Feasting on food halls

Another new food hall destined for historical downtown Austin digs

Another new food hall destined for historical downtown Austin digs

Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall UT Austin
UT owns the 1.75-acre site which includes Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall.  Wikimedia Commons

A food hall is being planned as part of a mixed-use project that’s going to be built on West Sixth Street in downtown Austin.

The food hall will be a significant feature in what’s now Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall, an administrative office building owned by the University of Texas System. The building, which once housed Austin’s post office, will be preserved as a key component of the mixed-use project.

It will be the second food hall in Austin. Work is wrapping up on the first food hall — Fareground — which will take over the lobby of downtown Austin’s 111 Congress Ave. office building. Vendors at Fareground will be Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, Contigo, Dai Due Taqueria, Easy Tiger, Henbit & Honeybit, and Ni-Kome. Fareground is set to open by late January.

At a recent meeting of the Austin Design Commission, architect Larry Speck explained that the West Sixth food hall will occupy the former mail-sorting room of the old post office, which dates back to 1914. Kiosks positioned around the food hall will be operated by “iconic” Austin food purveyors, he said.

Speck is a senior principal at Austin architecture firm Page Southerland Page and a professor at UT's architecture school. Page is handling design duties for the project.

Speck said the fare at the food hall will be similar to the food offerings at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, where local fixtures like Hoover’s Cooking, Maudie’s Tex-Mex, Salt Lick Bar-B-Que, and Thundercloud Subs serve many of their favorites.

The food hall trend is spreading across the country. For instance, the Pearl mixed-use complex in San Antonio opened a food hall this summer inside a converted beer-bottling plant. Six local culinary vendors anchor the space, dubbed The Bottling Department.

“You’ve surely noticed that food halls are now everywhere,” Slate.com reported in July. “There are at least a few dozen of them in the United States, some of which are genuine evolutions of traditional public markets, some of which are new, and all of which aspire to appear — like a public market — to be a place where the emphasis is on production, not consumption.”

Slate describes the food hall as a mash-up between the modern food court and the traditional public market.

Aside from the buzzy dining concept, highlights of the mixed-use project in downtown Austin — known for now as Block 71 — include office, retail, and restaurant space, as well as a public plaza with a performance area and food trucks.

The project “is very much about trying to capitalize on what is best about our downtown,” Speck said. “This site, we think, is a really great site for expressing the local character of Austin.”

The University of Texas System owns the 1.75-acre site, which is bordered by Colorado, West Sixth, Lavaca and West Seventh streets. Dallas-based commercial real estate developer Trammell Crow Co. is leasing the land from the UT System for the 770,500-square-foot project, which will be dominated by a 36-story office tower. With 665,000 square feet of offices, the tower will be the city’s largest office high-rise.

The UT System has vacated Claudia Taylor Johnson Hall and relocated those operations to a new headquarters nearby.

Trammell Crow plans to kick off construction of Block 71 in January 2018, with completion set for March 2021.