‘The ball’s in (UT’s) court’: UT buys building off The Drag, forces local businesses out

Hope Unger, News Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the June 7, 2022 flipbook.

Mig Kokinda has tattooed students and other clients at the Electric 13 Tattoo off The Drag since it opened 15 years ago. However, following UT’s purchase of the building where Kokinda’s shop and other local businesses such as Poke Bay are located, he will have to relocate to his shop’s other location on 6th Street. 

“These places have personalities,” Kokinda said. “It’s enjoyable for people to walk around (West Campus) and check things out, but it’s all going to become UT buildings, business buildings or hotels.”

UT recently purchased the building located on the corner of West 20th and Guadalupe streets that houses Electric 13 Tattoo, Poke Bay, Kung Fu Tea, Smoke City and the already closed Tropical Dreams Austin, the Hawaiian ice cream shop. Current tenants at all of the shops except for Smoke City said the landlord sold the building to the University in December 2021 and notified some, but not all, of the stores in January of the purchase. 

A legal document dated April 8 stated that UT will end the lease on Oct. 31, as that date is at least 60 days after the date of the official letter. UT spokespeople did not say if the University will force tenants out before Oct. 31.

“As the University continues to find ways to serve our students, provide additional housing options, and advance our educational mission, we acknowledge the challenges created by our growth — especially combined with Austin’s growth,” former UT spokesperson Eliska Padilla said in an email.

According to previous Texan reporting, the University purchased the Dobie Twenty21 Student Spaces apartment center on Oct. 12, which is located on the same block as these businesses.

Angelica Song, daughter of Poke Bay owners Paul and Priscilla, created the viral TikTok post last month about her parents’ business closing. In the video, she asked the community to show its support for Poke Bay during its last few weeks of business. Due to the TikTok, Poke Bay had lines out the door with people from Austin, other parts of Texas and even Knoxville, Tennessee, Paul said. 

“It was overwhelming,” Paul said. “It’s heartwarming, and feeling the love and support of the UT community was just tremendous (and) way more than I anticipated.” 

Paul said Poke Bay’s original lease was set to expire this October, but he decided to end their lease early and move out by May 31 because he believes it would not make economic sense to stay open during the summer when there isn’t heavy student traffic.

Padilla said UT would discuss “options for relocation” with the current tenants. However, according to these business owners, the University has not communicated with them about relocating yet.

Matt Gong, the operations manager for Kung Fu Tea and a UT alumnus, said the tenants asked UT for reduced rent until October. Gong also said UT asked for the request in writing but then denied it and offered tenants the option to get out of their leases early.

“The ball’s in (UT’s) court,” Gong said. “I’m waiting to hear from them. My neighbor Paul was emailing (UT) every other day, and he hasn’t heard anything.” 

Kokinda said the businesses in the building have changed regularly since he’s been there, but the stores have always provided different services for the UT community. 

“Those (high-rises) used to be little houses in (West Campus), and it was a lot warmer to walk around and more interesting. But it slowly alternates into this stuff, and there’s no real personality in these buildings,” Kokinda said. “Every city you go to looks the same.”