Who Owns Sixth Street
Austin's Mecca for the Young and the Restless Considers an Upscale Makeover
By midnight on any given weekend, Sixth Street swarms with the seemingly random activity of an anthill. Bouncers barking on the sidewalks outside the bars promise cheap drinks: "Dollar shots!," "Quarter beers!," "No cover charge!" Live blues, Austin-style rock & roll, reggae, hip-hop, punk, etc., troll for restless ears through the opened doors of the clubs. A growing smattering of dance clubs up and down the street offer strobe lights and heavy techno-synthesized beats. There are college-aged panhandlers, tattooed and pierced, wearing sagging jeans and old T-shirts, sitting against the Victorian limestone fronts of the street's numerous historic buildings. There are the bedraggled and the downtrodden, those who haven't gotten a bed for the night at the Salvation Army up on East Seventh. And in the alleys, especially near Waller Creek, there is more than one strung-out crack dealer storing the white (pretty good stuff) to slightly yellow (not so good) narcotic rocks between his gum and cheek, waiting to make a sale.
Up and down Red River, cars cruise. Low-riders with big speakers, thudding bass, and sparkly exterior paint jobs show off their hydraulic suspensions. Bike-led rickshaws ridden by UT students weave down the street. A horse and carriage carrying a bachelorette party -- complete with six sets of dangling condom earrings -- turns a few heads.
There are cops on foot, cops on bikes, cops on horses, cops in cars, and cops in a paddywagon; at least 25 of them by 1:30am, when the bars make last call.
And then there is the dinner crowd, arguably the street's rarest breed of visitor -- older, less flashy, slower moving, and perceptibly better-heeled -- who, after steak at Dan McKlusky's or fish at Louie's 106, have made it down to 505 East Sixth, for a show by the veteran performers at Esther's Follies. Sixth Street property and business owners, the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA), and Austin Police Department officials, as well as city leaders, say they'd like to see the repopulation of this rare species, accompanied by a resurgence of the upwardly mobile thirtysomethings -- who, DAA studies show, would even shop on Sixth, if there were any daytime retail action.
So what's keeping them away?
Undeniably on weekend evenings, Sixth Street's majority population is young, generally 18 to 25. Flesh is king, and there is a lot of it. Sequined tank tops, short skirts. Young men in satin-styled polyester shirts with wide, open collars. A lot of roaming eyes. Regulars also say there is a lot of underage drinking; police say they've arrested kids as young as 12 for public intoxication. But with some 20,000 people on Sixth Street on any given night -- and nearly 55 liquor licenses within five blocks -- the drinking age is harder and harder to enforce, especially considering the stretched resources of both the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the APD.
But for many Sixth Street patrons, the underage drinking problem is no problem at all. "We're going to drink no matter what," said one bar-bound gal. And other young street-goers think the drinking age enforcement on Sixth is actually better than in other parts of the city. "Because there are so many bars here, the drinking age is actually more strictly enforced," said 21-year-old Dan Bates. "If you go to a bar up, like, on 26th Street, there aren't as many things going on, so it's more laxly enforced."
Sixth Street remains largely a peaceful place. Yet occasionally, the chemistry of the street -- a large, young, and drunk crowd -- can make for an uneasy mix. The most recent example was the riotous activity of February's Mardi Gras.
Police say that on Saturday night, Feb. 24, a fight among six people at the corner of Neches and Sixth streets drew an increasingly large crowd, some of whom ultimately began throwing rocks and glass bottles at officers. A riot ensued. Police used pepper spray and rubber bullets to help them sweep the street. There was broken glass everywhere, which took three street-sweepers most of Sunday morning to clean up. One UT student nearly lost an eye. One cop needed a couple of stitches. The windshields of several APD patrol cars were smashed, along with a plate glass window at the Buffalo Billiards. In all, 35 people were arrested. The event made national news -- CNN even -- complementing coverage of the other Mardi Gras melees in Seattle and Philadelphia. Ultimately, City Manager Jesus Garza canceled Austin's Fat Tuesday parade.
Of course, many patrons who were on Sixth Street that Mardi Gras night have a slightly different recollection of events. Several club bouncers said cops were on the street in riot gear as early as 9pm -- some four hours before the start of the riot. "They came down there all pumped up, and you could feel it," said one club bouncer. "So it was no surprise, really, what happened." UT student Jessica Murray was one of those arrested that night -- for "failure to obey a lawful order," she said, even though she's still not real sure what the order was.
