ACC wanted to demolish this skateboard shop’s home; the community might have saved it
It looked like no matter what happened, the home of No-Comply Skate Shop would be history.
A hub for the Austin skateboarding community, No-Comply has called 812 W. 12th St. home since 2008, after moving from a briefly occupied original location on South First Street.
"The money had been allocated for the skatepark; it was clear that it was going to be here, so it was a very important area to be in," owner Elias Bingham told the American-Statesman of nearby Heath Eiland and Morgan Moss BMX Skate Park. "So we really lucked out by being able to get this building."
Bingham is a lifelong skateboarder, and everyone involved with No-Comply shares a passion for the sport, he said: “That’s our foundation. We do what we can to promote the healthy skateboarding community.”
When a kid is looking for their first deck, or when someone’s wheel comes loose after attempting a particularly gnarly trick gone wrong, Bingham’s shop is just a walk away from the park.
Over the past 14 years, the skateboarding community has grown exponentially, he said, and No-Comply is now an international attraction for lovers of the sport, which made its Olympic debut at this summer’s Tokyo games. People in the know come to Austin because No-Comply is here, Bingham said.
Even if none of that was true, any business owner would probably be shocked to show up one day and find a notice posted outside, stating that the landlord — Austin Community College, in this case — had filed a permit for demolition of the property, to pursue a long-planned expansion of the Rio Grande campus’ parking capacity, which officials say will help serve their student body.
Before ACC could go ahead with the demolition, it needed the approval of the city’s Historic Landmark Commission. No-Comply's building has been around since the 1940s, an example of a once-common style of architecture now largely lost to redevelopment. The commission has the power to initiate historic zoning for the 12th Street property.
If they did so, ACC would not be able to pave skateboard paradise and put up a parking garage.
Before a July 26 meeting of the commission, Bingham posted a call for support to the shop’s Instagram account. He knew No-Comply was beloved, but he had no idea how much support would flood in.
The Instagram post was shared about 16,000 times. The city received about 4,000 emails calling for a halt to demolition efforts; Bingham was told 20 such letters would be considered a high level of support for any other agenda item, and that the outpouring crashed the Historic Preservation Office’s servers.
“That was was amazing to see in just one day ... the huge outcry from our community,” Bingham said.
A decision still hasn’t been made but is expected later this month. Bingham is hopeful. The quest to save the skate shop has taken a lot of energy, he said. If it fails, he’ll have lost a month to look for a new storefront.
“It’s hard to put it out there that we’re so vulnerable,” he said.
Can a skate shop be historic?
No-Comply runs on a love for skateboarding, which its owner picked up from neighbors when he was around 10 years old, and it took over his life, he said.
“I don’t come from any retail-based background," Bingham said. “This is my first retail job. Same with most of the employees here. ... We just take what we know with skateboarding, and then we just work it out.”
Skateboarding has taken Bingham around the world, and he’s found the sport is an instant way to connect with others, regardless of age, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. He thinks that a lot of the skateboarding industry feels the same, which explains the social media love that No-Comply has recently inspired from brands like Vans and fellow skate shops.
But love alone can’t stop bulldozers. The question before the Historic Landmark Commission is whether the building meets the criteria for historic zoning, not whether its tenant has a passionate following.
According to a city staff evaluation, 812 W. 12th St. might meet two criteria needed for historic zoning: architecture and community value.
The land where No-Comply sits hosted a mom-and-pop grocery store until the late 1930s. That structure was razed, and the current building was erected right after World War II, around 1946. It’s a one-story brick building with three commercial bays, which until the late 1950s housed Pat’s Beauty Salon, Maroon Mill ice cream parlor and Kuhn Paint and Wallpaper Inc. No-Comply is the only remaining tenant today.
“These small, neighborhood-scale commercial buildings are rare in Austin, and their locations were important to defining the character of the surrounding area, even though at the time of construction of this building, the surrounding neighborhood was being transformed into a commercial area with the construction of Lamar Boulevard to the west,” the city report reads.
The hallmarks of that kind of World War II-era architecture are intact, from the metal and plate glass storefronts to the black ceramic tile wainscoting to the corrugated metal awning.
Sharon Fleming, a local expert in historical preservation who spoke in opposition at the July meeting, said that the building is "an excellent example for a neighborhood-scale commercial building that retains all of the components you would expect to see.”
She also urged the commission to consider the community value of a place being “continuous” — not merely a reflection of what it meant to a neighborhood in the past.
'Let us stay’
Both parties agree that this day was going to come. The conflict is over how it’s shaking out.
Austin Community College became No-Comply's landlord shortly after the skate shop moved in. The property where Bingham’s business sits had long been included in the master plan for the college’s Rio Grande campus, and the lease has been month-to-month since 2014, according to ACC.
Bingham said he has checked in every few months to gauge his landlord’s plans. It’s grown harder and harder every year to find a viable new location, he said, thanks to Austin’s ballooning real estate market. All he asked of ACC, he said, was to be kept in the loop so he could plan accordingly.
“It felt pretty disrespectful to have a notice up in front of my store without telling me anything,” he said.
When asked by the American-Statesman, a representative for ACC declined to confirm that No-Comply Skate Shop was not given advance notice that the college was seeking the demolition permit.
In a letter last month to Terry L. Myers, the Historical Landmark Commission chair, ACC Chancellor Richard M. Rhodes wrote that the college opposed either delaying the demolition permit to consider alternatives or to grant the building historic protection. Rhodes disputed both the architectural significance and community value of the building. He also wrote that the college bought the property in 2008 specifically for the parking expansion, and that intent was incorporated into the Rio Grande master plan in 2011 by the ACC board of trustees in a public meeting. The expansion project, he argued, is also intended to serve the community.
