If you've been to the Red River Cultural District (RRCD) lately, you may have spotted a few new additions to the downtown entertainment corridor. Lampposts along Red River Street between Sixth and 10th streets are now proudly displaying a bright red RRCD banner.
These new signs are more than just street flair — they're a symbol of the unification among RRCD businesses and the culmination of a six-month-long relationship with Soul-y Austin.
Soul-y Austin is a new initiative from the City of Austin to unite small local businesses against a tide of commercial change. The Soul-y Austin Business District Incubator aims to organize core commercial areas like the RRCD into official merchants associations that can effectively represent the interests of the neighborhood.
The goal of these associations is to identify the issues facing the district and come up with ways to solve them. Although each district has a unique set of problems, Soul-y Austin was formed in response to overall trends.
"We can't go in blind and not acknowledge the bigger issues: the awesome growing economy we're in, but also the pressure it's putting on our business community," Project Manager Nicole Klepadlo of Soul-y Austin tells CultureMap. "It's the same story that's affecting a lot of smaller or locally owned businesses."
Big players in the RRCD have been working with Soul-y Austin since May and are close to becoming a formal merchants association. The business lineup ranges from music venues like the Mohawk; representatives from the in-construction Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn Express; and other entities like the German Free School, True Blue Tattoo, and the Waller Creek Conservancy.
The group is already drafting a definitive Red River Cultural District plan. Points of interest include promoting daytime and cultural arts activities, as well as addressing more serious issues like safety, sanitation, and sidewalk repair. "The [RRCD group] is very optimistic. They believe in what they do," asserts Klepadlo. "They're interested in forming partnerships and collaborations."
Benefits of working with Soul-y Austin include access to resources like education, district planning, and business training, as well as business and music venue loans. Once a merchant association is formed, the district will receive a $10,000 "activation award" from the City of Austin to go towards a particular project.
In addition to RRCD, Soul-y Austin is also working with businesses on Manor Road and 12th Street to form merchants associations. The parties involved are still working out the specifics, but Soul-y Austin hopes for all three areas to have merchants associations by early 2016.
"We always imagined that the program would grow with the districts," says Klepadlo. Once RRCD, Manor Road, and 12th Street are set, Soul-y will move on to helping another round of commercial districts.