She and several friends were exiting the Texture dance club near Sixth and Neches during the "riot," but had no idea that anything was going on. When her friends went to ask if they could cross the police line to catch a cab, she says, the cops began pepper-spraying them. When she approached the police line, she said, an officer "took three big steps forward" and hit her repeatedly in the chest. "I was so shocked, you know. Then he took his stick like a baseball bat and hit me full force in the leg. I asked if he was going to read me my rights and he told me to 'shut the fuck up.'" Murray said she has a lawyer and is waiting for her day in court to fight the charge.
Whatever the full story, the Mardi Gras episode didn't do much to curb consumption: Sixth Street's beverage sales tax receipts, on file with the state comptroller's office, are still on par with last year's -- if not higher in some cases. Instead, the episode's wider effect has been to highlight the tensions that have been building on the street over the past few years. Many business owners, property owners, the DAA, and the APD all separately believe that changes need to be made -- but collectively they have been unable to communicate with each other, let alone to the city leadership, whose help they will ultimately need to make any changes. "Often the problem is that the people that care about Sixth Street don't communicate with each other well," said property owner Jerry Creagh. "And that's different than just talking to each other."
City leaders say some changes need to be made to allure a mix of businesses to the street and to preserve the city's most historic district -- in the hope of making it a general-interest, profitable destination of choice, akin to San Antonio's Riverwalk. But they also admit they have never come forward with any overarching vision for the street that would achieve those goals. "They never really have ... and it's a wasted opportunity," says City Council Member Will Wynn.
Meanwhile, the idea of dramatically changing the area does not sit well with patrons who already see Sixth as a city icon. "I'd be pissed," said Jenny, a 19-year-old UT student. "This is what makes Austin what it is. You can go to other cities and be out at restaurants, but if you take Sixth Street away, you take away what makes Austin." Besides, adds her friend Shelly, 18, Sixth Street "is why so many Aggies come down here."
On a weekday around 1:30pm, the most common sight on East Sixth is a delivery truck. Beer delivery trucks mostly, boasting huge advertisements on their flanks. Other than that, there isn't much going on. The bars are closed, and that is the dominant business motif in the district, with nearly 50 bars side by side. Few people are walking the district's comparatively narrow sidewalks. A handful are headed into the Iron Cactus restaurant, at Sixth and Trinity.
Supply and Demand
At a table in the back sits 21-year Sixth Street veteran Jerry Creagh. Creagh owned the now-defunct Wylie's restaurant and bar on the northeast corner of Sixth and Trinity, which he opened in 1978. In 1992 he was a founding board member of the DAA, where he remained until he stepped down last October. He is a member of the Friends of Sixth Street -- the group that, in part, plans and organizes the street's Mardi Gras events, and is also a co-founder of the Old Pecan Street Arts Festival. "When I moved down here there were more boarded-up buildings than there were active businesses," he said. "I was here for the first round of gentrification. At that time, Sixth Street was what the Warehouse District is at this point: popular with the thirtysomething young professionals. It was very popular and very successful." That is, until 18-year-olds, then legal under the state's lowered drinking age, began frequenting the street, which lowered the average age of Sixth patrons by nearly 10 years. In 1985, the Legislature raised the drinking age back to 21, but by that point, Creagh said, the damage was done.
"All the dynamics that we created for the district, that we were trying to create, were gone," he said. "Sixth Street has struggled with an identity crisis ever since. It is scarred by that experience." Indeed, even though the drinking age rose again, many of the clubs continued to -- and still do -- allow minors in to dance and hear live music. Underage kids are marked with wristbands or stamps, yet many still find a way to get a drink. Or, as many club owners point out, the kids find a place to drink before coming to the street and arrive already drunk. "The minor situation, that's where the problems are," said Gary Manley, owner of the Iron Cactus. "When you're 17 or 18, you think you're invincible. You don't care if you get in a fight or cause problems. But at 30, that's the last thing you want to do." Creagh and Manley, like other business and property owners on the street, would like to see Sixth with a variety of businesses, and without the large crowd of underage drinkers. However, Creagh said, the city hasn't done anything to help that happen. "The city has not dealt with Sixth Street in a nurturing or proactive way. I'm really not throwing stones at elected officials, but this is just not defined as a priority for them," he said. "A lot of people want new businesses in here, but we don't have a clear idea of how to get there."
