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Austin Historic Landmark committee discussing item on 'total demolition' of 4th Street building façades

The developer is working with Oilcan Harry's to find a mutual agreement.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Monday, Austin's Historic Landmark Commission's Architectural Review Committee discussed the "total demolition with reconstruction of selected façades" in Austin's LGBT entertainment district.

According to the agenda, the addresses in question are 201 to 213 West Fourth Street, which include businesses such as Oilcan Harry's. During Monday's meeting David Ott, who leads Texas developments for The Hanover Company, clarified any potential demolition plans do not include Rain nightclub, which is located at 217 W. Fourth St.

However, Ott said Monday this is just the first step in a plan to redevelop that part of the block. He says he wants to do it the right way by maintaining the integrity, history and culture of the neighborhood.

"It's going to be primarily multifamily, for-rent product, trying to meet the needs of housing in Downtown Austin with an approximately 400 unit project with ground-floor retail, really restaurants and bars," Ott said. "The bar that we're working to bring back into the project is the one that's there currently, Oilcan Harry's, and we've been working with them for quite a while to figure out a plan for them to temporarily vacate while the new construction happens."

Credit: Hanover Company and SCB
Photo courtesy of Hanover Company and SCB.

According to Oilcan Harry's property manager Michael Gerrard, who also owns the property next door, everyone so far is on the same page to make sure every party benefits.

"[Oilcan Harry's] is the godfather of [the LGBT bars] in my opinion," Gerrard said. "Being able to maintain that and give it a long, long, long life span. I think kind of, you know, it keeps that as the nucleus of that community."

When reached for comment on Monday, a City of Austin spokesperson provided the following statement:

"The Architectural Review Committee is a subcommittee of the Historic Landmark Commission. Today’s meeting is an informal opportunity for the applicants, Metcalfe Wolff Stuart & Williams, LLP, to present and receive feedback from the committee on a proposal for buildings at 201-213 W. 4th Street. No advance information about the proposal has been provided to the Committee, but will likely be made available at today’s meeting. 

"The buildings identified do not have any historic designations; however, the Historic Landmark Commission holds public hearings on demolition and partial demolition applications for buildings that may have historic significance, following a process outlined in City code.

"This is an open meeting and members of the public are welcome to observe, but since it is not a public hearing, there is not an opportunity for public comment on agenda items. It is purely informative; the committee does not take any formal action or make a recommendation to the full commission. A public hearing on this item is scheduled for the Landmark Commission meeting on May 4."

A spokesperson for Hanover Company, a residential developer, confirmed it has been working with the City of Austin on the project. Metcalfe Wolff Stuart & Williams is an Austin-based law firm focusing on real estate and business and tax.

According to Ott, the owner of the property, Hanover and the owner of Oilcan Harry’s are working to find a solution for all parties involved. One such solution may be to grant a long-term lease to the bar once a new building is erected in that location, the spokesperson said. The challenge then becomes how to do right by Oilcan Harry’s during construction if that construction takes place.

So far, leaders with Oilcan Harry's have been posting updates through their social media channels on the matter. As of Monday afternoon, an Instagram post from the venue acknowledges change in Austin is inevitable, but compromise is vital to maintain a safe space on the street.

Tina Cannon, who leads Austin's LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said the plans discussed Thursday were just the start of the conversation, but so far, so good.

"I think this is one of those projects that we're going to be happy to see where the development community, the owners and the tenants have really been very intentional about kind of respecting the history of the LGBT community on that block," Cannon said.

RELATED: Downtown Austin LGBTQ bar The Iron Bear fighting to prevent demolition

The commission has also been considering the demolition of the nearby LGBT bar The Iron Bear, on West Sixth Street.

As of March 30, the bar reported that the Austin City Council had passed a motion to initiate historic zoning for the warehouse district, keeping the public forum open for discussion. A hearing is scheduled for May 4, where an opportunity will be presented for evidence to be provided to the committee proving historic value.

"The nexus of the gay community has been in and around the bar community, and so it's a big part of who we are as the LGBT folks," Cannon said. "It's a place where we've always been able to congregate and feel safe."

A Change.org petition has been started to try to block the development and preserve the LGBT entertainment district. As of Thursday morning, it has 91 signatures.


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