RE­BUILD­ING SOUTH CON­GRESS

Cranes, crews and dust herald the ap­proach of numerous new projects along the well-known cor­ri­dor

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - BUSINESS SUNDAY - By Shonda No­vak and Lori Hawkins sno­vak@states­man.com lhawkins@states­man.com

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.”

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

A new mixed-use project, Mu­sic Lane (left), and a new Liz Lam­bert Ho­tel, The Mag­dalena (right) are un­der con­struc­tion on South Con­gress Av­enue.

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