More than anything else, it's the "getting there" that has club owners stymied. Bar owners like Michael Girard, who is the proprietor of Sixth's Amazon bar and the Daiquiri Factory, along with Fifth's Voodoo Room, said he would love to see a mix of daytime businesses come to the street -- along with a resurgence of "traditional" live music venues, like the now-defunct Steamboat. "Yeah, that's what has to happen instead of so many bars," he said. "The problem with too many bars, the downside, are price wars. Lower prices make the alcohol more accessible to the under-21 crowd, and that leads to overconsumption. The biggest deterrent to overconsumption is price." But, he adds, the bar wars will continue until the city steps in with some incentives to entice other businesses into the mix. And it's true that operating a business, or simply owning property on Sixth Street, is fairly expensive. Rents are high, lots are small. Then there's the matter of dealing with the cost of historic buildings. Many of the upper floors of the nearly 70 buildings on East Sixth are empty due to the high cost of renovations. To be usable, they must be made compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as with current fire and other safety codes.
Business owners say that in this climate, a joint that operates from 10pm to 2am and sells primarily Jell-O shooters and cheap beer is more profitable than, say, an Urban Outfitters. And with the higher cover charges some clubs elicit from minors (sales-tax free too, due to a loophole in the state tax code, if the club is operating in a registered historic building), the economics don't make it all that appealing to raise the age for admission. "It's been left up to the economic forces to drive the area. It's strictly become supply and demand," said Girard. "It takes more money to run a restaurant or retail. It's more of an investment. With this free-rein market, they can't make it work."
Manley, a 13-year veteran of the street, agrees that without strong city leadership not much will change. "The city needs to dictate what they want done down here. There is no 'master plan' for Sixth Street," he said. "Not that there's one for downtown either, but at least Mayor Watson has put a good vision out there." Many club owners and employees echo one of Sixth's biggest complaints: The city continuously touts Sixth Street as its entertainment district, and proudly proclaims the city as the "Live Music Capital of the World" in all the tourist brochures, yet fails to lend any real support to the district.
Manley, Girard, and others agree that what's needed is a "vision," combined with some financial incentives to attain a "retenanting," or better business mix. "With incentives you can give property tax abatements to restaurant and retail and live music establishments," said Girard. "You can give sales tax abatements ... And you could offer low-cost or no-cost loans. There are even federal and state grants available for improving a district, and we need to be going after those."
Unfortunately, the owners say, without the guidance of the city, there hasn't been any real advocate for the street, even from within the DAA, whose stated mission is to provide "A Vision and a Voice for Downtown." In theory, DAA Executive Director Charlie Betts agrees with what the club owners think needs to happen on Sixth Street -- not that either group necessarily realizes this. The relationship between the Sixth Street business and property owners and the DAA has not been the best, which is ironic since taxes levied on downtown properties worth over $550,000 (which many of Sixth's are) make up the DAA's budget (which includes Betts' salary). In 2000, the DAA budget topped $1.5 million. Club owners say it is Betts' outward disdain for "drinking and dancing and carrying on" that makes communication difficult between the two groups. "No one who is in the liquor business," said one club owner, "likes Charlie Betts."
Betts is fond of couching Sixth Street's problems in a succession of "alcoholic" analogies. "It's absolutely deplorable that we've turned our most historic district over to the bar industry. It's just a sad, sad thing," he said. "I'm sure you've heard some of the crying and moaning by some of the business owners down there. If they want to play the blame game, they need look no further than themselves. It's like alcoholics. Unless they want to do something about the problem, it's not going to get done."
Yet even Betts remains confident that Sixth Street can become a thriving cultural center, attracting a variety of tourists as well as townies. To that end, he said the DAA is "seriously considering" forming a Sixth Street Task Force to bring property and business owners together with other downtown and city leaders and representatives from the APD, to discuss the street's future. "It doesn't take a strong sense of imagination to know what East Sixth Street could be; a unique blend of upscale retail and restaurants, some neat bars, sidewalk cafes," he said. "Any task force that would look at it, you would see that the key would be cooperation. Management to the betterment of the street as a whole." But business owners said they haven't heard anything about a proposed Task Force, and they are skeptical that the enterprise could come off -- particularly if Betts is the driving force. "It has to be solution-driven," said one club owner. "And [Betts] hates us. He thinks we do the devil's work."
While it's true Betts isn't always the most fun -- he spearheaded the campaign to rid One American Center of the Leslie Cochran Show -- he is at least relatively passionate about East Sixth, if only in the DAA's offices on Brazos Street. As of yet, though, passion hasn't translated into much coordinated action, leaving another conduit for change empty. And, club owners say, the lack of leadership from the city, combined with the lack of advocacy by the DAA, has pushed yet a third party into a policymaking role: the cops.
