Have you ever wondered why Austin's downtown isn't the central hub of activity in the city? Why there aren't more people living and playing downtown, and its most popular destination is yicky ol' Sixth Street?
The Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) has been wondering the same things, and now they're taking action to change the way we view this vital but underutilized area of the city. With a wide swath of partnerships with organizations throughout the city, they are ready to unveil their recommendations of the "public improvement district."
This weekend, the DAA hosts PlazaLife, a two day public engagement event in the Frost Bank Tower Plaza combining live performance, family friendly entertainment and community engagement. The DAA's intention is to give Austinites a tangible taste of what our downtown could be with a little extra effort and a whole lot of imagination.
According to DAA Associate Director Molly Alexander, PlazaLife began with a conversation two years ago regarding what Austinites envisioned for their perfect downtown area. "We asked ourselves, 'If it was 2020: what would a guidebook of Austin say about Congress Avenue between the Lake and the Capitol? That was our starting point.'"
The six items they came up with included: accessible outdoor dining, theatre and art houses, a pleasant pedestrian experience, a blending of old and new architecture, excellent shopping and an urban rail system. How many items on that list would you say we already have?
"Once we had our list," she continues, "we began inviting artists and architects — "placemakers" — who understand how to make temporary experiences into opportunities for permanent engagement. We've really put design at the forefront of this project from the very beginning, rather than as an afterthought."
For Friday and Saturday's event, the DAA will transform the blank canvas of the Frost plaza into a hub of casual activity and aesthetic enjoyment with some help from partnerships with groups like design studio Rebar, Austin Parks & Recreation, Wanderlust Yoga and Art Alliance Austin.
The old-timey White Ghost Shivers will join the fun on Saturday evening, while the polka/rock-infused Invincible Czars take the stage Sunday afternoon. The O. Henry Museum will have a story reading time, and a few comics from the nearby Moontower Comedy Festival will have a free comedy hour on Friday night.
"It does sound a bit random when you first look at the schedule," laughs Alexander, "but when you see how each element satisfies a portion of the mission, you get a better idea of the overall picture of envisioning a downtown for everyone."
Alexander is confident that Austinites will be curious about all that PlazaLife has to offer. And after seeing it in action, with its potential for what it could mean for downtown in general, and Congress Avenue in particular, she is sure we will be better prepared to demand a change.
"To see something like this replicated, there must be a demand from the community," says Alexander. "Austinites are very creative with their space, and we want to see this with our downtown. We need help now in proving this demand exists on a wide scale to start making the changes needed both with policy and with businesses."
To encourage feedback from attendees at the event, the DAA is offering up a free night's stay at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental Hotel to one lucky winner who submits a comment card at the end of their visit to the Frost plaza.
All you have to do in order to make PlazaLife a success (and perhaps win a night at the Intercontinental) is show up and tell the DAA what you think. "This exercise has already been a success in so many ways," Alexander attests. "Until we created a finished product firsthand, we had nothing to refer to. Now we can see how a collaboration of this scale works. It's a real turning point for us."
Come investigate the first iteration of what a fully realized downtown might look like during PlazaLife at the Frost Bank Tower Plaza (4th Street and Congress Avenue). Events run between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Friday and 9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. on Saturday.