially Polvos on South 1st street. Local residents on small streets have to suffer from the increased traffic, noise and pollution often caused by illegal and unpermitted restaurant expansion, which means essentially the restaurants are profiting while causing problems for their neighbors, often in a 6-block area.

This excellent summary of the issues was recently written by long time Bouldin Creek resident and active member of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association Cory Walton. It is posted here with his
permission.

The offshoot of the RPP discussion to home sizes and what defines a McMansion is a separate discussion to which I’d like to add for now only a focus on a word that was touched on by several: “Context.” One of the houses named in this discussion, though twice the size of Bouldin’s original 1930s era bungalows, is completely in context with those smaller originals. The Johanna Street “Castles” are not. Somewhere in between is the other home, which, while three stories high (pre-
McMansion) incorporates many elements and scale that is within the context of the original neighborhood.

I bring these points up because they are key considerations in defining Local Historic Districts (LHDs). In the same way that RPP is the only tool residents have to preserve the character and quality of their streets, LHDs is the only tool residents have to preserve and protect the character of the residential structures in our neighborhood. More on this later.

Now, back to the original RPP topic, to expand on the observations and to add an element of context: Most of the businesses on both South Congress and South First were originally built as daytime operations mostly serving the nearby community–hence the small lots and building sizes. When they were built, there were no parking requirements in the city code, but that wasn’t a problem because most were in-and-out retail or service businesses and many of their customers walked there from their homes.

With South Austin’s growing popularity, many of the business locations became restaurant/entertainment venues, expanding the buildings and operating hours, and by the very nature of the business expanding by 6x the length of customer turnover time. Their customer base comes from all over Austin and beyond, and because, as some note, our public transit system sucks, people have to drive there, and most of the businesses have sub-standard parking –which was grandfathered to that location.

So because there’s little space to build additional parking, and no economic incentive to build it anyway, there’s no place for customers to park except on residential streets. Our streets become de-facto commercial parking lots, making it imperative that city code be enforced to ensure no illegal restaurant expansion to exacerbate an already bad situation.

The physical limitations on the neighborhood’s commercial properties and their close proximity to residential properties and streets simply cannot accommodate large (or for that matter, loud) restaurants. If a restaurant wants to grow, it should invest in a second location elsewhere on a commercial property that IS able to legally accommodate the restaurant’s numbers. This is the responsible way for a successful business to grow as countless local examples have demonstrated.

By shirking this responsibility, every time a restaurant expands in the neighborhood–legally or illegally– they are in effect, pouring a few more gallons into an already overflowing bucket, and the neighbors bear the brunt while the business increases its profits.

Realizing and responding to this reality, a couple of years ago our neighbors across South Congress, SRCC neighborhood, proposed an overlay to South Congress Avenue which would limit the number of restaurants to one per block.

This would serve two purposes 1). It would limit the amount of new gallons that could be poured into the overflowing bucket (i.e. overflow parking and traffic on our residential streets until a multi-modal transport light at the end of the tunnel is reached:); but also, 2). because the ordinance defines a limit on the type of businesses on these commercial streets, it would place a limit on commercial property values and prices, so some of our signature small, locally-owned businesses might be able to stay around and operate profitably for a few more years.

Since the proposed overlay was decried by the business community and never got any sponsorship from our city council, and because city code enforcement is complaint-driven, which means the damage has usually already been done by the time residents complain, and forcing a business to remove an illegal structure has never been accomplished in the entire history of Austin, RPP seems like the only tool residents have at their disposal to retain the residential quality of their streets and perhaps encourage businesses to act more respectfully and responsibly.

Austin Area Schools to Close Early for Ike

There are two posts to the Statesman Homeroom blog about early school closures tomorrow for Hurricane Ike (am I the only one who keeps wanting to make South Park jokes?).

AISD Closing Times (via AISD as well)

Info on other areas like Bastrop and Elgin

Seems like a bit of an overreaction to me, but I guess they’d rather be safe than sorry.

There’s mau5 in the house!

Deadmau5

Deadmau5

Just in case you have insomnia, or alternatively want to burn off a late dinner, tonight sees the arrival of Deadmau5 in Austin for just one night and Friday in Houston. [Edit: Turns out the Houstin gig has bee postponed to a later date due the impeding arrival of Ike, an even bigger force. Mau5 cheese party anyone?]

