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Downtown Austin

The Austin skyline in 2011
Local businesses and recreational venues like 6th Street often are next door to office buildings.

Downtown Austin is the central business district of Austin, Texas. Downtown is located on the north bank of the Colorado River. The approximate borders of Downtown include Lamar Boulevard to the west, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and the University of Texas at Austin to the north, Interstate 35 to the east, and Lady Bird Lake to the south.[1][2]

It is where the city's highrise buildings are located, as well as being the center of government and business for the region. Downtown Austin is currently experiencing a building boom, with many condos & high rise towers being built.


  • History 1
  • Downtown districts 2
    • Congress Avenue 2.1
    • Sixth Street 2.2
    • Second Street District 2.3
    • Rainey Street 2.4
    • West End/Market District 2.5
    • Seaholm District 2.6
    • Bremond Block Historic District 2.7
    • Judges Hill 2.8
    • Red River Cultural District 2.9
  • Tallest buildings 3
  • Government 4
    • Local government 4.1
    • County government 4.2
    • State government 4.3
    • Federal government 4.4
    • Diplomatic missions 4.5
  • Transportation 5
  • Economy 6
  • Education 7
    • Colleges and universities 7.1
    • Primary and secondary schools 7.2
  • Arts and culture 8
    • Theaters 8.1
    • Museums 8.2
  • Media 9
  • Gallery 10
  • External links 11
  • References 12


The story of Downtown Austin began with the Republic of Texas and President Mirabeau B. Lamar in the 1830s. Lamar tapped Edwin Waller to direct the planning and construction of the new town. Waller chose a site on a bluff above the Colorado River, nestled between Shoal Creek to the west and Waller Creek to the east. Waller laid the new city in a simple grid pattern on a 640-acre (or one square-mile plot) with 14 blocks running in both directions. Much of this original design is still intact in downtown Austin today.

One grand avenue, which Lamar named "Congress," cut through the center of town from Capitol Square down to the Colorado River. The streets running north-south (paralleling Congress) were named for Texas rivers with their order of placement matching the order of rivers on the Texas state map. The east-west streets were named after trees native to the region, despite the fact that Waller had recommended using numbers (they were eventually changed to numbers in 1884). The city's perimeters stretched north to south from the river at 1st Street to 15th Street, and from East Avenue (now Interstate 35) to West Avenue.[3]

Waller reserved key spots for public buildings and four public squares. Three of Waller's original squares survive to this day: Wooldridge Park, Republic Square and Brush Square.[4]

Downtown districts

Congress Avenue

Edwin Waller, the first mayor of Austin, designed Congress Avenue to be Austin's most prominent street. Planned as the widest street in the original 1839 Austin plan, the 120-foot wide Congress Avenue initially ran from the Colorado River north to the State Capitol. Not coincidentally, Congress was the most important street in Austin city life during the 19th century. Early structures along Congress Avenue included government buildings, hotels, saloons, retail stores and restaurants. By the late 1840s "The Avenue" formed a well-established business district. The mid-1870s introduced gaslight illumination and mule-driven streetcars as well as construction of a new Travis County courthouse at Eleventh Street.

Stretching from First Street north to Eleventh Street, the Congress Avenue Historic District was created on August 11, 1978. Stylistically, the dominating structures of significance reflected general Victorian form and detailing, tempered by local materials and building techniques.[5] Notable structures along Congress Avenue north of the Colorado include the Texas State Capitol, Paramount Theatre, the Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Building, Gethsemane Lutheran Church and the Old Bakery.

Sixth Street

Sixth Street is a historic street and entertainment district in Downtown Austin. Sixth Street itself stretches from Mopac Expressway in Old West Austin across to Interstate 35 and beyond. The nine-block area of East Sixth Street roughly between Lavaca Street to the west and Interstate 35 to the east is recognized as the Sixth Street Historic District and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on December 30, 1975.[6]

The area around nearby 4th Street and 6th Street has been a major entertainment district since the 1970s.[7] Many bars, clubs, music venues, and shopping destinations are located on E. 6th Street between Congress Avenue and Interstate 35 and many offer live music at one time or another during the week.[8] Traffic is generally blocked on E. 6th Street and most crossroads from I-35 to Brazos Street on weekend evenings, and football home games (depending on pedestrian traffic), as well as holidays and special events to allow the crowds to walk unfettered to the many venues that line the street. E. Sixth Street plays host to a wide variety of events each year, ranging from music and film festivals (such as South by Southwest) to biker rallies (such as The Republic of Texas Biker Rally) and the Pecan Street Festival.[9] The area of Sixth Street west of Lavaca is known as the West 6th Street District. Recently, there has been a growing movement to develop this area as an entertainment district of its own, geared toward the live music crowd.[10] As of May 15, 2014, in response to a deadly crash during the SXSW festival and the increase of intoxicated patrons, vehicular parking between Brazos and Red River Streets is prohibited between the hours of 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.[11][12][13]

