‘SoChaca’ develops, vendors join forces

Entrepreneurs in the southern Manchaca Road area are working together to brand local businesses as the area continues to grow.

Entrepreneurs in the southern Manchaca Road area are working together to brand local businesses as the area continues to grow.

The southern Manchaca Road area is poised for growth as new businesses and developments seek to capitalize on residential development.


Construction is underway on projects including Ravenscroft Retail, South Austin Beer Garden and the expansion of business park The Manchac.


In addition, to inform residents about goods and services available in the area, local business owners have dubbed Manchaca Road from Slaughter Lane to FM 1626 “SoChaca” and have begun a grass-roots effort to form a business district, SoChaca Austin Merchants.


Susan Harris, president of Site Solutions Inc., said when the company began work on The Manchac five years ago there was unmet demand in the South Austin market, which draws shoppers from Buda and throughout Southwest Austin.


“People don’t want to get out of their bubble,” Harris said. “They want to live and work pretty close together.”



Turning dirt


Several projects in the area are being developed. Construction was finished recently on the ninth of 11 buildings in The Manchac, and in May a 7,200-square-foot building was completed, Harris said.


Harris said permitting is in progress with Travis County to begin plumbing and foundation work in June on the final two buildings, which will likely be completed by November.


Work is underway on Ravenscroft Retail (See sidebar).


Also under construction is a new multipurpose classroom coming to Menchaca Elementary School. Site work, drainage and plumbing updates at the campus are part of $2.2 million in bond projects, according to Deborah James, architect and project manager with Austin ISD’s Construction Management Department.  The work is scheduled for fall completion. More improvements will be scheduled for summer, she said. 


Construction started in late January on South Austin Beer Garden at 10700 Manchaca Road. Co-owners Ryan Thomas, Davey Pearce and Chris Cantu are transforming a 1920s-era house into the bar area and will offer Texas beers on tap.  Thomas said the 1-acre property will have a covered pavilion, music stage and food trailers when it opens this fall. 


Ted Brackin, owner of Manchaca Plaza LLC, said plans are in place to develop Manchaca Plaza—buildings ranging in size from 2,000 to 10,000 square feet on 6.5 acres. There is no firm timeline, but site work began in spring 2014, he said.


Robert Amoroso, Manchaca Village Veterinary Care business manager, said the area is still establishing its identity.


“It has become more populated; there’s definitely a lot more traffic,” he said.



‘SoChaca’ develops, vendors join forcesInfrastructure plans


Some residents are concerned the development is progressing faster than the infrastructure needed to support it, said Roberto Talamas, president of the Hillcrest neighborhood’s homeowners association.


“We don’t have any problem with the development; the problem is the city has to move ahead of the development,” he said.


The Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to expand a 1-mile stretch of Manchaca Road from Ravenscroft Drive to FM 1626 into a five-lane road have stalled because of a lack of funding, said Greg Malatek, Austin district engineer with TxDOT.


Malatek said TxDOT plans to reach out to the city soon to discuss the project, which would establish two lanes in each direction and a center lane.


The project would cost about $10 million, and funds could come from the city, TxDOT or the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, he said.


“We’re still committed to having [the project] environmentally cleared and plans ready on a shelf in case funding does become available,” he said.


Hillcrest HOA members met with officials including Malatek to voice support of the roadwork, HOA board member Ron Richter said. The city controls Ravenscroft and TxDOT controls Manchaca Road, he said. 


“All we feel we can do at this point is follow up with how the process is going,” he said.


Richter said if the roadwork happens, the area has the potential to become a district similar to that of South Congress Ave.


“All of these elements are coming into place to make this road [from] Slaughter to 1626 really viable and alive,” he said.  



New growth, expansions


Co-owners Brenna Robertson, Clint Robertson, Rene Stokes and Caleb Horn opened local bar Indian Roller on Oct. 20 at 10006 Manchaca Road. According to Stokes, the general manager, the group found the property while looking in South Austin for a site away from downtown.


The owners did not plan on being so far south but fell in love with the neighborhood, Brenna Robertson said, adding they plan to open a wine and coffee bar sometime in 2016 as well as a rock music venue called She Wolf in 2017 on the group’s 8-acre property.


Moontower Saloon opened in winter 2012 and has expanded since then, adding parking, decks, volleyball courts and other facility improvements.


Co-owner Josh Bumb said the business also aims to build a 10,000-square-foot dance hall featuring medium-sized musical acts. A date has not been determined, but ideally work will begin in early 2016, he said.  


Talamas said he loves seeing new businesses but hopes police presence will increase to keep streets safe, considering the amount of bars in the area. 



Merchants joining forces


SoChaca Austin Merchants need to organize, said Jill Swift, Johnny G’s Meat Market co-owner. 


“We’re like the best-kept secret [in Austin],” she said. 


Restaurants, bars and a roller rink are among the establishments that make up SoChaca’s eclectic mix, Swift said.


When Earlita Hellums, owner of Austin Roller Rink, heard about the SoChaca merchants group, she said she decided right away that she was on board.


“It’s hard to be a small business,” Hellums said. “Every little bit helps, and there is plenty of business to go around. If you can help other businesses find success, then that’s great.”


The group formed a Facebook page in March and plans to publicize local events, said Diane Winslow, co-owner of It’s About Thyme Garden Center.


“Unless you are traveling through for your commute, I think people wouldn’t be as aware that all these businesses exist down here,” Amoroso said.


Business districts can help bring residents together, said Rebecca Melancon, executive director of the Austin Independent Business Alliance, which has established its IBIZ districts —local business districts—in areas throughout Austin, including on South First Street. 


“It’s about local business,” Melancon said. “It’s not about how funky you can be or bizarre you can be. [Business districts] are neighborhood destination points of local businesses.”


Creating districts helps support community, she said.


“We’ve bridged the gap in so many ways [in terms of] helping the residents see the businesses not as those commercial entities on the street but as neighbors.” 


For additional coverage from our media partner KVUE, watch "Businesses want to nickname part of South Austin 'SoChaca.'"    



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