Faster Than Sound: City on the Fence Regarding Red River’s Homeless Problem

Red River merchants push to finally enclose dangerous alley with 10-foot fence, electro-pop diva p1nkstar touches down at Fuego ATX, and more


No man's land: the alley between Sidewinder (l) and Beerland (Photo by John Anderson)

Following approval by the Downtown Commission, the city finally took another step toward the installation of a fence around a dangerous alley in the Red River Cultural District. The corridor, which runs between Beerland and the now-vacant Sidewinder building, remains a hotbed for the Downtown drug and sex trades.

On Jan. 16, Nicole Klepadlo from the city's Economic Development Department and Red River Cultural District Merchants Association Executive Director Cody Cowan presented their plan to install a pair of 10-foot, enclosing fences. Empire Control Room also backs up to the alley, which connects Red River and Waller Creek.

"As somebody who has worked on Red River for 20 years, I can tell you that I have never seen a bigger and scarier challenge," said Cowan during the meeting. The live music vet long served as a general manager at Mohawk.

Klepadlo, who helped secure funds for the project through the Economic Development Department, said the fence is "intended to be a short-term, interim solution to a bigger set of issues related to this area." The city allocated up to $100,000 for the fence, which faced delays after an original contractor pulled out. The project timeline now awaits another contractor's proposal.

"The alley should be a slam dunk," Cowan tells the Chronicle. "This should be the easiest step in what long-term involves providing more support and shelter for our homeless citizens. That way, they don't become this easy target for the criminals, which also affects the music community."

Local musician and Thunderstars bassist Omar Richardson sustained a concussion in an attack by a panhandler near the alley last fall after playing a show at Beerland (revisit "Musician Hurt in Panhandler Attack Outside Show," Nov. 12, 2018). That venue's owner, Richard Lynn, says his employees have also been assaulted multiple times while working. Lynn isn't opposed to the fence, but he holds "a lot of doubts about what positive impacts it might have."

"If they fix the alley, that doesn't mean these problems go away," he adds. "What I keep finding is a lack of viable solutions."

Concern over the alley predates the Red River Cultural District Merchants Association's formation three years ago. Fed up with delays in the process, Lynn, who also owns homegrown label umbrella Super Secret Records, connected with homeless-serving nonprofits after taking over Beerland last year. His findings lined up with issues sustained by most urban centers.

"The biggest impediment to helping [the homeless] is the city," he states. "It's the red tape, bureaucracy, and not enough resources."

Greg McCormack serves as executive director of Front Steps, the main nonprofit behind the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH) shelter and assistance center on Seventh and Neches. He attributes the concentration of homeless people Downtown to "a lack of enough shelter and transitional housing beds," which are resources primarily dependent on city funding. The director says Front Steps supports the alley fence, adding that "any usefulness of the alley has gone away. It doesn't go anywhere, and it's just dangerous."

McCormack explains that the homeless congregate around the ARCH because it's accepted as a "semisanctioned encampment." Gentrification throughout Austin and development on Red River make this one of the last areas they're generally allowed to gather. Informal ARCH surveys found that some 80% of people outside the shelter never enter to seek help and, despite public perception, aren't waiting to get in the building.

Last month, Beerland hosted a fundraiser for the ARCH where the Thunderstars performed. The venue now offers a portion of its Saturday proceeds to a chosen nonprofit, with this month's weekly contributions going to LifeWorks.

Cowan and other business owners have also met with the ARCH. The RRCDMA director hopes to develop a coalition to support homeless-serving nonprofits, including nearby Caritas, Salvation Army, and the Trinity Center.

"Let's highlight the issue and help [nonprofits] be even better by finding supporters or fundraising," shares Cowan. "Music people, we know how to get loud and get attention, so let's just own it and be part of the solution."


p1nkstar at BabeFest 2018 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Future Ancestors

It all started with a video. The green screen, MySpace evocative dance clip for haunting Spanish-language track "Groserias" grabbed thousands of views, creating the local club enigma known as p1nkstar. "Ur fav electronic pop superstar," the p1nkstar package includes digital art installations, wireless mics live, and synchronized dancers – all held together by an iconic 'stache and devotion to a certain hue.

Think early Aughts Paris Hilton on Hello Kitty steroids.

The DJ component of her artistry touches down at Fuego ATX, a monthly QTPOC dance party started by Frida Fridays founder TK Tunchez. p1nkstar's four-month residency kicks off Jan. 24 at Sahara Lounge, promoted with a picture of the avant-pop wiz teasing masculinity in a bullfighter's getup.

"I'm always thinking about queering Mexican machismo," adds the Mexico-raised performer. "It's about proposing alternate gender roles or sexualities that are not really discussed in Latinx communities, and being like, 'Oh, let's mix it all up and change it.'"

That ethos aligns with the residency's theme of Future Ancestors, shared with DJ Chorizo Funk.

It's about "creating new space for queer, brown people, who in the end will become the queer people of the future," shares p1nkstar, who also plays BossBabes' State of the Uterus party Fri., Jan. 25, at Cheer Up Charlies. "It's really fun to play an old-school [reggaeton] track and suddenly everyone who's Latinx on the dance floor just starts going off, because we all listened to this in second grade."

Despite recently wrapping up an art degree at UT, the pop singer plans to stick around Austin. With recent features in promotion for sexual health clinic ASHwell and a Dallas party with Charli XCX, p1nkstar emerged as a prominent figure in the local underground arts.

"I feel like I've really found my voice," she shares. "There are so many more things that Austin needs to create a sustainable queer community, and I have that responsibility now."

Crosstalk

Austin Center for Events accepts applications until Feb. 8 for special events taking place during South by Southwest. The hard deadline reflects a change from previous years, where requests rolled in until the department reached capacity. Applications and guidelines for temporary use permits are available on the City Stage website.

The Vapor Caves, new project from Yadira Brown of Keeper and local producer BoomBaptist, debut first single "The Chase" Jan. 24 on Broad City's fifth and final season premiere. The team previously licensed its dark, R&B-influenced funk "Happy to Be Sad" to the Comedy Central program's second season.


UtopiaFest 2018 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Utopiafest Launched an online fundraising campaign ahead of its November gathering at Reveille Peak Ranch. The fest abruptly changed venues a month before last year's event and writes that "not achieving the growth we planned, and having invested in the previous location, left us in a major deficit."

Super Secret Records reissues ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead's classic Merge Records 1999 release Madonna ahead of an international tour. Label owner Richard Lynn put 100 copies of the 20th anniversary vinyl up for pre-order and says they're almost sold out.

Clifford Antone will be inducted into the Museum of the Gulf Coast Hall of Fame on Jan. 24. The Port Arthur-born blues godfather, founder of an eponymous club, record store, label, and various charitable efforts, passed away in 2006.

Kick Butt Gospel Brunch ran for 17 years at Threadgill's World Headquarters, produced by the Gospel According to Austin. Following the restaurant's shutter – survived by Threadgill's Old No. 1 on North Lamar – the tradition hops over to South I-35 eatery Opal Divine's Austin Grill. The Levites play Sunday at noon.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Red River Cultural District, p1nkstar, Economic Development Department, Nicole Klepadlo, Cody Cowan, Beerland, Richard Lynn, Omar Richardson, Greg McCormack, ARCH, Fuego ATX, Frida Fridays, TK Tunchez, Vapor Caves, UtopiaFest, Clifford Antone, Kick Butt Gospel

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