'The Real World' house would no longer stand under proposed Austin Convention Center expansion plans
Austin Convention Center expansion efforts took another step forward, setting up the potential demolition of two downtown blocks and one pop culture landmark.
"The Real World" house, now home to Vince Young Steakhouse, is located within the footprint of the event center's proposed westward expansion. City Council agreed Thursday to initiate land acquisition discussions and bring back property sale proposals by summer 2021.
The MTV show filmed in Austin in 2005 and debuted the same year. By the next year, Colorado-based Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant opened in the former "Real World" house at 3rd and San Jacinto, converting the home's infamous indoor pool into a fountain, which still stands today.
Other than the fountain, only the pool equipment remains today, according to Phillip Brown, owner and chef at Vince Young Steakhouse, which opened in November 2010 after Rio's closed. The location still draws the occasional tour group, he said.
"Every once in a while you'll see a big group of the segways out on the street corner talking about 'The Real World' house," Brown said. "So maybe that's brought us some business, too."
Vince Young Steakhouse is among several restaurants and businesses that would be impacted by the 750,000 square foot, $1.2 billion expansion proposal, which council members approved in May 2019 and was upheld by voters later that year. Other local concepts in the area include Café Blue and YORU Sushi, which opened earlier this year.
Despite recently renewing the restaurant's lease for the next 5 years, Brown said he and other nearby tenants fear the potential cost and burden of having to relocate sooner than anticipated.
"Are we here as long as we want to be here, or are we here another 2-3 years?" Brown said. "There's a lot of uncertainty right now for us."
Brown is hoping the city works with landowners to ensure displacement costs are covered for Vince Young Steakhouse and other impacted businesses. Eminent domain would obligate the city to provide such assistance, he said, although that idea has not been proposed publicly.
Exact details of the land purchase will be worked out as part of the negotiation process approved Thursday. City Council increased the hotel occupancy tax last year from 7% to 9% to help finance the expansion.
This rendering shows proposed plans for the Austin Convention Center westward expansion efforts.City of Austin
"This action is the first of a two-step approval process. … The second step of this process is anticipated for the summer of 2021, with a real estate purchase and sale agreement with accompanying documents," a city spokesperson said in a statement.
The longtime warehouse converted into "The Real World" house is now valued at $16 million, according to the latest Travis Central Appraisal District records. When it was converted into a reality show setting in the mid-2000s, MTV reportedly enlisted Austin-based designer Joel Mozersky, who has gone on to gain notable clients, such as Uchi, Lonesome Dove and Native Hostel, among others.
"The Real World" house regains pop culture notoriety every few years. In 2005, the house was named "Best Bed & Brothel" as part of an Austin Chronicle critics category created for that year alone. Well-known cast member Wes Bergmann revisited the site 10 years later, and most of the cast reunited in 2018 when Bergmann got married.
Facebook Watch is now streaming the full season of "The Real World" Austin for those who wish to relive the nostalgia.
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