Ideas are blooming for Bartlett Street. Beyond the weekly community market, what could be done to permanently improve the block between 21st and 22nd? Neighbors met last to night to brainstorm.
What about a living wall with plants? Why not paint a horizontal mural on the street? What if the curbs were removed and it became a mixed-use street? Could they build a water catchment system to help with flood control?
“We can have fun for a moment with these ideas,” said Jeremy Shaw, the Mission Community Market’s executive director.
They can have fun because revitalizing the dejected block on Bartlett from 21st to 22nd has potential funding now. Shaw, design group Rebar and CARECEN, a nonprofit organization, are working with the developer of the Giant Value site and New Mission Theater on an “in-kind agreement.” Project developers can satisfy their public impact fees by reaching agreements with community groups to provide public improvements. Shaw and Rebar designer John Bela think they can get $500,000 to revitalize the back side of the new development — Bartlett Street.
That section of Bartlett is a common spot for urination, defecation, litter and window smashing, neighbors said. A parking garage and vacant lots face much of the stretch, with just a few driveways into the street and little commercial activity — none of which make it a particularly vibrant part of the neighborhood.
The Mission Community Market, which began in 2010, has helped to change that — at least every Thursday afternoon, when the street is closed and fresh produce stands, live music and local merchants fill the street. But the 20 to 25 residents who wandered through the first public meeting on the project on Wednesday night were enthusiastic for more.
The meeting on the fourth floor of City College overlooked the small stretch of street, with its tagged murals and few signs of activity. The visions presented on the large poster boards envisioned a much different scene. There were models of “shared streets” from cities ranging from London to Portland, Oregon. These spaces don’t have curbs and are filled mostly with pedestrians and bikes, but vehicles aren’t necessarily excluded. Some showed permanent kiosks and shade structures.
Participants asked questions, wrote post-it notes on the boards to share their priorities for Bartlett Street, and placed gold star stickers on the ideas they liked. Many residents emphasized better lighting and trees.
Bill McLeod, a nearby resident, feels the planning on the street was poorly done when the city built the multi-story aboveground parking lot over a decade ago.
“It feels like nobody lives there,” McLeod said. “Somebody smashes a car window and nobody watches out.”
Improvements McLeod would like to see include restricting vehicles and adding bricks or cobblestones to set it apart.
“I’d love to see it as a community place with benches and kiosks,” he said. “We need community places where people hang out, and there’s movies and concerts.”
If the development project is approved by the city, this part of the neighborhood is likely to change dramatically. The project now calls for 110 housing units with retail on the ground floor. The proposed structure would have eight stories on the Mission Street side, tapered down to six stories on Bartlett.
Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has proposed an $8 to $10 million renovation of the New Mission Theater, a historical landmark. It plans to upgrade the façade and marquee while respecting the original architecture, said Victor Marquez, a lawyer representing the projects. Alamo is planning a five-screen theater with full food service.
“You can sit, order pasta, salad, steak, beer, wine, cocktails,” Marquez said. “It’s a model that’s worked well in Austin.”
Marquez said that he and the developers are very supportive of the Bartlett Street project. Once a vision takes shape, the Citizen Advisory Committee and the developers will present it to the city.
The $500,000 the designers and community groups are hoping for would likely not be enough to improve the entire block. They might need to start with one end of the street, Rebar’s Bela said — for example, adding a 10,000-square-foot plaza toward 22nd Street — and could move on from there.
“If the community is behind it, we can find resources to improve the rest of the block,” Shaw said.
Shaw believes it is better to work with nearby projects and the new development, rather than against it. That way they can envision the future of the area together and reap some benefits.
“It makes sense to work together,” he said. “Rather than one concept here, another over there, and maybe nothing here.”
Community meetings on the project will continue throughout the summer. The Citizen Advisory Committee and the developer will present the plan to the city in October.