South Congress plan: Mixed-use project in, small businesses out

Updated Sept 09, 2016

More change is coming to South Congress Avenue.

Plans are in the works for a mixed-use project on Congress, south of downtown Austin, on several properties that now are home to everything from the popular Doc’s Bar & Grill to a movie-monster wax museum.

Documents filed with the city of Austin say the project is planned for a 1.5-acre site encompassing five lots from 1011 South Congress Ave. to 1123 South Congress Ave. The properties are valued at $7.6 million by the Travis Central Appraisal District.

The proposed project would have 130,740 square feet of space with office, retail and restaurant uses, along with a parking garage, according to documents that Big Red Dog, the project’s Austin-based engineering firm, filed with the city.

In addition to Sfanthor House of Wax and Doc’s, current tenants on the proposed site include Texas National Outfitters, Wet Salon & Studio, Strut, Parts & Labour, United Apparel Liquidators and a fitness gym.

Those leases end over the next several months and the existing buildings will be razed, said David Lake, a founding partner of San Antonio-based Lake|Flato Architects, whose Austin office is designing the project. Lake said the proposed project could break ground late next spring and take two years to complete.

Plans call for four buildings with two levels of office space atop street-level retail space. A four-story underground parking would have more than 400 spaces.

Lake said developers are seeking tenants that would blend with the “eclectic, eccentric” character of South Congress. The area has transformed over the years into a hotbed of trendy retail, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Lake said that while “there is an opportunity” for some of the existing tenants to be part of the new project, “rents might preclude a lot of these tenants from moving there.”

Lake|Flato also is designing noted hotelier Liz Lambert’s planned 89-room Hotel Magdalena, which is to be built on Music Lane, just behind the proposed mixed-use project and west of Lambert’s Hotel Saint Cecilia. Hotel Magdalena could break ground in February, Lake said.

Local developer Clark Lyda is involved in both planned projects. In filings with the Texas Secretary of State, Lyda is listed as an agent for Music Lane Owner LLC, which according to Travis Central Appraisal District records owns all but one of the properties where the mixed-use project is planned.

Lyda said he is not ready to comment about the mixed-use project or release renderings. Turnbridge Equities LLC, a privately held real estate investment and development firm with offices in Miami, New York and Austin, also is involved, Lake said. A Turnbridge executive did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Lake said Lyda, along with Lambert and other investors, are behind the Magdalena project. Lambert recently took over management of the nearby Austin Motel at 1220 S. Congress Ave. through her Austin-based hospitality company, Bunkhouse.

Lake said the mixed-use project could be built under existing zoning rules and the developers are not seeking any exceptions. Sylvia Arzola, a city spokeswoman, said height on the site would be limited to 40 feet to 50 feet, or three to four stories. The exact height, however, will be determined as developers’ plans undergo review through the city process, Arzola said.

Steve Busti, the wax museum’s owner, said he knew from the time he opened two years ago, under another landlord, that his business would have to move when his lease expires Dec. 31, 2016 “because a big project was coming here.” He opened Sfanthor in a castle-shaped building in mid 2015, and its gift shop in mid 2014.

“We wish we could stay open forever,” said Busti, who is launching an online funding campaign to help with relocation costs. He plans to temporarily move Sfanthor to his Museum of the Weird at 412 East Sixth Street, but said he might eventually move the wax museum to another city.

“Austin’s losing something that keeps it weird,” Busti said. “We’ll probably close on Halloween weekend. It’s a little heartbreaking.”