Changes coming to South Congress business landscape

South Congress Avenue (KXAN Photo)
South Congress Avenue (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The changing landscape of Austin keeps on growing, and South Congress is poised to go through another round of changes.

Over the summer, Red Dog Engineering submitted an application for a 1.5 acre project called Music Lane Mixed Use, which would turn five lots extending from 1011 South Congress Ave. to 1123 South Congress Ave. into an office, retail and restaurant building with a parking garage. The site plan is currently under review and in the preliminary stages, according to the city’s development services department.

Red Dog says at this time, it has no comment, but businesses impacted certainly have something to say. Like countless others, Sfanthor House of Wax and Museum of the Weird owner Steve Busti came to Austin with a dream.

“I really kind of had this affinity for these classic horror films and sci-fi films growing up,” Busti said. “Everyone was like a monster kid from the ’60s and ’70s.”

His dream was to revive monsters from horror films of that time period for a new generation of fans. But today’s monster looks a bit different for those on South Congress. There’s a fear developers will gobble up the strip of the city that helps keep Austin weird. Busti says he learned his lease would be up at the end of 2016 the first week he opened up the wax museum last year.

But now that the time is here, said Busti, “I don’t even have time to kind of really mourn, I just basically have to figure out what I’m going to do.”

In the short term, Busti is working to transfer what he can to his Museum of of the Weird on 6th St. But he’s looking for help to foot the steep bill of that expense, and fund a temperature controlled room for the wax pieces he’s able to fit.

“I’d love to keep it in Austin, but we are keeping our options open and looking at other cities at this point,” Busti admitted, saying after pouring more than a year’s worth of work into the sets and exterior of the wax museum, he and his wife are looking for locations where they’d be able to own the building. As more time passes, he struggles to see that as an option anywhere in Austin that would make sense for his business, needing to be in tourist hot spots.

Busti says they want to go out on their own terms, so rather than wait until Dec. 31, fittingly enough, the wax museum’s last day will be on Halloween.

KXAN also reached out to one of Doc’s owners, Charles Milligan, who said he’s aware the original owner sold the property last year. He said they spoke briefly several months ago about being included in any future plans but right now, he says Doc’s has 13 years left on its lease and they plan to use every year left.

Kimber Breaux works across the street on South Congress, at Heritage Boot.

“Even if these big purchasers, real estate purchasers and investors allow them to stay, will they be able to afford to stay?” Breaux said. “If you think about what defines Austin, South Congress is one of the things that defines it.”

It’s a definition many on South Congress fear is being re-written, as concerns grow with more properties being purchased.

KXAN  wanted to see how much property values have gone up in that area in recent years. Later this month, Home Slice Pizza celebrates its 11th anniversary. Just since 2012, the land value at that spot has gone up 200 percent.

Across the street at Hopdoddy Restaurant, a newer development, the land value has gone up more than 150 percent in the same time period. The land value of the South Congress Baptist Church property increased 166 percent and the property the church ended up developing to become the SoCo Hotel, has increased more than 550 percent since 2012.

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