New Developments in Las Manitas, Escuelita, Marriott

The city council sent a letter to J.W. Marriot following his comments last week about the proposed hotel development on the 200 block of Congress and its current tenants. Check out the Save Las Manitas / Escuelita Del Alma news section for all of the media coverage to date. The Chronicle has a story this week as well and Statesman coverage is here.

There’s a benefit happy hour for Escuelita and Las Manitas today 5:30pm – 7:30pm at Copa Bar and Grill (same block as Escuelita and Las Manitas, between Escuelita and La Pena).

Full disclosure: I’ve had at least one child at Escuelita nearly since its opening in 1999 or 2000. I’m very close to the business and my kids are fed Las Manitas for lunch when they are at the daycare. I’m also one of the volunteer parents responsible for the web site. I understand that we need to develop downtown and I want development downtown. I also want affordable daycare and local businesses to stay downtown. This is the position of most of the parents at Escuelita and the position of the daycare’s owner. There should be room for compromise and I think that’s all the council is trying to facilitate.

10 Comments so far

  1. Pat (unregistered) on September 29th, 2006 @ 11:37 am

    Just a lean beef’o’mine – but is it really necessary to simply regurgitate the local daily’s and weekly’s news items here on this blog? Seems like a lot of that going on here lately. I thin it’s safe to assume thst those of us browsing the blogs have already seen the news of the day. OK, I’ll crawl back into the corner now…

  2. ttrentham (unregistered) on September 29th, 2006 @ 11:48 am

    I legitimate concern in general and something I try to avoid as a rule.

    I don’t think the news articles mentioned the happy hour, so I wanted to squeeze in a reminder to that and I thought adding the last paragraph stating my take on it avoided just regurgitating the news story…maybe not?

    You also have to remember that this particular city-focused blog is part of a global network. We’ve got readers who aren’t local as well as those who are, although granted the majority probably are, so they may not be carrying feeds for local news.

    Thanks for the feedback though.

  3. Scott Johnson (unregistered) on September 29th, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

    Right. I read this blog from Dallas. The only takes on this story that I get up here are the Austinist and this blog.

  4. M1EK (unregistered) on September 29th, 2006 @ 1:53 pm

    “compromise” is not “we get to stay and you build around us”. That’s bull.

    Frankly, the owner of the block ought to call the city’s bluff and start filing suits. This is an unconscionable invasion of property rights – and what we’re hearing now is that they were already bending over backwards to give as much time as humanly possible to allow the tenants to find a new place to lease.

  5. wae (unregistered) on September 29th, 2006 @ 5:07 pm

    I’m happy to see the Council exert a little leadership here. M1EK busts out the property rights stick, and its a pretty big one given the massive development opportunity being held up here. I don’t argue that the block could / should be redeveloped. It’s prime real estate and a good location for density. All well and good.

    But I do object to the trade-off we (that is, Austin residents) are asked to make. We are asked to swallow the loss of an iconic restaurant that has become a defining part of the urban fabric, partly because of their association with Escuelita. Net net: Austin loses another little chunk of what makes it special (i.e. not just another place that serves migas).

    So what’s the return for this loss? For residents … well, not much. Three different hotels, built in varying shades of blandness, and 1000 new hotel rooms downtown. This doesn’t serve any goals for increasing downtown residents. This doesn’t move any major employment downtown. It does generate about 900 jobs, but they are hardly the jobs that drive economic development (low wage, low multiplier).

    They are, however, the types of jobs that are becoming more prevalent as Austin embraces tourism as an economic development crutch. I suppose lots of people love tourism because it presents the opportunity to tax non-residents, but it’s also the first industry that starts crying during downturns. Especially in a city like Austin that has relatively few “big draw” attractions.

    If Marriott were smart, they’d use this as a huge PR opportunity to embrace Austin culture while also giving themselves a guaranteed tourist draw that is known far and wide as one of THE places to visit when in Austin. And they’d also promote foot traffic along Congress instead of 2nd St. And design something slightly more interesting than a windowed shoe box.

    But J. Willard Marriott doesn’t seem too quick on these things. So if he wants to play the big business bully, I’m glad to have the council wave their regulation stick right back.

