Nearly four years after its creation, the Austin Economic Development Corp. announced its rebrand as Rally Austin as the city nonprofit moves closer to breaking ground on one of its long-planned projects in East Austin.

The big picture

The AEDC entity was created by city officials in 2020 to help manage local economic and cultural preservation initiatives. It's overseen by representatives with the city; local real estate firms; chambers of commerce; higher education institutions; and workforce, preservation and transportation groups.

Now called Rally Austin, the real estate nonprofit aims to continue supporting community-centered cultural and economic projects, such as the redevelopment of "Blocks 16 and 18" on East 11th Street, future caps and stitches over the rebuilt I-35, and a public-private development partnership adjacent to the rebuilt Austin Convention Center.

Rally Austin also works to maintain historic or iconic cultural spaces through the Austin Cultural Trust. It previously helped negotiate a new lease for The Hole in the Wall, a longtime staple on the Drag, and may assist other local businesses in similar ways.

The nonprofit has also moved some Austin cultural bond funds to upgrade East Austin's Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, open performance space at the city's development center and expand the Austin Playhouse.

Quote of note

"We really feel like the name Rally Austin makes you ask, ‘What are they rallying for?’ We’re rallying for our mission, our vision to create affordable community benefits in Austin, related to our mission statement," President and CEO Theresa Alvarez told Community Impact.

Zooming in

Rally Austin is moving closer to the redevelopment of Blocks 16 and 18, located within Austin's African American Cultural Heritage District on East 11th next to the African American Cultural and Heritage Center as well as the Historic Victory Grill.

Plans to bring affordable residential, retail and venue spaces; a new community center; and other amenities to vacant city lots have been in the works for more than two decades. The project is supported by the city, Rally Austin, the Austin Housing Finance Corp. and the Urban Renewal Agency responsible for local planning efforts around East 11th and East 12th streets.
Rally Austin is leading the redevelopment of East Austin's Blocks 16 and 18. (Courtesy Austin Economic Development Corp.)
The Blocks 16 and 18 redevelopment will bring new affordable housing, retail and performance spaces to East Austin. (Courtesy Austin Economic Development Corp.)
Officials with the nonprofit previously said the project would enhance the heritage district's status as a gateway between East Austin and downtown while also benefiting neighborhood residents—and potentially helping to bring previous residents or businesses back to the area.

Two project outlines are now being considered: a plan from the Austin Revitalization Authority and Legacy Commercial Real Estate, and a plan from the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp. and Servitas.

The city Urban Renewal Board is expected to recommend one of the two in the near future, and City Council could then approve a final plan in the coming months.

While the project has taken years to come together, Alvarez said Rally Austin had successfully gotten local buy-in for the initiative.

"I’ve been in East Austin for 31 years, and I’ve seen the community get engaged, get frustrated and disengage," she said. "I would say there was resistance in the beginning because they were like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing? We’ve been told this story before.’ So just being able to re-engage, putting together stakeholder groups, the evaluation committee, I consider that a big success."

What's next

Alvarez said Rally Austin hopes to build on its cultural support work following past investments in The Hole in the Wall and Austin Playhouse.

The organization is slowly working its way through an extensive list of venues and businesses that have asked for financial assistance, but the need far outstrips available resources. Alvarez said dozens of previous applications included requests of more than $300 million total, with just about $20 million in aid to give out.

"Unfortunately, I’d love to say, ‘Oh, other people can apply. There’s more money.’ But there’s just not," Alvarez said. "What I would love to see happen is council continuing to invest in the cultural trust that we’ve created. I’d like to see private dollars available so that we could get to a point where we’re able to accept ongoing applications."
Rally Austin President and CEO Theresa Alvarez and Board Chair Carl Settles Jr. marked the organization's rebranding in June. (Courtesy Rally Austin)
Rally Austin President and CEO Theresa Alvarez and Board Chair Carl Settles Jr. marked the organization's rebranding in June. (Courtesy Rally Austin)
She also said Rally Austin will need support from the local philanthropic community to make its initiatives successful, building on previous donations from groups like the Wells Fargo Foundation that's supported Blocks 16 and 18.

"There’s a lot of people in this city and the region working on our affordability issues, and I really feel like the way to get this done is to rally around whatever best outcome we’re all trying to achieve—which I know is easier said than done," she said.