Photo: Protesters disrupt City Council meeting in opposition to the proposed “Domain on Riverside,” 12 protesters were arrested throughout that day
By The Incendiary Editorial Board
Last week, Austin city council gave tentative approval to the rezoning application for Project Catalyst, also known as the “Domain on Riverside” project, a massive redevelopment proposal led by developer Presidium Group. The redevelopment plan would raze over a thousand working-class and student housing units to make way for luxury condos and retail, to serve the influx of wealthy tech and other salaried newcomers to the area.
At last Thursday’s council meeting, a total of twelve activists and tenants were arrested for standing up against this gentrification agenda. While all have been released from jail, they still need support to take on the city in the forthcoming legal battle as well as continuing to protest the “Domain on Riverside” application, which has not yet been fully approved.
To encourage our readers to donate to the legal fund, we present a timeline of our coverage of the struggle to defend East Riverside to help catch up those less familiar with the fight.
Incendiary was founded a few months after the first “community” meeting hosted by developer attorney Michael Whelan in April 2018, when the rebellious crowd of working-class tenants and students derailed the presentation before it could begin and proceeded to run out the developers in attendance.
Revolutionary organization Defend Our Hoodz-Defiende El Barrio (DOH), which got its start protesting the gentrifier demolition of the Jumpolin piñata store in 2015, hit the ground organizing last summer in the Quad, Ballpark, and Town Lake apartments that would face destruction if the “Domain on Riverside” were to be approved. What followed was a battle that would set the bar for all other anti-gentrification fights in its militancy, tenacity, and will to defend Riverside.
- April 2018: Whelan holds “community” meeting to present “Domain on Riverside” project to mostly homeowners from the area. DOH activists and tenants from the area show up anyway. The chant “Austin’s not just for the rich / We won’t move another inch!” starts from the crowd and derails the meeting. Whelan admits he does not know what the minimum wage is. Sell-out politician Susana Almanza exposed as a developer collaborator. Developers in attendance forced to exit building as attendees chant, “Get out!”
- July 2018: DOH leads tenants to city offices to confront case manager Scott Grantham and other staff involved in reviewing the rezoning application.
- August 2018: Tenants and supporters confront Ballpark apartment manager Logan Stansell for negligence and complicity with developer plans. Stansell calls the police and two tenants are arrested as one of the protesters reads a list of demands put together by tenants. Stansell’s truck is spray-painted with “Scum Mngr.”
- September 2018: DOH declares a boycott of the “Riverside Arts District,” an artwashing scheme by Presidium Group to get the local art community on board with the “Domain on Riverside.” DOH leads a rally in Riverside where art magazines from one of the gentrifying artists are burned on the lot of the proposed arts district. At the regular city planning commission meeting (which makes recommendations on zoning cases before they go to city council), tenants and activists disrupt the meeting, unfurling a banner that read “No Domain on Riverside” and chanting. Two protesters throw toy snakes at Michael Whelan. Rezoning application is postponed indefinitely.
- November 2018: Tenants and activists disrupt a preview big-tent exhibition for the Riverside Arts District. Gentrifier Larry Sunderland starts a fight, and police arrest one (they would later arrest another). That evening, protesters continued to demonstrate and heckle attendees of the event.
- January 2019: Protests of Arts District bring city’s attention to developer’s lack of permits. City imposes delay on opening of Riverside Arts District for at least six months.
- February 2019: DOH leads confrontation at Austin Creative Alliance (ACA) exhibition, the nonprofit that partnered with Presidium Group for the Riverside Arts district. Later that night, the windows of the building are smashed and the words “Artwashing” and “Sellouts Fuck Off” are painted on the exterior. Later that month, activists and tenants disrupt another planning commission meeting. Rezoning application is postponed indefinitely again.
- March 2019: Incendiary publishes report on Presidium Group spokesperson David Wallace, revealing his history of fraud, failed development projects, and conning a Missouri town that had been hit by a tornado out of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Presidium Group developers submit proposal to extend Lakeshore Blvd through Roy G. Guerrero Park to service the not-yet-approved “Domain on Riverside.” DOH leads activists, tenants, and community residents in protest of city hearing for the road extension proposal at the George Washington Carver Museum. Their phony attempt at “dialogue” a failure, city staff call police, and seven protesters are arrested.
- May 2019: ACA CEO John Riedie donates $50 to legal fund for seven arrested protesters in an attempt to mock activists facing state repression. Riverside residents return the donation in the form of 5,000 pennies that are dumped on the floor of ACA headquarters.
- June 2019: Incendiary publishes report revealing ties and past dealings of city planning commissioners Fayez Kazi and Jim Schissler with Presidium Group. Planning commission recommends “Domain on Riverside” application despite a large protest of the meeting. Police force protesters out of City Hall and arrest one.
- August 2019: Tenants of the Quad (formerly Ballpark) apartments post large posters with grievances, listing poor housing conditions on doors of leasing office. Incendiary publishes report showing the developer interests behind mayor and city council members. Offices of Presidium Group spray-painted with words “Presidium Parasites / Hands Off Riverside.” City Council approves first reading of application but does not fully approve. Five protesters arrested for giving speech and holding banner at the opening of the city council meeting. Seven arrested that evening after city council vote. The case is scheduled for a second reading on August 22.