Over at Police Headquarters on East Seventh Street, Cmdr. Harold Piatt -- who is head of the Central West command unit, which patrols Sixth -- is in his corner office, which is overrun with rolled-up maps depicting different sections of Austin's downtown. Piatt, a 22-year veteran of the force, has spent six years on Sixth Street. "When we first started the walking beat on Sixth in 1985, we spent half our time on Sixth Street and half our time on the Drag," he says. "Now we're always on Sixth Street. We use walking beat, patrol, and mounted police down there." Behind him is a shelf stacked with brown folders containing various statistics and research studies. Over the past two years, he said, APD has arrested 3,600 people under 20 years old, primarily on Sixth Street, for "alcohol related offenses," such as public intoxication or possession. The youngest was 12. "Compare Sixth Street to Fourth and Colorado. On Sixth they allow people who are under 21 to come into the bars, and on Fourth they don't," he said. "We have all the officers in the world on Sixth Street, and on Fourth and Colorado we have two. So, the challenges really are the density of the alcohol," he said, "the sheer number of people, traffic issues, and the general demographics of the crowd."
Clubs and Cops
Piatt points out that Austin isn't the only city with these problems. In fact, last year a professor at Cal State University, Los Angeles, and a Santa Barbara police officer published a study on "Policing Entertainment Districts," and the results are almost uniformly applicable to Austin. Blair Berkley and John Thayer surveyed police-managers in "every entertainment district known to the authors" (such as the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Calif., and Deep Ellum in Dallas) in an effort to measure the strengths and weaknesses of the areas, along with the law enforcement challenges. Fighting drunks, traffic congestion, panhandlers, and public urination were common problems in each area. And, the authors point out, the problems are often exacerbated because entertainment districts tend to evolve on their own, without much forethought by city leaders, thereby leaving "policy" decisions to the police. "There are two basic approaches to planning and policing an entertainment district," the authors write. "One is to allow districts to randomly evolve over time, issue land-use permits based on political or tax-revenue considerations, then toss the 'hot potato' of district management to the police department. The police then respond with high levels of enforcement to solve problems, at least temporarily." The authors agree that this is the least effective approach, one that can lead to complaints about officers, bad press, and even lawsuits against the city. "A much more economical approach," the authors continue, "is to develop a specific plan for the area and involve the police department in the earliest development stages so that problematic district features are avoided."
Piatt concedes that without any real direction from the city, the APD has been forced to make some policy decisions -- such as to barricade the streets Thursday through Saturday nights. All parties agree that having what amounts to a four-lane, one-way urban highway through the center of the city's "entertainment district" isn't an easy thing to deal with. And given the narrow sidewalks and large crowds, options are limited. "We want people to go to Sixth Street, listen to music, have a good time," said Piatt. "Our only mandate is that they should do it safely."
But the barricades, say club owners, create another obstacle to generating other business downtown. "The police have decided to run with the barricaded streets every weekend night, whether they're necessary or not," said Creagh. "And that's another reason the restaurants won't be here: no predictable access." Yet, without the city creating with a different traffic flow model for Sixth Street, and wider sidewalks to accommodate more pedestrians, Piatt says, that's how it has to be.
Many club owners are displeased with the idea that the cops, and not the city, are spearheading the effort. "That is the entire problem," said one club owner. "Instead of saying [to Sixth Street patrons], 'Hey, could you do us a favor and stop that?' or whatever, [the police] say, 'Fuck you.' It's an attitude problem." In fact, few club owners would go on the record with the Chronicle to talk about the cops for this story. They say that when they've spoken out about perceived policing issues on the street, their businesses and employees have been the subject of harassing retaliation by the cops on the Sixth Street beat.
Not surprisingly, Piatt rejects the charge. "Every time we have an incident down there [like Mardi Gras] that angers people, we hear that same thing. The bottom line is that these problems are caused by underage drinkers," Piatt said, his tone more tired than angry. "We are put in the position where, no matter what we do, we're the bad guys."
It's true that patrolling Sixth has become a tiring job, not only for the APD but also for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC). Both are facing stretched resources as crowds grow on the street. "We don't have time to check all the bars the way we'd like to," said Piatt. "You can go to almost any bar down there and find underage drinkers." Meanwhile, Lt. David Ferrero, head of the regional TABC enforcement division, has eight agents to patrol 1,800 Travis County businesses holding beer or mixed beverage permits. TABC code requires that each permit holder be inspected once per year. Add to that the number of investigations predicated on complaints that they are required to investigate, and it becomes increasingly difficult to do any troubleshooting or "surprise" inspections.
