That Humongous Hotel Going Up Next Door to The Hideout Downtown?
Yeah, say Badr & Janik, it's gonna impact a thing or two, alright.
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
2:10PM, Mon. Apr. 21, 2014
Dig it: 32 stories of upscale hostelry, smack up against the historical building that houses The Hideout Theatre and Coffeeshop near Sixth & Congress.
The Austin-American Statesman reported the bare facts a while ago, about how two Starwood-brand hotels are slated to inhabit the new skyscraping structure that's going to take the place of 1) that ground-level parking lot where the popular Kebabalicious food truck hangs out and 2) that part of the adjacent block that houses the Wholly Cow burger joint and more.
The new skyscraping structure that's, what, eventually going to be sharing a wall with The Hideout Theatre? Is that even possible? And what does it mean for the Hideout's overflowing slate of improv shows and classes, for its epicenter of caffeine and wi-fi and tasty noms, during the tourist-oriented behemoth's lengthy construction process? That's what we're reporting on here – the imminent neighbors' concerns and general reactions – via an interview with two of The Hideout's owners, Kareem Badr and Roy Janik.
[Note: They don't own the building itself, Badr and Janik; they, along with Jessica Arjet, own the longtime theatre and coffeeshop business therein.]
Brenner: OK, so let's look at the situation here. In a time that’s far too soon, there’s gonna be a 32-story building right next to the Hideout. But, before it’s done, that building’s gonna be under construction for God knows how long, and –
Badr: Twenty months.
Brenner: Oh fuck.
Badr: I think you just summarized exactly how we feel about the situation.
Badr: But, ah, it’s inevitable. We’re Downtown, and that’s part of the cost of being Downtown. My main concern is the construction. They said it’s gonna be 20 months of construction – well, demolition-slash-construction – and I don’t know if I believe it. Because I was also told that the UT building that’s going up right next to my apartment is gonna be 15 stories and take 30 months to build. So I’m wondering who’s lying. Maybe UT’s contractors are slower? But it’s a concern, because not only is the hotel going up next to us, it’s going up right next to us: They’re going to tear down the building that shares a wall with us. That’s one of the parts where we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Janik: The Hideout is really old, built in … maybe 1875? That’s as far back as records go. And the walls are old and fragile. So we’re very curious to see what happens when you knock down the building next to it and have these large vibrations – I assume they know what they’re doing.
Badr: I went to a meeting with the building owners, and the architects, and some of the engineers. And they’re going to be doing a series of investigative partial-demolitions to figure out the structure of the wall, and what it can take. And they’ll document everything about the Hideout, so if there’s damage, they’ll pay. But it’s just the prospect of that happening that … ah …
Brenner: What about the impact of construction on audience traffic? Because, just two blocks away there’s that one building going up that’s only a few stories, and already all that parking is blocked off.
Janik: The construction is our number-one concern. Even if everything is super-smooth and it doesn’t impact parking – which it will – the noise factor alone could make doing shows problematic. Now, they claim that they’ll stop construction at, like, six or six-thirty, before night-time.
Badr: Yeah, they claim that. But I also know that, with multimillion-dollar projects, as they need to hit a deadline, they’ll do what they have to do.
Brenner: And what about daytime customer traffic in the cafe?
Badr: Oh, we’re screwed. We’ll do what we can, but – it’s gonna be loud. There’s been streetwork next to my apartment for about a year and a half, and I’m really aware of the sound of those jackhammers in the morning. And they’re just going three feet down. For this hotel, they’re gonna have to go a hundred feet into the ground. If it’s 32 stories up, they have to go down a lot. So I don’t know how feasible running the business is going to be. We’re gonna do what we can, but –
Janik: It’s a big unknown, and that’s the scary thing. The construction phase – which is a very long time for a business, even if it is just 20 months – is not going to be a benefit to us. At best, it will have little impact; but, at worst … well, there’s a very large range. Now, once the hotel is in place, you know, having a hotel right next to a coffeehouse – as we know when we [the improv troupe Parallelogramophonograph] traveled on tour for shows, we always made a ritual of going to whatever coffeehouse happened to be closest to the hotel – so that could be a good thing. And working with the hotel to help promote our shows and stuff could be great, as well. But that’s a really long way away. First we have to weather the storm of construction.
Badr: And before the construction, there’s that demolition phase. Which is also a big unknown. And we don’t know what’s gonna happen with regards to electricity and water. Are they gonna be cutting it off constantly, for days or weeks?
Brenner: Ah, Jeez, yeah: The utilities and everything …
Janik: They have to, right? Those things can’t be totally independent of each other.
Badr: So I don’t know if they’re just going to write us a check? Not that that – I mean, it would help, but – you know? I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I’ve been going to the meetings with the designers and the hotel people, and I’ve been going to city council meetings – because every sub-committee that’s part of the city council is gonna have to weigh in on it. They already had the historical commission weigh in on it, and I can’t remember if they approved it or said they were gonna have to do further review. I mean, this is a done deal. But, even though it’s a done deal, it’s still gotta go through a number of bureaucratic hoops and paperwork.
Brenner: Is there a start-time to all of this demolition and construction?
Badr: When I met with the engineers, they said nothing’s gonna happen for at least eight months. Nothing – for at least eight months. So I take that to mean at least nine months to a year before they’re knocking down buildings and drilling into the ground. We haven’t even begun any talks with the building developers about compensation or that sort of thing.
Brenner: Like, they’d cover for losses incurred?
Badr: The good part is that we’re such a small operation compared to them, financially, that maybe they will just write us a check? On the other hand, the reason that we’re gonna just have to weather whatever happens is that we’re small and – we don’t have much clout, y’know? I’m sure there’s hundreds of millions of dollars to this project – it’s gigantic. But there are a number of problems right now, and – oh yeah, now I remember: the historical commission hasn’t approved the new building yet, because the outstanding issue is, the current plans have the hotel being built right up against our lot. So – right up against the shared wall, the party wall. But, if they do that, then we technically share a wall with them. And if the owners of our building ever wanted to build up, well, the hotel owners have to account for that. Which means that the shared wall has to be a fire wall – which means no windows. So they’re proposing 340 feet up, with no windows. And I think the historical committee was like, “Mmmm, yeah, that’s gonna be hid-e-ous.” And it’s four blocks away from the Capitol.
Brenner: Yeah, that’d be kind of ugly. Maybe they could, ah, commission Kerry Awn to do a mural on it?
Badr: Now, honestly, it’s kind of a cool hotel – I’ve stayed in one of their hotels before, and it’s kind of a funky, boutique business hotel. I mean, it’s just a fucking hotel, but it’s pretty cool. So my theory is that they're gonna redesign some things and pull back ten feet or so, so they can put windows in. But I haven’t heard anything about that. So we still have a lot to wonder about and deal with. It’s – it’s all just a lot of question marks right now, y’know?