Second Street District

Situated north of Lady Bird Lake, the five-block Second Street District has become one of Austin’s well-known dining and shopping districts. The District, bordered by Colorado and San Antonio Streets, contains boutiques, coffeehouses, wine bars and home design stores. (A mixed-use development across from City Hall, containing the 36-story W Austin Hotel and Residences and the state-of-the-art Moody Theater, home to Austin City Limits tapings and performances, is often mistakenly included as part of the District, even though its management and ownership is wholly distinct.[14] "Block 21," as it is titled in city documents, was acquired and built by Stratus Development after the City of Austin-created "Second Street District," built atop city-owned land on a 99-year lease, had already been constructed.)[15][16]

In 1997, it was apparent that downtown retail was on the verge of disappearing and downtown, in general, was on a decline. West Second Street had become a blighted area which was home to a number of abandoned warehouses and a lumberyard that the City converted into temporary offices and a City Council chamber. The city embraced the idea a mixed-use district, and by the mid-2000s (decade) all five blocks would be mixed-use buildings with 168,000 square feet of street-level retail.[17] This progress came at a price, however; one of Austin's most legendary live music venues, Liberty Lunch, was located on West Second Street but bulldozed in 1999 to make way for a five-story office building, currently home to architectural firm Page Southerland Page.[18]

The Second Street District formally opened for business in 2005. However, since then the District has faced numerous challenges, most notably an unusually high failure & turnover rate for retail businesses in the area. In 2007, troubles first started brewing when several businesses received exorbitant utility bills, coupled with random and inexplicable rent charges, seemingly out of the blue. Retailers with floor areas of approximately 1,000 sq ft or less suddenly started receiving monthly "chilled-water bills"—for shared usage of a central, District-wide air-conditioning system—in excess of $2,500.[19] Although ground-floor tenants claimed that property manager AMLI Austin Retail distorted and inflated rent bills with "guesstimate" usage figures, as many as eight retail businesses in the District's core—out of 25 total, comprising over 30% of the District's street-level stores—were served with eviction papers in fall 2007 after they were unable to pay their inexplicably large utility charges.[20] After encountering continued refusal on AMLI's part to accept deferred payments or provide metered accountings of their claimed utility charges, five original tenants suddenly departed the District en masse in the middle of the Christmas 2007 shopping season.[21]

The District encountered further troubles the following year in the wake of the national recession that began in the fall of 2008. Although its westernmost retail block, on Second Street between San Antonio St. and Lavaca St., opened that year, nearly every non-restaurant retail slot on the block has seen multiple turnovers, with many individual units changing hands as many as three or four times. A substantial majority of the retail businesses located off of West Second Street proper, on its outlying West Third and West Cesar Chavez blocks, have failed as well. One retail space at the corner of West Cesar Chavez and San Antonio Street, formerly home to Loft Furniture, has been vacant since fall 2008, although luxury car manufacturer BMW has announced its intent to house a future showroom for its new all-electric vehicle there.[22] However, the deal fell through for unknown reasons, and furnishings retailer Blu Dot successfully leased the space instead, with a scheduled opening date of early August 2014.[23]

A partial list of now-closed Second Street District retail-level businesses includes the following:

  • Area Furniture
  • Beyond Tradition
  • BoConcept
  • Cowboy Cool
  • Duo
  • Gallery D
  • Girl Next Door
  • Gomi
  • The Home Retreat
  • IF + Design
  • Kirk Gallery
  • Ligne Roset
  • Loft
  • Lofty Dog
  • Lucky Soles
  • MissBehave
  • Mototek
  • Minx
  • Octane
  • Paciugo
  • Peyton's Place
  • Plain Ivey Jane
  • Sana
  • Savoir Beds
  • Shiki
  • Shorelines Gallery
  • Studio 563
  • Sushi Sake
  • Tart
  • Yu Sushi Izagaya
  • Taste Select Wines
  • Teuscher Chocolates
  • Z Pizza

Rainey Street

The Rainey Street Historic District is a community positioned near Lady Bird Lake and Interstate 35 in a southeastern pocket of downtown. The situation at Rainey Street is unique in that the area was once a sleepy residential street, albeit nestled right next to downtown, was rezoned as part of Austin's central business district in 2004. The hope at the time was to incentivize development near the Austin Convention Center and the since-built Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. But while grander development has stalled, bars and eateries have flocked to Rainey, since CBD zoning enables traffic-heavy cocktail bar or restaurant use without any additional zoning request. As such, old bungalows have been fixed up and turned into bars and cocktail lounges with ample backyards and porches.[24]

West End/Market District

The West End or Market District of Austin is located in the northwest section of Downtown Austin, just north of the Seaholm District and to the west of the Warehouse District.

