In 2005, the University attempted to acquire Players too. At the time, the price offered by UT was too low for the owners of Players and UT was authorized to use eminent domain to seize the property. The rub: UT was planning on seizing it for a parking garage for a hotel. A petition drive started with some virtual signatures and mostly physical signatures (remember, this was Facebook wasn’t facebook.com, it was thefacebook.com and looked like this. Long ago!)
The media loved the story. I was on the Bobby Bones Show. The Statesman ran a story about the effort. TV news outlets reported it. We made noise. There was support in the Texas House and a bill won overwhelming support against the University using eminent domain.
I haven’t spoke with the owners since news broke yesterday. If they don’t want to sell, we’re going to help them. Save Players is back.
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“But Kraft, it’s just a burger place. There’s nothing particularly unique about it.” True, absolutely true. However, it’s that third space. For most of us, we have a first space (home) and a second space (work/school). We need our place to go to where we can relax and socialize. Players is that place for many folks in Central Austin. Virtually on campus (or else UT wouldn’t want it), it is easily accessible to the southern half of campus. From living in Jester to working at the University Catholic Center, Players was the place to hang out, meet with friends, watch the game and get a bite to eat. Picture “Cheers” but on a college level.
After 2005, it was Cheers to me. Everyone knew my name!
But seriously, as often as not, someone I knew would already be there whenever I went there to eat. My fraternity, en masse, ate there after all our major functions. We had one of our 15th Anniversary Reunion activities there for crying out loud. They are locally owned and are part of the community. Players introduced me to Live Oak’s Big Bark, which led to my discovery of local breweries. I wouldn’t be a member of Black Star Co-Op if Players didn’t open my mind to local options that you’ll never see with a Super Bowl ad.
In the end, it truly doesn’t matter. It’s just a burger place. It’s part of the drumbeat of progress. But what do we lose? What would campus be like if the bar at 21st and Speedway held firm? On that ground now stands the PCL, the main library. Yes, north of campus there are burger/beer joints. There’s one further up on Guadalupe. What do we lose when everything in socially-acceptable walking distance to the majority of on-campus students is a chain establishment?
Austin is the big city that still wants to be a small town. Sometimes, that’s bad. Look at our transportation/transit situation if you need evidence. That small town vibe, though, is what makes small towns unique and why half of the planet loves Austin. Austin can’t keep blinders on—as we’ve done with transportation—but we can’t afford to make everything between UT and the Capitol sterile.
No one ever says when visiting Austin “I can’t wait to eat at the MLK McDonalds! Brings back all these memories!”