Prentiss Riddle: Austin

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Pedernales Lofts

Saturday evening while on an art prowl in East Austin I saw this vision floating in the moonlight.

Pedernales Lofts at night

I'd read about Pedernales Lofts on occasion in the Chronicle but hadn't realized exactly what or where they are, nor how far along the project is. They're 100+ live/work loft spaces being built on a site that encompasses a whole block at the intersection of East Sixth Street and Pedernales, about a mile east of I-35. The project seems to be about half built, with some units occupied and others just framed out. To my eyes they look pretty nice -- small retail or office studios on the ground floor, with two floors of apartments above that, done in a clean, modern design. They're the kind of thing I wish people would build along Burnet Road and other thoroughfares in my part of town, instead of conventional one-story strip shopping centers and gated apartment complexes.

The retail/office tenants in evidence so far are an odd mix, including what I assume is a satellite location for the secondhand store New Bohemia, another home decor shop, somebody who appears to be selling DJ supplies, and a couple of offices of cubicle workers busy at 9:00 on a Saturday night, poor SOBs. I'm scratching my head about how small retailers could afford new construction so far off the beaten path. Could some of these people have been invited in as loss leaders? That doesn't seem likely when the press clippings on the project's website indicate that most of the units were sold before they were built.

I went back by day and the effect wasn't quite as magical without the moonlight, but it wasn't bad. There were people sitting out in front talking, something you won't see a lot of at an ordinary apartment complex. I like the chair-on-a-stick which unaccountably is Pedernales' mascot artwork. Out back in the middle of the complex is a small covered stage, which suggests that there'll be parties with live music -- a nice Austin-y idea, although I could imagine it presenting a challenge to the property owners' association to book acts that make everybody happy. The site is an old railyard and on the other side of the tracks is a vacant lot with some nice shade trees. I hope that whatever happens over there keeps those trees and some open space, at least for visual relief if not actually for public use.

Pedernales Lofts mascot chair Pedernales Lofts by day
Pedernales Lofts protest shoes DO NOT BE BULLIED BY THE SELF SERVING AGENDAS OF OTHERS

Of course any development in East Austin brings up the usual debate about gentrification. Someone threw some shoes over the telephone wires at the Pedernales end of the block and, in case that wasn't clear enough, attached messages: "Stop gentrifying", "Will U give jobs to longtime East Austin residents?" To which someone replied (at least I think it's a reply, although it's perhaps deliberately vague) with a sign on a telephone pole, "Do not be bullied by the self serving agendas of others." Amen, whichever side of the debate those agendas fall on.

austin 2004.09.26 link

Comments

I've been watching them go up over the past year. My son attends UT Elementary, which is just down the street. There doesn't seem to be much activity other than construction when I pass by in the mornings. But for the occasional plant on a patio, I wasn't even sure that they were inhabited yet. The proximity to the train tracks is a minus for the property. There are both freight and what looked like some sort of retro passenger train passing through there most mornings, not really conducive to the late-sleeping artist profile.

I think the "chair on a pole" was there before the construction started, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's not part of the development.

ttrentham [todo cxe thechunk punkto com] • 2004.09.27
My friend and I accidentally drove by those on our way to Cafe Mundi. We were quite surprised. I don't know what to think. On the one hand, as a resident of east Austin, I think it is good for East Austin to get more construction and revenue. On the other hand, I work with an East Austin non-profit whose leaders aren't too happy about the "gentrification". It's tricky.

elizabeth [newsyoucanuseornot cxe gmail punkto com] • 2004.09.27
I was going to write a bunch about gentrification, how East Austinites hate artists here, and why they probably should because artists are like cockroaches, the first ones in, eating up the crumbs, making an area 'habitable' and then the white people with money move in and build a Starbucks and raise property values and taxes. But then I went too far, adding how East Austin was the last affordable place to live in this city, and once people with money settle in East Austin artists won't have a place to live in this town, which will cause a creative exodus and it'll start to feel like Round Rock, which would give legislators the nerve to give Austin its (now Republican) congressional districts back and everything comes full circle.

But then I realized I stayed up all night and have turpentine on my brain. Sorry.

Michael [info cxe schliefkevision punkto com] • 2004.09.28
Thanks for the comments, my cockroach friend.

Seriously, I see redevelopment and gentrification of East Austin as a dilemma with no clear answers. I've been on the receiving end of gentrification, back in old pre-condo West Campus, and sympathize with its opponents in East Austin. And I can see that artists are the thin edge of the wedge of gentrification, with trendy projects like Pedernales Lofts right behind them.

But It's pretty clear that simple neglect is not a viable long-term strategy; if no capital goes into an area, eventually buildings fall down and get burned or bulldozed and it becomes a place where not even the "leave us alone" crowd will want to live. Which actually makes the "bulldoze them all and let God sort them out" school of developers happy. I've watched this progression in Houston and it's the worst of both worlds.

