Violence on East 6th Street spurs idea for new, mixed-use design proposal

East Sixth, or "Dirty Sixth," is a historic district and Austin’s most well-known entertainment district. But recently, it’s gotten the most attention for its violence.

"Since October 2021, 26 people have been either killed or injured in shootings in our National Register District," said Richard Suttle, who spoke at the Historic Landmark Commission meeting Wednesday night on behalf of Stream Realty. "It has become even more critical that we talk about East Sixth now."

Wednesday’s discussion centered around a common goal, revitalizing Sixth Street’s reputation by revitalizing its vibe. The company, which owns more than half of the property between Brazos and I-35, wants to diversify.

"We think the uses on Sixth Street should be mixed to where it’s more of a 24/7 [spot] instead of a Thursday through Sunday shooting gallery," said Suttle, who shared renderings on Wednesday.

The proposals include adding office and hotel space on top of certain bars, with the goal of keeping more restaurants and shops open during weekday afternoons for workers.

The company plans to ask the city to issue a code amendment. Currently, there is a 45-foot height limitation for buildings in the historic district.

Suttle said the company is having conversations with bar owners in the area and would do its best to preserve the historic feel.

Other proposals include widening sidewalks, adding trees and reopening the street to cars on weekend nights. 

"There’s definitely a problem," said Brandon Peña, who worked on Sixth Street for years. 

But he had a different perspective, pointing to the proximity of the ARCH, Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, as a major driver of the problem.

"You have a bunch of people who are homeless and who typically have an issue with either mental illness or drug abuse, and they’re right by a strip of bars," said Pena. 

From experience working in entertainment districts, he also thinks reopening the streets would cause more problems.

"You’re going to see more people getting hit by cars," he said.

Stream Realty’s proposal follows in the footsteps of the City’s Safer Sixth Street Initiative which is underway. That strategy involves actions like improving lighting and helping bar owners come up with written safety plans.