You know when somethings just right, when you can connect eldest daughter and one of your Austin friends and all get excited about the same thing. Well it turns out one of the faves of the rave crowd is in town tonight at Sky Lounge on Congress.

Yep, the man with the red head, Joel Zimmerman in Ontario, Canada will be spinning around later this evening. He has taken the Trance and House festival crowds to new limits in this summers European tour. His new album Random Album Title was released on September 2nd, include Faxing Berlin, already a club hit, and should be available stateside soon. His US collaboration with Kaskade, “Move for Me,” reached number one on Billboard’s Hot Dance Airplay chart last week.

I first came across Deadmau5(yes it’s pronounced dead-mouse) on Tiesto’s In Search of Sunrise 6 back in 2007 which included Arguru by Deadmau5 as well as the haunting club version of Hide And Seek by Imogen Heap and Fall to Pieces by Jonas Steur.

I know most music connesauers in Austin won’t get the trance vibe, but if you were from the 70’s funk or disco, the 80’s electro-func, or 90’s house and trance generations, tonight shouldn’t disappoint. For those not prepared to brave the early morning hours, check-out this YouTube video from the main stage at this years Main Stage Ultra Music Festival. Pure Mau5sness

Single Stream Recycling

Scrap piled hile in Skagastrond, Iceland - their home of country music

The home of country music

I’d had this nagging question about the imminent introduction of the new single stream recycling bins here in Austin.

So, if we are going to dump all our recycling into a single bin, including lots of stuff previously not accepted, where is all this stuff going to get separated for recycling?

Having been to a few less than glamorous locations in China, and seen some of the hard hitting documentaries on electronic waste, I wondered, where will ours get sorted? I read through the cities single stream recycling FAQ(thats easy questions, with obvious answers to all you non-IT types) and couldn’t see anything. So this morning in the break before my next work call, CONTACTED THEM.

I asked “How and where will the stuff get recycled?” The how question was answered by machine and some people. I asked again “Where, overseas or here?” – “here” came the response. So, thats all right then. Unless you know better?

Although sort of tangential, for an insight into some of the the issues of electronic recycling, see this short video from Good Magazine. Although, if you’d seen women and childern working on their knees for 8-10 hour sessions, hand sorting garbage outside their homes, this is just an extreme illustration to make the point.

When it came to choosing the photo to accompany this post, I resisted the various pictures of children sat amongst foreign waste in developing nations, too easy. The picture above is a scrap heap pile in the town of Skagastrond, Iceland. Population 650. Skagastrond is the music capital of North Iceland(I’ve been there too, Iceland that is, there is a north??).

Photo by Wendy Crockett, licensed under creative commons, some rights reserved.

Enchiladas y Mas weekend lunch

Enchiladas y MasHere’s where to find traditional Austin “Spanish” rice, with plenty of cumin and plenty of color. It was tough to decide what to order. The Constant Faithful Dining Companion went with the enchiladas rancheras, a very close relative to the offering at the old Casita Jorge’s on Elmont at Pleasant Valley, across from the Aquarius. I barely resisted ordering the carne guisada; if I had, it would have been in memory of those at the old Jorge’s. So I went with chicken enchiladas in green sauce with rice and beans, and pico de gallo on the side.

We used to eat at Enchiladas y Mas when it was on the IH-35 frontage road, near campus, but the Anderson Lane location has seemed a long way away. When we found a line out the door at the Frisco Shop, we moved on. Enchiladas y Mas is always busy at lunchtime on weekdays, it seems, when we’re occasionally in the neighborhood. Today, the place was full, with people waiting right after we took what seemed to be the last seats for a while, but service was quick. I saw many breakfast plates going by, and many orders of fajitas for two.

The diners were of all ages and included many young children. The conversations were lively, perhaps in some cases assisted by beverages stronger than tea. Margaritas were frozen, on the rocks, and straight up. Although premade in quantity, they are strong and it’s easy to tell by sight and by taste that fresh lime juice in the proper quantities is among the ingredients. The menu declares: “To ensure the safety of our patrons, our alcoholic beverages will be limited to 3 with a meal and 1 without a meal.” This is for good reason.

The members of the staff were efficient in a crowded space. We saw one of the owners greeting those he knew. If appearances mean anything, this is one of the happiest workplaces in town. I only wish that Enchiladas y Mas were closer todowntown, but it’s wonderful to see its success in its current location.

