Triangle finally comes together

This story originally was published on Oct. 19, 2005.

Nearly 10 years after a local developer announced plans for a major shopping center at the intersection of North Lamar Boulevard and Guadalupe Street, the first businesses are finally moving into The Triangle.

Among the first expected to open early next year is Mandola's Italian Market, a restaurant and imported food and wine store that is the latest venture of Damian Mandola. He's the nationally known chef, co-founder of the Carrabba's Italian Grill restaurant chain and co-host of the television cooking show "Cucina Amore."

Described as a one-stop shop for everything Italian, the 6,000-square-foot market will sell a wide variety of food to eat in or take out including pizza, pasta, sandwiches, soups, pastries, rustic breads and gelato along with items such as olive oils, wines, cookbooks and pottery.

"This is something I've wanted to do for almost 20 years, " said Mandola, a Houston native who now lives in Driftwood.

Mandola said his goal is to replicate the cozy markets he's seen on trips to Italy. The Triangle, with its dense urban feel, was an ideal location, he said.

Also set to move in are local eatery Galaxy Cafe, which is opening its second location, the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium and Mama Fu's Asian House.

The restaurants and other businesses will occupy about 24,000 square feet in The Triangle. The project eventually will include 115,000 square feet of retail space and 700 apartments.

Simmons Vedder, which is developing the project with Cencor Urban, already has leased about 70 percent of the first 335 apartments, which are scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. Another 115 units should be ready by next summer.

Cencor Urban will begin building its part of the project at the end of this year. RunTex, the Austin-based running store chain, is expected to be a tenant in the retail space. That part of the project , which is expected to open in the spring of 2007, will include 68 apartments and seven townhouses.

The project is a far cry from the suburban-style shopping center Cencor originally proposed when it leased the 22 acres from the state of Texas in 1996.

Those plans, for a 275,000-square-foot center with a grocery store, multiscreen movie theater and bookstore, met fierce resistance from nearby residents concerned about traffic and what they saw as the incompatibility with their neighborhoods.

Years of negotiations resulted in the elimination of large retail buildings in favor of multistory, mixed-use buildings and two smaller retail-only structures. A large surface parking lot was replaced by streets broken into blocks, and nearly 6 acres of open park space will be preserved.

Cencor's plans received approval from state and local officials as well as neighborhood groups in 2001, but the challenges were far from over.

Cencor had partnered with residential developer Post Properties Inc. to build what was then expected to be 835 apartments. Less than six months after the partners got the go-ahead from the city, Post announced it was pulling out of the Austin market and would not participate in the project.

Post eventually was replaced with Simmons Vedder, and site work didn't start until last year.

Cathy Echols, a 12-year Hyde Park resident who represented the neighborhood in shaping The Triangle, says she's happy with the project and hopes its success will encourage neighborhoods and developers to work together more.

"The project going in has more monetary value than the original project, " she said. "I think that if people see that when neighborhoods and developers work together you can come up with something that can meet the needs of both the groups, but can also be a better project, hopefully this kind of thing can happen more."

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