Bingham sent a letter to the commission in opposition, which was co-signed by a slew of local luminaries including musicians Alejandro Rose-Garcia (aka Shakey Graves) and Angélica Rahe; restaurateurs Philip Speer of Comedor, Michael Fojtasek of Olamaie, Brandon Hunt of Via 313 and Leslie Moore of Word of Mouth Catering; “Austin City Limits” producer Terry Lickona; and X Games BMX gold medalist Chase Hawk, a native Austinite.
“We want to stay where we are to support the young girl who will ask her parents for her first board; we want to celebrate her learning to push, and we want to applaud her resilience when she gets up after her first fall," the letter reads. “Why? Because when that little girl understands that she can get back on her board after a fall, she’ll grow into a woman who will apply that same strength to everything she does.”
In his appeal to the commission, Bingham cited the shop’s role as a place of support for local youth of all genders, sexualities and ethnicities, as well as its contribution to local charitable causes.
“We have been here for 14 years, as a community steward and beacon of local business in Austin, and we are asking you, with deep gratitude, sincere hope, and complete humility, to let us stay in what has become our home,” the letter reads.
A meeting and a 'miracle'
At the July 26 meeting of the Historical Landmark Commission, 70 people registered to speak — 68 in opposition of the demolition, two in favor. Representing the latter group was Neil Vickers, executive vice president of finance and administration for ACC. He cited the college’s investment in the Rio Grande campus as proof of its commitment to Austin’s historical legacy. He also emphasized the difference between the historical value of the structure and support for the tenant, adding that the residential neighborhood the building once served is no longer there.
“Those are really two separate issues,” he said during the meeting.
“Though the neighborhood is gone, there is still a community that frequents this building,” Myers, the chair of the commission, responded later.
An interview request from the Statesman to Vickers was referred to the college’s media office, which instead provided a previously released media statement.
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Not all of the 68 registered to speak in opposition showed up, but those who did were full-throated in their brief remarks, with several going over the allotted minute.
Bingham asked that, if the commission decided to grant the permit for demolition, it be issued in a “realistic” timeline allowing No-Comply time to find a new home.
Michael Sieben, the managing editor of skateboarding publication Thrasher Magazine who lives in Austin, spoke about the tangible value for youth that the shop offers.
Mark Jackson, chief development officer of Central Texas Food Bank, pointed to No-Comply's response to "unprecedented need” during the pandemic and the $200,000 the shop raised for hungry residents.
Former ACC students, the mother of a skateboarder and a current ACC employee also spoke on behalf of the shop. One called No-Comply a "miracle." Another claimed that the added traffic that comes with adding more parking so close to the skate park would be dangerous to the kids who frequent it.
Vickers said that ACC has worked with No-Comply in the past and assured the commission that the two parties would continue to meet. Bingham expressed frustration to the Statesman about his past attempts to contact Vickers.
“I think you have a large community here that you might want to meet with,” Myers told Vickers.
Ben Heimsath, vice-chair of the commission, said, “It seems like a wasted opportunity for the college to have this kind of energy, for the very constituency you serve to be this upset — it just seems like there’s been some breakdown in communication.”
“All of this caught us a little off guard, to be honest, this historical review and kind of the public posting of that, including the signage that was put out on the street front,” Vickers said.
Steve Sadowsky of the Historic Preservation Office recommended that the building be declared a historic landmark and wondered if ACC could incorporate No-Comply's retail space into their parking expansion plans. Myers suggested that Vickers take the community’s concerns back to ACC’s board.
The commission unanimously voted to postpone action on the site until their Aug. 23 meeting.
“We heard from ACC — they tried to make a case that there wasn’t a community to have community value, and I think that that’s really kind of short-sighted,” Myers said. “Although we’re not supposed to be looking at the business itself, obviously we’ve never had this kind of outpouring of support before, for any case that I’ve been aware of.”
She added: “I’m thinking about taking up skateboarding."
“The notice was telling me my house is on fire,” Bingham told the Statesman of the demolition possibility. “How big of a fire is it right now?”
He does not know where the skate shop could move and still serve the skateboarding community, if it comes to that, but he said he is open to any option. In Bingham’s ideal world, No-Comply would stay in the neighborhood.
“ACC is listening to our community,” read a statement from the college released following the July meeting. “Tonight, we heard concerns about the future for the No Comply skate shop and of the deep sentimental value this shop holds among our skating community. The college has been and will continue to work with the tenant to understand their needs. It’s our goal to develop a timeline and process that works best for everyone involved.”
In an additional statement sent to the Statesman on July 30, a representative for the college said, “We believe there is an opportunity to forge a longer-lasting partnership that is mutually beneficial. The college is reviewing the information shared with the tenant and plans to ensure increased transparency moving forward.”
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After the meeting, Bingham said he felt overwhelmed, especially after trying to keep No-Comply alive during the pandemic.
“My goal isn't to vilify ACC here,” he said. Bingham wanted to show the city and ACC that there's a huge community that exists around the shop, and that the two entities could be stronger working together. "If we fight them and we win, they’re still my landlord.”
"There’s already skateboarders that move to Austin just because we are here, and they end up going to ACC," he said.
On Wednesday, Bingham told the Statesman that he recently met with ACC. He said the college "expressed they want to help us secure a space in the neighborhood and they see the value in working together for the future." Bingham said he's excited at the prospect of working with the college and is seeking a written statement of intent before the next hearing.
His goal's stayed the same: to continue getting people onto skateboards.
“So many people, it’s a home to them,” he said of the shop. “It’s a big family, really. Hearing that your home is going to be destroyed, it’s not easy to hear."
Eric Webb is the Austin360 entertainment editor for the American-Statesman. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @webbeditor.