187th and Belmont

You didn’t have to grow-up in the Bronx or even have visited to get in the mood for Chazz Palminteris A Bronx Tale, on for two more nights at the Long Center.

I saw the show last night, having not seen the 1993 Film, I really had no idea what to expect. When I told one of my colleagues I was going he mentioned something about a mouse and kids, so I suspect he was even further off base than I was. Palminteri wrote the show back in the late 1980’s while unemployed, it’s supposedly a semi-autobiographical tale of his youth in an early 1960’s Bronx neighborhood but I suspect it could equally have been Chicago, DC, Boston, et al.

I really hadn’t been prepared for it to be a one-man show. Palminteri pulled it off magnificently, he moved from character to character with ease and pretty much seamlessly. After all, he’s been doing it for 20-years so he should. It was a engaging dialog about the stresses and strains of living in a working class neighborhood, that was probably more diverse then than now, and the on-off relationship between a son, his father and the neighborhood “boss”.

There is an interesting racial twist to the plot and Palminteri shouts out the N-word partially during a heightened exchange, which I have to say caused some rumblings down in the stalls at the Long Center, but I thought both the scene and the story line were in context with the times, as was the use of the N-word.

Palminteri managed to keep my attention for the full length of the show. Despite the fact that being up in the Mezzanine was more like watching an outdoor theatre in Siberia. It was freezing, I guess less than 64f. Since there are only two more shows, it would be well worth attending, but take a warm top!

It was my first trip to the Long Center since the opening w/e. It was a perfect evening to walk. They’ve got valet parking, there’s parking in the adjacent garage and traffic is carefully managed afterwards to keep the streets clear. Please don’t park in the residential neighborhoods, it may be only one night for you, it’s every night of every day for them.

My Links: NPR Interview with Palminteri back in 2007 on the Broadway opening of a Bronx Tale
Somehat whacky, but recent drive through of the show and 187th St. on YouTube

Tejano station returns

KTXZ 1560-am radio has been broadcasting Tejano music since just after midnight on Saturday. I’ve heard no live d.j. yet. I have heard two commercials, one for a private outfit that confers undergraduate degrees and one for the fiestas patrias commemorating el diez y seis de septiembre at Fiesta Gardens, Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13.

The Encino Broadcasting site has not been enlightening. I had checked it and it was up as recently as 7 am this morning; at the moment it’s not even available. I’ve found what seems to be from a press release at the Austin Business Journal, in which eventual simultaneous broadcasting on 95.1-fm is promised.

KTXZ is located in West Lake Hills, and reception is good in most parts of town. It was Tejano in the past and at one time Fred Cantu was the station’s voice. In the 16 de septiembre announcements, the news is that Jimmy Gonzalez y Grupo Mazz, plus Los Texmaniacs with vocalist and accordionist supreme David Farias, will star on Friday. Saturday will feature a rotation of lesser-known groups, apparently mostly conjuntos. No firm schedule is up at the Web site, but I’ve heard that Los Texmaniacs will take the stage at 8:30 Friday night and that the gates open at noon on Saturday. The info hotline has been announced as 538-1351.

KTXZ, as much as I’ve heard so far, has been playing oldies, including lots of Texan favorite Intocable, very recently reviewed in the NYT. Chris “Tejano Man” Tristan, it would seem, is still a source for the latest news (Univision Radio Recuerdos 107.7, Sundays starting at 6 pm). And another is Isidoro Lopez on KOOP 91.7, Fiesta Musical, Fridays from 11 am to 1 pm.

Welcome back, KTXZ!

Gustav: before, during, and now after

Those who want a close-up picture should go to the first-hand accounts of life in New Orleans at the Metblogs site there if you want a true sense of life under the threat, and now in the aftermath, of Gustav. New Orleans is close to Austin, with a place in the hearts of many. I’ve been reading these true-life tales since Katrina days and didn’t think to tout New Orleans Metblogs as the storm approached. But the story continues.

Stone Pale Ale Arrives in Austin

Stone Pale Ale

I’ve been waiting for this one! Stone Pale Ale, Stone Brewing’s flagship beer, is finally available in Austin. I ran across it today in Central Market and now that I look, The Ginger Man’s latest newsletter announces it as a new draught beer this month! You should check it out and see what we’ve been missing. I only hope this means that it won’t be long before we get the full line. Up until now, we’ve only been able to get Arrogant Bastard and Stone IPA.

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