Seaholm District

The Seaholm District is a formerly industrial section of southwest downtown Austin that the city wants to transform into a vibrant urban neighborhood. The city of Austin has designated the area from Lady Bird Lake to 5th Street and from Lamar Boulevard to San Antonio Street as the Seaholm District. At the core of the district is the decommissioned Seaholm Power Plant, which will be redeveloped into a landmark residential and retail destination. After several years of delays and false starts due in part to a recession that dried up financing for development, construction is expected to start on redevelopment projects at the former Seaholm Power Plant and the site of the former Green Water Treatment Plant east of Seaholm in 2012. Austin-based Southwest Strategies Group, the project's lead developer, announced plans to begin work on the 450,000 square feet of development to be built on the 7.8 acre site. The projects will transform the decommissioned plants on downtown's southwestern edge into lively hubs with shops, hotels, condominiums, apartments and other development.[25]

Bremond Block Historic District

The Bremond Block Historic District is a collection of eleven historic homes located in the northwest corner of downtown, constructed from the 1850s to 1910.[26] The block was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and is considered one of the few remaining upper-class Victorian neighborhoods of the middle to late 19th century in Texas.[27] Six of these houses were built or expanded for members of the families of brothers Eugene and John Bremond, who were prominent in late-19th-century Austin social, merchandising, and banking circles. They are located within the square block bordered by West Seventh, West Eighth, Guadalupe, and San Antonio streets. The district also includes several houses on the west side of San Antonio and the south side of West Seventh, at least three of which were built or altered by the North family.[26]

Judges Hill

Judges Hill is a largely residential neighborhood is located north of the central business district of downtown Austin on the eastern bluff overlooking Pease Park, bordered by Rio Grande Street, 15th Street, Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Lamar Blvd. In 1851, Elijah Sterling Clack Robertson built the first home in present-day Judges Hill near the corner of 18th and San Gabriel. Although the house was subsequently demolished in 1966. Judge Robertson was the first among the neighborhood resident judges and attorneys who earned the area the name of Judges Hill. The area includes many historically designated properties from the late 19th century, some significant mid-century modern design, student communities and limited multi-family housing.[28]

Red River Cultural District

The Red River Cultural District is an entertainment district in Downtown Austin. The Austin City Council approved a resolution creating the district on October 17, 2013. The district runs along the 600 - 900 blocks of Red River Street. The resolution also directs the City Manager to address parking and loading and unloading issues in the area and to investigate the state process used to designate an area as a state cultural district. The nightclubs Stubb's, Beerland Mohawk, Red Eyed Fly, Elysium, Barbarella, Metal and Lace, Swan Dive and Plush and a handful of other clubs on nearby side streets are included in the district.

Tallest buildings


Local government

The city hall is located in Downtown Austin and is the administrative office of Austin. Originally built in 1871, the city hall was demolished and rebuilt multiple times before the current one was built in November 2004.[29][30] The current city hall cost $55.6 million to build and contains a total of 7 stories, of which 3 are underground.[31] Within the building, city council meetings take place in the council chambers.[32] The city council, including the mayor, are voted by Austin's residents and serve 3-year terms.[33]

Austin Central Fire Station 1, 2, and 4 of the Austin Fire Department, all of which are located in downtown, provide fire protection.[34]

County government

Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse in Austin

The County offices, including the Commissioners Court, district courts, county courts, and other facilities are located in the Downtown Complex.[35]

State government

Downtown Austin is dominated by the Texas State Capitol and associated government buildings.

