Cheer Ups Cheerless Over Development

Construction of parking garage threatens rock wall

Cheer Up Charlie's owners Maggie Lea (l) and Tamara Hoover with the bar's namesake, in happier times
Cheer Up Charlie's owners Maggie Lea (l) and Tamara Hoover with the bar's namesake, in happier times (Photo by John Anderson)

On Monday morning, Cheer Up Charlie’s owner Tamara Hoover watched as a landscaper dug up plants on her bar’s back patio and loaded them into a van.

It’s the beginning of a construction project that the Red River club is begrudgingly hosting – their landlord agreed to accommodate the development of a Hyatt hotel parking structure that will butt up against the property’s western border.

The major concern, for Cheer Ups and Austin music fans alike, is that the construction will impact – or potentially eviscerate – the natural limestone wall that backdrops the venue’s outside stage. That’s the worst-case scenario; not a foregone conclusion.

An email from contractors Journeyman Construction to property managers DT Land Group details plans for scaffolding and fencing to be erected before beginning a rock removal process on the bluff that includes “Chipping/hammering/chiseling loose and/or fractured rock from the exposed hillside facing CUC” and clearing a cedar tree. In effect they’re eliminating parts of the rock that could fall later when crews begin digging the parking structure.

“There’s no communication of guideline or scope of how much rock will be removed, so that’s my concern,” said Hoover. “I haven’t been given any assurance whether it’s a few rocks or half the wall.” Hoover is incensed to have the carefully cultivated aesthetic of her patio disrupted. She’s been told that a chainlink fence and plywood board will remain on the property for 18 months. “The property manager suggested it would be fun to invite customers to spray paint the construction wall, because we’re so creative,” she sighed. “Apparently they think we’re little kids.”

In January, property managers told Hoover that the Hyatt wanted to remove the rock wall altogether. She expressed disapproval and heard that her landlord, Tracey Rawl, also refused. On June 11, a DT agent informed her that, for safety purposes, pieces of the rock bluff and its natural brush were scheduled to be removed. Hoover believes that Rawl eventually signed off for a monetary agreement.

The Chronicle visited DT’s offices on Monday to inquire about the deal between the Hyatt and Rawl and whether construction plans accounted for preservation of the limestone amphitheatre. DT’s Chief Operating Officer Belva Green refused to comment. Hyatt representatives didn’t respond to messages about the matter.

Cheer Ups may receive a rent reimbursement of $5,000 for each month that construction equipment is on their property. Hoover expects losses to exceed that sum. “This is going to affect our bottom line big time,” Hoover said. “People don’t want to come to your space when it’s under construction.”

City Council Member Kathie Tovo says she’s received emails and calls from community members concerned about Cheer Ups. Her staff’s research echoes Hoover's worry that the scope of construction isn’t clear. Tovo’s also looking into whether contractors have obtained the proper permits and is making sure all applicable laws are followed.

“What we’re trying to do now is facilitate a meeting between all of the parties so that everyone can be in the same room and share information,” Tovo said Monday. “Then we’ll see if we can resolve all the issues.”

That meeting is scheduled for Friday, June 26. Until then, Cheer Ups supporters plan to protest on the property to ward off construction crews who are expected to erect scaffolding on the patio. On Wednesday, June 24, beginning at 5:50am, at least a dozen protesters occupied Cheer Ups parking lot and successfully turned away contractors, who left at 7am, according to organizer Marcus Lawyer.

For Tovo, Cheer Ups’ situation represents the larger matter of new development endangering established local culture.

“It’s certainly a concern for Downtown and perhaps nowhere more than the Red River Cultural District, the continued need to strike a balance between the new developments occurring and preserving our iconic places and the special character of Austin. I want to make sure, as the city grows and changes, that the businesses that have made Austin such a great city have the ability not just to stay, but to thrive.”

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