So I guess I see an attempt at sensitive redevelopment as the least obviously bad option. It's bound to provoke conflict and may have some boondoggles and spectacular failures along the way. And I'm sure it helps drive gentrification, but hopefully more slowly and with a better outcome than the kind involving mass eviction notices and bulldozers.

I have a question for you: do you really see much personal hostility toward artists in East Austin? I've seen a bit of generic graffiti but no smashed gallery windows or trashing of studios or sense of anxiety on the part of hipster East Austin residents I know. Or am I wrong?

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2004.09.28
This is a complex subject. Maybe I'm a part of the "gentrification" crowd? I want to feel apart of my surrounding community. I want to shop locally and be nice to my neighbors, show respect. I want to attend local functions and events.

So, maybe I'm not welcomed in East Austin? Maybe I should move to Round Rock and never place a foot in East Austin, live a life outside of certain geographic parameters? I would be miserable in Round Rock, that is not a community by my standards, not close to the standards of East Austin.

How do we all live together in a community, respect one another, regardless of income or backgrounds? Or should we be sheltered? :( I hope not.

one person [oo cxe oo punkto oo] • 2004.09.29
I passed by those apartments on a random adventure on the "retro passenger train" a few weeks ago. It appeals to my sense of aesthetics, and I would seriously contemplate finding a loft there if I decide to stay in Austin a few more years.

East Austin feels a lot like the places I grew up in Houston, but the whole gentrification business leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I'm young, I'm urban, I'm an outsider who wants to move in. But hell, I'm also brown and poor, not a yuppie. Damned complex socio-economic, cultural issues.

kika [xilonen cxe oddblobofagirl punkto com] • 2004.09.29
I would hope that the whole East Side could get along and be merry, without worries, but that isn't the case. In a lot of development meetings that have been occurring lately, longtime residents have seized the opportunity to release their frustrations on a number of the artists living and working in the East Side, pretty much supporting local resturants and businesses, living in existing homes and buildings, and pretty much keeping a fairly low profile. All in all, it seems to be a nice fit, but I think the residents are looking down the road a bit when the central Austin development heads east to the last frontier of available and cheap land for development. 7th St. is already lopped into three development zones, Manor road is going to be turned into an expressway, and with those changes, it could be a pretty big domino affect for the rest of the East Side.
Besides the run on sentences and general haze of my last late night, tired post, I'm at a crossroads - I guess I really don't want to see the East Side change at all, but as cities and developments go, progress can't always be stopped. Sticking your head in the dirt works for ostriches, but not cities. If the city could find a way to manage to keep the heart and soul of the East Side (the absolutely wonderful neighborhoods off Holly and the like), along with the eclectic mix of restuarants, businesses, and warehouses, and find a way to add in non-obtrusive high volume residences to the mix, things could be cool and perhaps a lot of folks would be happy.
I think the Pedernales are an admirable project, and the amount of worries that the longtime residents have over the project are valid.

In Boston and KC, I've seen different results of gentrification, all linked with artists:
Boston's Jamaica Plain - early 80's, still a great mix of cultures, somewhat affordable, wonderful neighborhood.
Boston's Fort Point - mid 80's, overrun by yuppies after developers bought the land and moved the artists out.
East Boston - now - a quagmire not unlike East Austin, one of the last vestigaes of cheap living in the city, with local residents (black, hispanic) detesting the artist's move in and the start of development that is occurring. They are fighting development tooth and nail.
KC's West Bottoms - abandoned warehouse district brought to new life by artists
KC's Crossroads District - off the train tracks, formerly three lofts spaces with artists, now 8 city blocks of galleries, restuarants, coffee houses, and a bullet on every piece of KC tourist literature, not a great affect to local inhabitants as it took place in a mainly commercial zone.

I hate to put artists on the forefront of these redevelopments/gentrification arguements, but from my personal experience, they usually are the first ones in, where rents are cheap and the neighborhood has a spark to it past the suburbs or button down parts of town. And trust me, it's definitely NOT the artists getting rich and developing things, that always is part of the next wave of folks in, who see an opportunity to make money.

So, that's it, that's all I have to say. Worried about the fate of East Austin? Sure I am. Do I want to see Austin turn into Round Rock? Hell no. Can we all get along? um, i dunno, I was hoping everyone already was, but maybe not.

michael [info cxe schliefkevision punkto com] • 2004.09.29
Not sure how I stumbled on this page, but since I'm here thought I'd add in. Being a single young lady in town I looked at purchasing one of the Pedernales lofts, because they were affordable, in a great location and designed with an open floor plan. These characteristics are rare in this town becuase I have looked for other condos and they are all either generic, more expensive or, worse, carpeted.

I have since decided against buying, mainly because I'm leaving town to travel to South America for some adventures. But I just thought I would let everyone know the Pedernales are just the beginning of these developments and are small by future standards.