The University of Texas System is headquartered in Downtown Austin.[36] O. Henry Hall, the main headquarters, was originally a federal courthouse and post office.[37] The Thomas J. Rusk State Office Building is located in Downtown Austin. It includes the Texas State University System headquarters.[38]

The Texas Third Court of Appeals is located in the Price Daniel, Sr. State Office Building in Downtown Austin.[39]

The Texas Department of Public Safety operates the Region 7 Capitol office in Downtown Austin.[40]

Federal government

The United States Postal Service operates the Downtown Austin Post Office in Downtown Austin.[41]

Diplomatic missions

The Consulate-General of Mexico in Austin was located in Suite 330 within the 800 Brazos Street/Brazos Place complex.[42] It is now located west of Downtown Austin.[43]


Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority provides public transportation services, including bus, paratransit and since 2010, commuter rail services to Downtown Austin. The Downtown Capital Metrorail is located near the Austin Convention Center on Fourth Street, between Neches and Trinity; the station is outside of the Austin Convention Center.[44]


Whole Foods Market headquarters

Major employers in Downtown Austin include the corporate headquarters and flagship store of Whole Foods Market and GSD&M Idea City.[45][46] Texas Monthly, a magazine, has its headquarters in Downtown Austin.[47] Schlotzsky's has its headquarters in the 301 Congress Avenue building in Downtown Austin.[48] The Texas Observer, a magazine, has its headquarters in Downtown Austin.[49] Gowalla also has its headquarters there.[50]

The Downtown Austin Alliance is a partnership of individuals and business dedicated to promoting Downtown Austin.[51]


Colleges and universities

Rio Grande Campus of Austin Community College, formerly Austin High School and John T. Allan Junior High School.[52]

Austin Community College operates the Rio Grande Campus in Downtown.

Primary and secondary schools

Pease Elementary School

Austin Independent School District operates area public schools. The zoned schools are located outside of Downtown. All residents south of 15th Street are zoned to Mathews Elementary School, O. Henry Middle School, and Austin High School. Some residents north of 15th Street are zoned to Lee Elementary School, Kealing Middle School, and McCallum High School. Other residents are zoned to Bryker Woods Elementary School, O. Henry Middle School, and Austin High School.[53] In addition, Pease Elementary School is located in Downtown Austin.[54]

Pease was built in 1876.[55] Mathews was built in 1916.[56] Bryker Woods and Lee were built in 1939.[57][58] McCallum and O. Henry were built in 1953.[59][60] The current Austin High School campus opened in 1975.[61]

The Khabele School, a private middle and high school, is located in Downtown Austin.[62]

Arts and culture

The Austin Museum of Art – Downtown

Downtown Austin is famous for its culture and 6th Street, a historic street and entertainment district.[63]


Located at 719 Congress Avenue near the capitol building, the State Theater was built in 1935; it was the first theater constructed specifically for the airing of films.[64]

The Paramount Theater is an Austin cultural icon.[65] Built and completed in 1915, it was originally made for vaudeville. Over the years, as movies became the leading form of entertainment, the theater was remodeled with upholstered chairs and a state-of-the-art sound system.[65] The theater would nearly close in the 1960s as people made the move from theaters to television.[65] However, the building would be restored before closing, leading the Paramount Theater to avoid demolition. Today, the theater continues to operate, viewing popular movies.[65]


The Austin Museum of Art is located in the 823 Congress building near the capitol.[66] The museum displays four to six exhibitions per year.[67]


Downtown Austin Magazine (DAM)[68] features articles and guides focused on Downtown Austin, including a restaurant guide and shopping guide.The Texas Tribune has its headquarters in Downtown Austin.[69]


External links

  • Downtown Austin Website
  • City of Austin's Downtown Page
  • The tallest building in Austin
  • Downtown Austin Magazine


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  2. ^ "Neighborhoods in Brief".  
  3. ^ Charles D., Spurlin. Waller, Edwin. Handbook of Texas. Retrieved September 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ Barnes, Michael (September 7, 2011). "Thank Edwin Waller for Austin’s rational plan". Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
  5. ^ McGraw, Marburger & Associates. "History of South Congress". Retrieved October 31, 2011. 
  6. ^ Whitacre, Whitacre (August 15, 2001). "6th Bar Blues".  
  7. ^ Barton, Laura (February 23, 2008). "We're Austin Music".  
  8. ^ Ezell, Kyle (2006). Retire Downtown. Andrews McMeel Publishing. pp. 160, 162.  
  9. ^ "6th Street Revealed". Celebrate Austin Magazine. Retrieved 2009-07-14. 
  10. ^ Gerbe, Bret (November 8, 2006). "A night on the other side reveals a burgeoning entertainment district among the office buildings and condos". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved November 24, 2011. 
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  20. ^ Whittaker, Richard (October 19, 2007). "Nightmare on Second Street". Austin Chronicle. Retrieved October 6, 2013. 
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  41. ^ "Post Office Location – DOWNTOWN AUSTIN." United States Postal Service. Retrieved on May 7, 2010.
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  62. ^ Home. Khabele School. Retrieved on August 12, 2011. "801 Rio Grande, Austin TX 78701"
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  69. ^ "Contact Us." The Texas Tribune. Retrieved on May 30, 2010.

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