"There has been an increase in overall violations [on Sixth Street]," said Ferrero. "With the APD's walking beat down there, in the last couple years there's been more of a focus on what's going on in the clubs." In 1999, the TABC assigned one of Ferrero's agents as a full-time liaison to APD, which, he said, has strengthened communication between the two agencies. In fact, communication between the two agencies has helped to coordinate TABC-led liquor permit renewal protests. Currently, there are three protests pending in the Sixth Street area -- at Paradox on Fifth, the Colorado Room on Seventh, and Bob Popular on Sixth. In the case of Bob Popular -- whose owners have received TABC violations for serving minors -- Piatt says he sees some hope. During mediation with the TABC, owners David DeSilva and Mark Schaberg came up with a business plan to reshape the Popular image. The club -- which has featured cheap drinks, dancing, and admission for the under-21 crowd -- has agreed to bar minors and to put up some sort of sidewalk food joint, all in an effort to retain its liquor license. "We want to kick it up a notch, and the best and quickest way to do it is to go 21-and-up," said DeSilva. "We support this change and are doing it for business motives. I am somewhat tired of having to deal with all the problems associated with dealing with minors."
Piatt is thrilled. "I hope this is the beginning of a lot of people opening their eyes to what is going on down here," he said. And not a moment too soon, he said, what with the expansion of the convention center, the groundbreaking of the convention center hotel, the possibility of a Second Street shopping area, and the now much vaguer possibility of a Waller Creek revitalization project still floating around. "I hope this is the first volley of a bloodless battle," he said. "Competition [from Sixth Street] for some of that money."
While street patrons agree they would go down to Sixth for a little daytime shopping, they still said they don't think a complete revamping of the street would really benefit the city all that much. "I am from San Antonio, so I know," said 21-year-old Jennifer Meador. "People don't come [to Austin] to go shopping. They come here to go to all the bars and clubs on Sixth Street."
And even Piatt agrees that if changes are to be made, there is just too much to do -- unless the city picks up some serious slack.
First-term City Council Member Will Wynn has developed something of a halo down on East Sixth Street. He's the man, many club owners say, who can get more city attention and resources focused on Sixth. Wynn is the former chairman of the board of the DAA and owns two historic buildings on the street -- 600-04 and 701. Wynn is an almost startlingly jovial guy, nothing like Charlie Betts. Some owners think they might even be able to communicate with Wynn, and that it just may be that the time is right to stop all this dithering and get down to some action. "First and foremost, the city of Austin does need to play a role in facilitating a vision down there," said Wynn. "The city has made mistakes in the past, so there are any number of challenges down there." Wynn said he was initially attracted as an investor on Sixth by the district's history. "The history of Sixth is just fantastic."
Savior of the Street?
Indeed, the street has a bustling past. In 1839 it was a built as a farm-to-market road, but by 1870, when Austin became the permanent capital of Texas, the street had become a business district for minorities and recent immigrants. "You had recently arrived Lebanese shopkeepers and Jewish dry goods stores," said Wynn, "and 701 East Sixth housed the first legal Hispanic hotelier. It was a wonderful congregation of society over there." Where west of Congress Avenue was primarily off-limits to non-Anglos, East Sixth was open to almost everyone.
And as wealth accumulated west of Congress, building facades were changed and other buildings were torn down. East Sixth pretty much remained the same, and has to this day, making it, from Congress to the I-35 feeder, the city's most densely packed historic street. "In the preservation business they often say poverty is the best preservation tool," said Wynn. It's mostly because of this rich history, says Wynn, that he finds the current tenant mix on Sixth frustrating. "We need to talk about a retenanting," he said. "That doesn't mean running people off the street. The dance clubs, beer joints, and tattoo parlors are all perfectly legal and legit businesses. But people are surprised at how few daytime businesses there are on the street."
