Renovation, not demolition, needed in downtown Austin

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Everyone has a super hero inside of them.

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Everyone has a super hero inside of them. Something they feel compelled to stand up and defend, even if they have to wear hot pink tights and a cape they’ll do it.

Email newsletter signup

For some it’s an issue, such as a person’s right to abortion. For others, it’s an activity, like baseball or nude dancing. For me it’s downtown Austin.

Let the city talk of "cleaning it up" and I turn into a defender of the people.

One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.

I don’t think the council has a secret agenda to get rid of the downtown bars, but it sure does look like it sometimes. The future of exotic dancing – and therefore the future of the two bars that feature dancers – is under question. After Monday’s council meeting, Spanky’s Tavern is under condemnation – which means he has to relocate or take the money and run. The Silver Bullet already belongs to the city, and officials want to pass it on to a developer, but the costs of renovating the building is cost prohibitive so City Administrator Pat McGarvey has said it may come down in the end too.

Fabulous. Now, not only can Austin boast of being SPAMTOWN USA, but also of having the most downtown parking of any southern Minnesota city. We could make T-shirts: "Come to Austin and park," or "Austin, where a parking space is only a step away."

At least we’ll have a great view of Main Street from the Herald. With the exception of the Usem’s building and Thirsty’s, we’ll have parking lots covering all of the land in between. Forget cleaning up the prostitution activity in the city parking lot, give me a pair of binoculars and I can even charge admission for access to the Herald’s second-floor windows – kind of a "Being John Malkovich" meets "Debbie does Dallas" scenario.

As for architecture, at least Austin’s downtown has character and originality, unlike the commercial developments – Kmart, Applebees, Target, Bath and Body Works – northwest of town. Shop in the mall or Target, eat at Perkins or Culvers, and you could be in any town in the upper Midwest. Go downtown, and you know Austin is the only place you could be.

If you’re frightened by the earthier clientele downtown, then you are free to have your drinks in an establishment where they have to buy their local history from the historical society, because they don’t have their own. But, for heaven’s sake, leave the people who drink downtown alone. Knocking down the bars is not going to change to fact that a good percentage of Austin’s population is working class, nor is it going to make them change their ways.

The way I look at it, it’s kind of like the First Amendment.

If you’re going to protect the one’s you like, you should offer the same chances the ones that you might not like. And don’t say you’re going to preserve (now I speak of the former Silver Bullet) and then refuse to put any more money into a building that you took off the private market. Make sure you’ve done a good job with what you have before you spend money acquiring anymore of downtown.

Why not give the Silver Bullet to Apex Austin along with a grant for renovation? They could use the Arcade side for offices and classrooms and they’d have a huge venue for dances, cultural fairs and other events. I’m sure holding a dance there would get many more of our Hispanic residents acquainted with the place than any number of flags hanging outside could ever do. Make a deal that the city will give a one-time grant, and then the welcome center can make its money renting out the hall for future dances and events.

The renovation – not demolition – of downtown is important to many Austin residents, not just those who do business there or who go to the bars there. We need better answers than parking lots. Progress shouldn’t mean erasing a city’s past.