By Samuel Stark
Hidden among the glimmering towers in Austin’s downtown district is a quaint trestle bridge that serves as a window into a bygone era. The bridge, located on Third Street, rests 35 feet above Shoal Creek and was constructed nearly a century ago by the International-Great Northern Railroad.
The trestle facilitated the transportation of goods in and out of Austin’s downtown area for decades of the 20th century before eventually becoming obsolete and left to deteriorate, albeit quite gracefully.
But Austin entities have worked hard to ensure this remnant of the past is not forgotten. On Friday, Shoal Creek Conservancy and the Austin Downtown Alliance held an event in front of Shoal Creek Bridge to celebrate its recent listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. They also discussed plans to revitalize the bridge so it can be used for transportation once again.
“(The plan) calls for the restoration of the trestle as a public plaza and a scenic overlook offering a leisurely route for pedestrians to traverse Shoal Creek or be able to sit amongst the beautiful backdrop,” said Ivey Kaiser, the executive director of Shoal Creek Conservancy.
If their plan is adopted, the bridge would become a public pedestrian space akin to the Pfluger Street Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. The plan also includes a proposal to construct another wider bridge, replacing one already there, next to the trestle for cyclists and faster traffic to use.
“The proposal shows the potential of historic preservation to create a bridge, no pun intended, between the past and the future,” Kaiser said.
The next steps involve finding an appropriate city department to purchase the trestle bridge from Union Pacific, its current owner. Advocacy to transfer ownership to the city is happening now, Kaiser said.
Then the interested parties will start the fundraising process so they can begin construction.
The restoration of the historic bridge is one of the many concepts in the Cypress & Shoal Creek Public Space Strategy project. Among other plans, they hope to revitalize parts of the existing Shoal Creek Trail and create public plazas on Third Street near the creek. If adopted, the plazas will create more space for pedestrians, limit the number of cars and add more greenery.
“With the tremendous growth we’re seeing, there is a need for good public space that’s managed and maintained. It is so important to the health and welfare, not only for us individually but collectively for the community. I think we learned a number of lessons during the pandemic, that open spaces are critical,” said Dewitt Peart, CEO of the Austin Downtown Alliance.
Some of the proposals in the Cypress & Shoal Creek project are intended to serve as an alternative to the Bowie underpass project, a $6.6 million plan that would have provided a link for cyclists and pedestrians to go under the railroad tracks between the Market District and the Pfluger Street Bridge. The Bowie plan was determined to be unfeasible last year.
An Austin company is bringing food from the restaurant kitchen to the doggy bowl.
The Conscious Pet jumped into the pet food industry with meals made from upcycled restaurant scraps. With a launch party coming up next month at microbrewery Central Machine Works, Chief Dogxecutive Officer Mason Arnold talked to Austonia about how the company came about.
Arnold said he and Jessica Kezar, the vice pawsident of sales and marketing, were working on their podcast, A Mostly Green Life. A guest who’s heavily involved in composting showed them some projects he was working on, one of which looked like dog food.
“He's like, ‘Yeah, I've been feeding it to my dog and she loves it,” Arnold said. “And we had just gotten a dog recently when that happened and had been researching nutrition and realized that dog food is making a pretty big transition away from kibble and highly processed foods.”
But Arnold didn’t have much luck tracking down food that fit the perfect mix of nutrition and form factor for his Boykin Spaniel.
So they started making their own nutritious form of dog food that's gently cooked and as easy to serve as kibble. Arnold says that by upcycling restaurant kitchen scraps, it’s helping to solve a food waste problem, too.
Arnold declined to say which restaurants they’re getting scraps from. But think raw ingredients, like the trimmings of steak and such before it makes it to your plate.
The team is able to get the exact same product from the restaurants on a regular basis. So every batch has a mix of animal products plus fruit and veggies added to it.
The process involves gently cooking at a temperature high enough to kill pathogens and make it shelf-stable, but low enough that it keeps all of the fats intact for a nutritious meal.
With Austin’s 500,000 pup-ulation (the number of dogs here), the product is focused on dogs for now. But Arnold says they’ve identified some restaurants they’d want to use for cat food. He also noted Austin’s pet diversity, saying there are lizards, snakes and more that could handle some higher quality food.
“So as we get up off the ground, we really got a lot of options to expand into different pets and different ingredients and tweak the formulas as we grow,” Arnold said.
And on growth, The Conscious Pet is using Wefunder, a platform that allows people to invest in startups. It’s a relatively new approach that became possible through a 2016 law that made it legal for people to invest small amounts of money in startups, whereas before, only “accredited investors” could invest in a private company. Currently, the company has about 70 investors.
The company is launching exclusively in Austin, where it is offered online-only for now. But Arnold imagines that if the company ever expands to other markets, pet food miles will be a consideration and they would source from local restaurants in the area rather than shipping great lengths.
It’s a feat Arnold is game for. The serial entrepreneur has started six companies prior to The Conscious Pet. He said startups can feel like a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but that it's the life for him and that sustainability has always been a part of what he’s done.
“Somewhere along the way, I started describing myself as an artist, with commerce being my canvas,” Arnold said. “What I really love to do is create new things that didn't exist in the world before that I think make the world better.”
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