Local businesses and artists in Austin may soon have more opportunities downtown through a new program by the Downtown Austin Alliance.

Representatives from the DAA unveiled a space off Congress Avenue on June 12 for its newly launched Downtown Austin Space Activation program. The program is intended to transform vacant, underutilized storefronts into affordable spaces for small businesses and creatives, and increase foot traffic in the city’s downtown corridor, DAA Chief Impact Officer Jenell Moffett said.

The gist

The Downtown Austin Space Activation program will allow local organizations, businesses and artists to apply to use empty storefronts downtown. The initiative will feature an array of diverse programming each month, including pop-up retail shops, artist residencies, community workshops, performance spaces, networking events for entrepreneurs and interactive exhibits, said Raasin McIntosh, DAA vice president of urban activism.

The DAA will host a launch party to celebrate the new program on June 13 from 5:30-8 p.m. at 506 Congress Ave.

DivInc—a nonprofit dedicated to promoting socioeconomic equity through entrepreneurship—will use the new Congress Avenue space for an event on Juneteenth focused on advancing freedom through technology, DivInc CEO and co-founder Preston James said.

The downtown space will help DivInc build a supportive community for technology entrepreneurs in underrepresented people-of-color communities by bringing in investors and mentors, and hosting workshops and events, he said.

“Being a [business] founder is quite lonely,” James said. “To be in an environment where there are other people that look like you or who are supportive of you or empathetic of the challenges you have, that makes a world of difference in someone’s journey.”

What else?

Additionally, Central Presbyterian Church will host performances, interactive exhibits and panel discussions in its sanctuary. Events may also be held at other downtown spaces, including 301 Congress Porch and Republic Square, Moffett said.

The DAA provided local Austin band The Foxtones with attainable performance opportunities through a three-month residency at the 301 Congress Porch, band member Kimberly Chung said.

“Programs like this ... still have a commitment to showcase that creatives matter in Austin, and work to give us visibility and awareness to the ways that creatives still contribute to the fabric of the Austin downtown community,” Chung said.

The backstory

The Downtown Austin Space Activation program comes as the DAA has looked to address an increase in vacant office and retail spaces following the coronavirus pandemic, Moffett said. A lack of affordable spaces has been a barrier to many local businesses and creatives in being able to work downtown, she said.

While the downtown corridor attracts visitors during evenings and weekends for events such as concerts, the DAA would like to see more community members visiting the area for a variety of purposes throughout the week, she said.

“What we're trying to do is make sure that the locals, Austinites all across the city, know that downtown is for them,” Moffett told Community Impact. “It's not just a place to sit, touch and go. It is a place that generates wealth for your family. It is a place that you meet with friends. It is a soulful connection hub.”

Stay tuned

The Downtown Austin Space Activation program will begin offering six-week residencies for artists that will culminate with a gallery art show. The organization will have an open call for residencies starting in July and may launch a microgrant program for artists, McIntosh said.

Moving forward, the alliance may provide more venues as property owners can offer their available spaces, Moffett said.