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Apartments planned at former Threadgill's site on Austin's North Lamar Boulevard

Shonda Novak
Austin American-Statesman
Developer JCI Residential plans to build 100 apartment units behind the original Threadgill's site on North Lamar Boulevard.
"Our intention is to restore the existing front building to its original roadside gas station condition with an open porte-cochère as it was originally built," said JCI President Kurt Goll.

A developer plans to build 100 apartment units behind the former Threadgill's restaurant, a treasured staple on Austin's North Lamar Boulevard for almost nine decades before closing in 2020.

Threadgill's, a one-time Gulf service station and beer joint turned Southern comfort food restaurant and live music venue, dates to 1933. It achieved a place in history as the venue where its late proprietor Kenneth Threadgill gave then-budding singer Janis Joplin her start in the early 1960s.

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The restaurant, which Eddie Wilson of Armadillo World Headquarters fame opened in 1980, closed for good in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wilson's other Threadgill's location — Threadgill's World Headquarters at West Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road, just south of downtown Austin —  closed in 2018.

Now, a new chapter is ahead for the Threadgill's site at 6416 N. Lamar Blvd., which is valued at $3.3 million by the Travis Central Appraisal District. Austin-based developer JCI Residential plans to build the apartments behind the existing Threadgill's property, said Kurt Goll, JCI president.

There's no timetable for when construction might start. However, it likely won't be this year, Goll said, because the developer's site plan is still working its way through the city review process. The site plan will not require City Council approval, he said.

There are no plans for a restaurant or office space in the new project, Goll said.

JCI did not release an estimated construction cost for the project, which will be built by Austin-based Journeyman Co.

Goll said Threadgill's original front building will be preserved. He said there are no plans as yet for the original building, but said those would be incorporated into the project in the design phase.

"Our intention is to restore the existing front building to its original roadside gas station condition with an open porte-cochère as it was originally built," Goll said. "This restoration and reuse of the historic building was the desire of (the city of Austin's Historic Landmark Commission) and they are in favor of the addition of a residential project behind it. We are excited about the idea of adding a viable use to the site that would make restoration feasible."

Goll said there are some stainless "art-deco additions" to the original building, and that "while a lot of people equate them to the historic building, they are recent and not historic."

"They were added in somewhat recent renovations," Goll said, and "will not be kept onsite."

At first, JCI considered tearing down the existing building, because most of the interior -- ceiling panels, flooring, booths, bars and other furniture and fixtures -- had been removed, Goll said.

"We just didn’t think there was anything left to save," Goll said. "We have since decided that the original gas station is still there, at least in its exterior shell."

Terri Myers, chair of the city's Historic Landmark Commission, said the developer's initial request to tear down Threadgill's was denied.

Although the original building had been altered from its original appearance,  the commission "determined that the service station and iconic open bay (porte-cochère) retains sufficient architectural integrity to convey a good sense of history and has exceptionally significant historic associations," Myers said.

"I made a remark to the effect that in a city that identifies itself as the live music capital of the world it would not be appropriate for the Landmark Commission to approve the demolition of the place where Janis Joplin got her start, along with the many other local musicians who gave Austin its reputation and justification for that claim," Myers said in an email.

"We did compromise by allowing the construction of new development on the site but with the understanding that Threadgill's be front and center, restored,and treated with the respect it earned as a major incubator for musicians and the nascent music scene in Austin 'back in the day,'" Myers said.

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Developer JCI Residential plans to build 100 apartment units behind the original Threadgill's site on North Lamar Boulevard.
"Our intention is to restore the existing front building to its original roadside gas station condition with an open porte-cochère as it was originally built," said Kurt Goll, JCI's president.

Apartment market keeps roaring

JCI's planned apartment project comes as the Austin area undergoes what longtime real estate experts have said are unprecendented times in the its apartment market. The region's job and population growth are fueling soaring rents and occupancies, and thousands of new units are being built and planned. Skyrocketing home prices and rising mortgage interest rates also are keeping some would-be homebuyers in the rental market.

Goll said market-rate rents for JCI's new project have not yet been determined. He said 10% of the units will rent for below-market rates.

"Austin continues to struggle with growth and housing availability and cost," Goll said. "Like most any other product the cost of housing construction is at an all-time high as is insurance, taxes and payroll to operate. These things have combined to make a lot of projects unfeasible, especially smaller ones with less economy of scale."

Goll said Austin needs more housing within "development incentivized zones" that have mass transit and that "bring affordable units as a condition of zoning."

"The city should encourage and speed the process of zoning and entitlements so units can get underway while costs are still within reason," Goll said.

In south Austin, Threadgill's location at 301 W. Riverside Drive closed in late 2018. At that time, owner Wilson said:  “Flummoxed and bludgeoned by property tax increases, the grim truth is that we can’t afford it on the slim margins you make on meatloaf and chicken-fried steak."

In an email Wednesday, Jack Burton, executive vice president of Crockett Properties, the landlord for the south Threadgill's site, said: "There is heavy interest in our former Threadgill’s site and I hope to get to final offers within the next thirty days.”

The Travis Central Appraisal District valued the property at almost $8 million this year.

The site is in an area known as the South Central Waterfront district that encompasses more than 30 properties — most of them privately owned — along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake. The area is seeing new development and more is coming, including the future transformation of the site that formerly housed the Austin American-Statesman, where a large mixed-use project is planned.