    Tangentially, Marriott provided the food service for my college, and it totally sucked. To have them displace Las Manitas is just too cruel to comprehend.

  6. Russ (unregistered) on September 30th, 2006 @ 12:14 am

    I think that Marriot could just build around Las Manitas. Two hotels instead of three. There then would be an icon for hotel occupants to have breakfast and see what historic Austin is all about….and pick up a something interesting to remember Austin by, next door. I believe the old buildings and original locations should remain intact.

  7. M1EK (unregistered) on September 30th, 2006 @ 9:24 am


    Building an economy around tourism is pretty stupid – but filling in the gaps in a high-tech/government economy with tourism is pretty smart. Somebody in another forum quipped that maybe with all these hotel guests, Las Manitas would be able to stay open past 4 PM, which is a real good illustration of the problem.

    More hotel residents = more business for the restaurants serving office workers during the day (and the small but growing number of residents during the night). Lots of taxes which pay for things we don’t have to tax ourselves for. Etc.

    The same amount of hotel development in strip-malls (along I-35 or Mopac, where most of these are built) actually _costs_ us money when you consider infrastructure and lower building values.

    Finally, the implication in all of this that Las Manitas has some kind of moral high ground is just perversely backwards. They’re TENANTS; they OWN THE BUILDING NEXT DOOR. Tenants, by definition, don’t have rights (legal OR moral) to the property beyond the terms of the lease. If I were the Finley Co., I’d be getting ready to call the city’s bluff by terminating the lease and then letting the block stand empty.

  8. Julio (unregistered) on October 1st, 2006 @ 11:53 am

    Wae’s statement that Austin is embracing tourism as an economic development crutch implies that the city is setting itself up to become overly reliant on tourism as a source of revenue. I agree with M1EK that tourism is a viable means of diversifying the city’s economy. However, I wonder how Austin will cash in on its image given the intangible nature of the “Austin experience”. It’s not the sort of thing that can be encapsulated like San Antonio’s Riverwalk or the French Quarter in New Orleans.

  9. wae (unregistered) on October 1st, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

    I agree with M1EK’s assertion that tourism is a good complement to a tech-heavy economy. Where I diverge is that I’d peg the city’s current levels as a strong stop-gap. A few core events (SXSW, ACL Fest) sprinkled with predictable draws from UT and state gov’t makes for a great source of revenue and additional foot traffic around downtown without compromising the city’s appeal to residents or visitors.

    But Julio’s comment speaks to why I oppose huge tourist developments. As it stands, there is no “big draw” (Disneyworld, gambling, etc) other than Austin itself. Everybody in the universe knows our fair city as a “cool place to hang out,” which connotes many things, generally not including big hotel complexes. People want to come to Austin and feel like a local, but the Marriott development promotes exactly the opposite thing. Put enough big hotels in, and suddenly all the vested parties start demanding the “big draw” to feed the beast they hath spawned. Next thing you know, Austin gets riverboat gambling, themed megaclubs, and all the other destinations that are ass-worthy enough in their own right, but also displace the “cool places to hang out” that (IMO) are what most residents prefer.

    The comment M1EK referenced about Las Manitas’ hours is also a great insight, but I (and most businesses, I think) would rather see long hours and more revenue generated by residents than by tourists. When the economy leans out, residents will still support local joints while the tourism dries up.

    Hey, is this thread just an elaborate scheme to make me say something positive about downtown residential development? I FEEL SO … USED.

  10. stuart. (unregistered) on October 1st, 2006 @ 5:11 pm

    I have mixed feelings about this whole thing. Las Manitas is the only thing that ever draws me downtown, and I would be happy if Cynthia and Lydia decided to move it to a more accessible location.

    But if this situation were to cause them to just wind it up (and who’d blame them?), then it’d be another nail in the coffin of what made Austin special, and it’d be just another lurch toward the seemingly inevitable Austin-becomes-Anytown-USA end game.

    Moreover, I don’t know how I’d be able to go on without those Enchiladas Michoacanas. There’d hardly be any point to staying put. If you don’t understand, then you’ve never had them.

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