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As TxDOT gears up for the largest expansion of I-35 in Austin's history, we're taking a closer look at the homes and businesses facing the wrecking ball.

Whip In won't be torn down for I-35 expansion, reversing earlier plans

Whip In during the day time. A large sign outside says "Whip In. Beer & Wine. Indian Kitchen, bar and grill. Live Music. Beer Garden." A silver sedan is parked out front. The sign for Travis Heights Wine and Spirits is visible in the background.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Whip In was going to be paved over for the I-35 expansion. Then TxDOT shifted the new highway's footprint, sparing the building.

The expansion of I-35 will push out more than 100 homes and businesses in Central Austin. But some places previously slated for demolition will get to stay. Among them: the South Austin bar and convenience store Whip In.

Early plans called for demolishing Whip In and Travis Heights Wine and Spirits, a business next door in the same building. TxDOT is widening the highway to insert four high-occupancy vehicle lanes from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. 290 East. Construction on the $4.5 billion I-35 Capital Express Central Project starts next year.

Whip In is on the I-35 frontage road southbound at Mariposa Drive, less than half-a-mile north of Oltorf Street. The business started in 1986 as a convenience store and gradually expanded to include a bar with 70 beers on tap, a restaurant serving freshly cooked Indian food and a stage for live music.

State Rep. Lulu Flores used to live about a five-minute walk from the Whip In. When she learned about plans to demolish the store, she was shocked.

A schematic showing where the highway would incur into Whip In's property. A dotted blue line over the building shows where the new right-of-way would have gone.
TxDOT
A draft schematic for I-35 showed the highway's new footprint — as indicated by the dotted blue line — going over top of Whip In.

"I went, ‘Oh my god!’ I’m very much aware of the loss of our venues and what that causes to those communities," she said, citing her years as chair of the Austin Arts Commission. "You want to preserve as many iconic Austin venues as possible, in my opinion. I would like to see that. I’m an old school Austinite."

She asked TxDOT if the business could be saved. So did her predecessor, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez.

Months later, the plans changed. The Whip In and Travis Heights Wine and Spirits would no longer be driven out. The change was mentioned in a voluminous environmental report TxDOT released in January. But the schematic maps in the draft report were not updated to reflect the changes.

A bartender in a black shirt with a backwards baseball cap is holding a glass as he approaches a long line of draft beer taps. A stainless steel backsplash is behind the beer taps. Above, a chalkboard shows upcoming events and a coffee menu.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT
Joey Franceschetti works behind the bar at Whip In. The business started as a convenience store and gradually expanded to include a bar with 70 beers on tap and a restaurant serving Indian food.

The Whip In and Travis Heights Wine and Spirits won't emerge unscathed. The highway's footprint will expand right up to their building, enveloping the oddly sloped parking lot off the frontage road. Another parking lot behind the building will still be accessible by Mariposa Drive.

TxDOT says early design schematics for the I-35 expansion were refined as engineers took a closer look at on-the-ground effects.

“It’s hard in an 8-mile corridor to look at every single property," Heather Ashley-Nguyen, a director at TxDOT’s Austin District, said of the early planning. "That’s why we go out to the public. We get public feedback. We got 18,000 comments throughout the process. And at each location, we do what we can to avoid any impacts.”

At Whip In, TxDOT shifted the underground path planned for utilities from the side of the road to underneath the pavement. That will require encasing those pipes and wires in concrete.

A schematic map showing the footprint of the expanded I-35 coming right up to the Whip In's building. A blue line indicates a 10-foot wide sidewalk in front of the business.
TxDOT
The new highway plans show the I-35 footprint expanding up to the Whip In's building, as indicated by the light-blue dotted line. The darker, thick blue line represents a 10-foot wide sidewalk that will go in front of the Whip In.

“Those are finer details we get to once we get into further preliminary designs," Ashley-Nguyen said.

The building is owned by 84-year-old Amrit Topiwala. His son Rohit Topiwala runs Travis Heights Wine and Spirits. The Topiwala family operated Whip In until 2017 when the business was sold to the same company that owns Quickie Pickie on 11th Street.

Rohit Topiwala said the family would not comment. He cited ongoing negotiations with TxDOT over the price of the parking lot they're being forced to sell to the state. The operators of Whip In did not respond to requests for comment.

An aerial view showing how close the Whip In is to I-35. The frontage road runs directly in front of the business's parking lot.
Nathan Bernier
/
KUT
The Whip In will have a front row seat to the changes coming to I-35.

Businesses on the other side of Mariposa Drive won’t be as lucky as Whip In. Cash Corner Food Market and Jimmy’s Barbershop will be forced to relocate.

Jimmy's Barbershop will get some extra assistance from TxDOT, including help paying rent at a comparable location for up to 3 1/2 years, a benefit usually reserved for residential renters.

And changes are expected relatively soon for this stretch of I-35 in South Austin. Work begins next year on the project, with the first phase of construction focused from Holly Street south to Ben White Boulevard.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Whip In is on the northbound I-35 frontage road at Mariposa Drive. It's on the southbound frontage road.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at nbernier@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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