REBUILDING SOUTH CONGRESS
Cranes, crews and dust herald the approach of numerous new projects along the well-known corridor
Up and down South Congress Avenue, from just south of Riverside Drive to Milton Street, the signs of change are everywhere.
A number of projects that started construction in the past year or so are well underway and new ones are being added to the mix on one of Austin’s signature streets.
The newcomers will include the new flagship store for Kendra Scott jewelry, a local tenant with a new concept for the former vintage store Uncommon Objects and a mixed-use project planned for the lot next to Vespaio restaurant.
The sight of towering cranes bear testament to the continuing evolution of a part of South Austin that not too long ago, even into the late 1990s, was a redlight district.
Within the past two decades, the area has undergone a transformation, one that has accelerated in recent years with trendy new chains and mixed-use projects replacing local merchants, including one that was there for decades.
Twomey Auto Works was a fix-
ture on South Congress for 28 years. The collision repair shop disappeared seemingly overnight, razed this month as part of an upscale mixedused development going up next door called Music Lane that will bring in new retail, office and restaurant tenants, including a Soho House, a members-only club for the well-heeled.
Passers-by can’t miss the giant hole that marks the Music Lane site, where an underground parking garage is being built that will have nearly 500 parking spaces.
Another four-story mixeduse project is rising on the other side of Don Twomey’s former location. The auto body shop has since moved about four miles south, to 4930 South Congress Ave., south of Ben White Boulevard.
“It was a nightmare for a year,” Twomey said of the construction that flanked both sides of his auto shop and that he said gobbled up the free street parking near his shop. “It was a huge inconvenience. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.”
For their part, developers behind some of the new South Congress projects say they are optimistic that the quirky, eclectic character of the avenue will be preserved, despite the addition of new upscale national tenants.
When Uncommon Objects relocated last year, property owner Gary Sharpe said several large national brands wanted to lease the space.
But Sharpe chose to stay local — the new tenant is Maufrais, a retail and event space being launched by husbandand-wife team Sean and Lauren Greenberg. Sean Greenberg has long-time ties to the Avenue — his family has run Allens Boots on South Congress since 1977.
“It was essential to me that this space be re-imagined as a homegrown business,” Sharpe said.
Eric DeJernett, senior vice president with commercial real estate firm CBRE Inc., was involved in the transactions that will bring Maufrais, Kendra Scott and future Hummingbird project to South Congress. DeJernett said “a unique offering of shops, restaurants and entertainment” is vital to South Congress’ long-term success.
“Austin is changing, but we’re trying to keep the local flavor and heart and soul of South Congress,” DeJernett said. “People are invested in keeping it interesting and cool. Visitors do not want to shop at stores they have at home or can easily find online.”
Matt Green, managing partner for the KOR Group in Austin, which has a mixeduse project under way on South Congress, echoed that sentiment.
“South Congress is coolest corridor in town,” Green said. “We’re seeing the next generation of sophisticated retailers and restaurants thrive on South Congress.”
A new mixed-use project, Music Lane (left), and a new Liz Lambert Hotel, The Magdalena (right) are under construction on South Congress Avenue.