There is another crop of lofts going up right by Cafe Mundi and then several larger (few hundred units) complexes being planned all in between on that corridor. I even heard a Central Market will be going in right next to the highway. I learned about these things simply by doing some internet searches since I was looking for a loft to buy. I'm not going to comment on whether or not what is happening is fair, but I'll just say it's happening and in 5 years it will be a whole new scene.

Jaime [jaimeutaustin cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2004.10.06
I bought a living area at the Pedernales. Without exception, the people I have met at the Pedernales are very much interested in preserving and supporting the East Side community. In fact, I bet these will be the people you consistently see at the city community development meetings voting against a Starbucks.

Also, recognize that a VAST majority of us (myself included) bought into the project a year ago with downpayment assistance from the city and state designed to help low-income individuals obtain their first homes.

Im grateful and excited to be a part of the East Side.

j.c. [carbonrider cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2004.11.09
gentrification is relative and the artists are hardly to blame. what does that part of town want to have happen? the area will be developed regardless unless they pool together and purchase the property themselves for the purpose of conservation. so would they rather the area be developed by those who are not sensitive to the community or at least by people who are trying to create something compatible? it is my understanding that many of these developments have income requirements to keep things affordable and are being designed with asthetics and scale in mind. the area cannot remain undeveloped forever and they should stop fighting ALL development and start working with people to ensure things are developed with their input and guidance.

garret [bill cxe gates punkto com] • 2004.12.10
on this issue of gentrification.

Somebody has to start a process of gentrification. And, white artists(yes you), who grew up in the suburbs(the spawn of white flighters) now possess a holier than thou attitude when the next wave comes in.
The people who should be pissed are the locals who have been there for 20-30 years before artist interlopers barged in.

Here's a thought, artists.

Move to Waco. Or, Georgetown. Get back to your roots.

Chris [i-pedal cxe austin punkto rr punkto com] • 2004.12.24
Im making bank off my properties on the East Side.

You people make me laugh!

JC [royalcrowncoke cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.05.26
Gentrification, spentrification! Historically, those who cannot afford the cost of living somewhere were forced out by those who could. Whatever happened to private property rights? If I own land, I should be able to build whatever I want as long as I don't violate the law. I have the right to build million dollar high rises that will escalate property values so high that poor people living next door won't be able to pay their taxes and must move to a lower cost place. Then I'll buy their land and build more high rises. Free markets and private property are two concepts upon which this fine country were built.

BKM [bkmiller cxe austin punkto rr punkto com] • 2005.11.22
Gentrification happens, but don't underestimate the power of community voting coalitions.

In NY's East Village, cafes that had been there for 50 years were put out of business by an influx of Starbucks. B/c no one cared to get together to fight this kind of thing.

In Berkeley, however..a town with a fierce community that votes together on such issues...Starbucks are rarely seen and the town is filled with local coffeeshops. Do not underestimate the power of establishing building restrictions and voting to put codes into place. They have such things in the SF Bay Area and in Europe (you don't see lots of Walmarts, etc. in most areas of Europe where the community forbade it), and it pisses off big business sure...and it might piss off City of Austin, who knows? But in the end, when you go to SF or Berkeley and you still see quaint old cafes that have been there since the 60s...that is b/c they are in neighborhoods whose organizations put their foot down.

We have SOS in Austin fighting against AMD, Lowe's..some fights they've lost but they're making it really hard for these companies and they're having to make all kinds of concessions and changes. We need to speak up and stand up for the community's needs that we want to preserve. SOS's model is a powerful one and we should all support it and elaborate on it - Austin needs more grassroots coalitions with voting power.
These are causes that we should support. You can have development that works with community...but you need to stand firm against chain stores and development. Don't be complacent and then cry when Starbucks appears behind your shower-curtain one morning.

Kuroneko [kuro_neko23 cxe hotmail punkto com] • 2006.03.21
Gentrification is happening all over and unless a band of committed communities work to get tougher ordinances in place it will continue to escalate over time. The free market analogy mentioned in a previous post is very true. But I've seen community and neighborhood groups change things at the City of Austin. That's what happend with the building moratorium in central austin. I know the builders didn't like it, but it will force them to have design smarter more architecturaly interesting homes instead of the big ugly boxes they've been building.

Terrill..ific [terrill cxe nfainc punkto com] • 2007.01.24
I am moving into an East Austin condo in a couple of weeks and am very excited to be there. Basically, I wanted to be closer to work and didn't have the kind of money to afford downtown. In my own defense the complex was built on a vacant lot some noone is getting displaced.

jake [jakep234 cxe aol punkto com] • 2007.02.11
Relax everyone..We ended segregation in America years ago. White people need not be bashed for improving an area and raising property values. This is the story of America.

Ames Tiedeman [ames cxe stcaustin punkto com] • 2007.08.10
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