Austin is experiencing growth in all different directions. Every single day, a new crane goes up in downtown, or up north, or on the east side, creating a new apartment complex, office building, or Torchy’s Tacos.
In this new series, called “New Beginnings in Old Neighborhoods,” we’ll be spotlighting some of the innovative construction projects going up around Austin and how they are impacting the communities surrounding them. The first project we’re going to highlight is The Chicon, located at the intersection of 13th Street and Chicon.
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Driving through the area, you see Austin’s past but also its future. Barbershops, a few food trailers, and a co-working space line 12th Street, supplemented with little homes in the Rosewood and Chesnut neighborhoods. Go north on Chicon and you’ll pass Garza High School, the intellectual starting point for of some of Austin’s past luminaries and current social innovators.
The area was once a flourishing cultural and commercial hub, home to Austin’s Harlem Theatre, which opened in 1935. But east Austin has known hard times since its early designation as the part of town reserved for black- and brown-skinned people, which is why the significant uptick in traffic over the last few years is so notable. But with more commercial activity comes higher prices, so many a need in east Austin wind up being fulfilled by nonprofits like Mission Possible.
Sean Garretson, president of Pegasus Planning and Development, an economic development and land strategy firm, has been an east side resident for 16 years. He is also the president of the Chesnut Neighborhood Revitalization Corporation, pursuing a mission to preserve the culture and legacy of the Chestnut neighborhood, where The Chicon project is located.
“We were looking for ways to bring the Chestnut back to life,” Garretson said.
The first redevelopment of the Chicon area started in 2006, with a grant awarded by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. That enabled the Corporation to complete a needs a assessment for the area and its first strategic plan. The group saw a need for affordable housing and the grant led to the creation of Franklin Gardens, a 22-unit community for seniors.
From there, the next step was to build something that was pedestrian friendly and affordable. That’s where The Chicon comes in. The Corporation bought six properties between the intersections of 12th through 14th streets and assembled them into three large parcels. The process took almost two years, and the finished product will include 45 units, with 75 percent of the units functioning as affordable housing.
Speaking to Austin.com, Garretson said he was pleased that things worked out with the neighborhood. “We had no backlash from neighbors,” he said. “There was a healthy mix of people represented with our advisory committee. We had representation from every neighborhood around the area.”
In addition to keeping most of their units affordable, Garretson and his committee also made sure that The Chicon honors the history of the area. Each of the three buildings — Ivory, Gibbs, and Joyce — were named after important figures in the community.
The Chicon also looks to add some much needed retail to the area as well. The three buildings are designed with mixed use in mind, and there are plans for a salon, two restaurants, and a coffee roaster, to name just a few. Rounding out their commercial offerings, The Chicon will also contain office space marketed to creative professionals.
Phase One, which contains 28 units in two of the buildings, will be complete by the end of 2016. For more information, check out The Chicon website.