Wynn recently relet his building in the 600 block to accommodate the opening of an American Youth Hostel. For years, the downstairs, on the corner of Red River, had housed a succession of bars, while the upstairs stood empty. This kind of development is music to the ears of bar owner Michael Girard, who says he's been hoping to present some improvement ideas to Wynn. "I am drawing up a proposal," he said. "Kind of just from my experiences down here, my take on it and how the area has changed and what could be done to improve it." Many club owners make it clear they could get behind some new ideas as long as they are included in the process, and not just shoved aside as "bar owners." (Indeed, the bar owners provide a fairly hefty and continuous wave of tax revenue to both city and state coffers. Last year alone, Girard said he paid $254,000 in liquor taxes. "That's just liquor tax. That's not sales tax or employment tax or property tax, that's just liquor tax." Manley said in 2000 he paid over $250,000 in liquor tax to the comptroller's office. "They can't live without us," he said. "The revenues they make off of us are huge.")
Wynn agrees. "I'm not scared to have a discussion about incentives to get the right tenant mix," he said. He said the city could do a number of things to make Sixth Street more attractive to other businesses, from subsidizing the "exorbitant" cost of building renovations to widening the sidewalks and "rethinking" Sixth Street's traffic flow. "I think it's great that we have clubs down there and live music venues and whatnot," he said. "But to the extent that we can get some daytime tenants there and businesses upstairs during the day -- I just think any city in America would trade us. Not just for the physical nature of those buildings, but that an entire generation of people are used to going down there."
Indeed, at two separate Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) meetings held in Austin in 1991 and 1997, outside architects and city planners told Austin city officials that any number of cities would kill to have such a large crowd of people -- such as Sixth Street's weekend patrons -- coming into the city's urban core on a regular basis. "And something I point out as a success story is the Iron Cactus," Wynn said. "When Gary Manley came into East Sixth I thought this was a watershed event. He came in with a good business and spent tons on renovations to this shoddy building. He is serving a great lunch. That's an excellent example of doing it right, whatever that means." He said that, in hindsight, he thinks the city lost an opportunity by not pursuing a revitalization of the street then. "We somehow didn't take advantage of the opportunity and the momentum created when the Iron Cactus came in," he said. "I don't want to waste another five years." With the opening of the expanded convention center and hotel on the horizon, there really isn't the time to wait. With a slight design tweak, the new main door of the convention center will have people entering and exiting at Fourth Street and Neches, right in Sixth's back yard. "We are going to have to focus on what the daytime ... will be for Sixth Street," says Wynn.
Some property and business owners are skeptical about how much Wynn can do for the street, as both a City Council member and a Sixth Street property owner. "I think he is probably a little constrained in what type of leadership role he can take," said property owner and Wynn friend Creagh. Creagh said he's been encouraged by some of the past positions of other council members -- like Jackie Goodman, who has championed Waller Creek redevelopment (even though the fate of that project is unclear -- it's now expected to cost at least double the original projection of $25 million, approved in a 1998 bond package). "There's been lots of individual efforts and good intentions," said Creagh. "Just not an overall policy, or incentives to make the industry successful."
Even if Wynn can champion Sixth Street to the city -- which he seems optimistic about -- getting all the business and property owners to agree to come together is a big challenge. There are nearly 70 different property owners on Sixth Street (where the average building lot is 23 feet wide), and Wynn admits that business and property owners have grown weary of unsolicited advice. "There will be some heartburn because you are talking about coordinating all these different people," he said. "Then you have some guys who are naturally suspicious of some entity telling them what to do. In an overarching context we have to figure out how to make it attractive for all these individual owners to agree what it should come out to be. And that's not all that easy. We are, after all, a city of opinions -- like all the great cities have been."
At 2am, East Sixth is still hopping. Lines at Hoek's, Roppolo's, and Dominick's pizza joints stretch down the block. There are girls getting piggyback rides down the center of the street, and more than one drunk frat boy getting ready to vomit in a trash can. There are still strobe lights flashing and bodies moving in the windows of the dance clubs. Outside the Treasure Island bar there's a sudden fracas -- a drunk young man, eyes unfocused, has tried to punch in one of the bar's windows and is being restrained by a bouncer. A crowd of about 25 people gathers, but is quickly dispersed when the cops take over.
The corner of Sixth and Red River is near gridlock, as cars migrate slowly east, toward the highway. Music blares from nearly every car window, creating a cacophony of sound: hip-hop and country competing with Tejano and synthesized boy bands. For Sixth Street regulars, it's just another night downtown. It's a thriving and fairly harmless scene, they say. Most importantly, as they see it, East Sixth makes the city what it is. "The negatives that affect [Sixth Street] now aren't that big," said 22-year-old UT senior Adam Karam. "The negatives, if you change it, [will affect the city] more. If you change it, everything changes. Austin loses a big part of its economy. It loses tourism. Why fix it if it isn't broken?"