Going All-Out in Austin
Palms Car Wash has become an institution in Austin, TX, proudly serving the community for more than a decade at numerous locations spread throughout the city. As one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, and one where the number of vehicles is growing even faster than the ever-increasing population, building outstanding car wash facilities with top-notch service in Austin are a real necessity.
As co-owner Russell Moore explains, “Austin is a special place, and it’s our home… It’s a tech city with a touch of country, a world economy with a Texas style. We wanted our facilities to reflect all that, to be part of the neighborhood while utilizing the most current wash technology.”
Palms other owner, David Beseda, adds, “Palms has state-of-the-art equipment, but our success relies entirely on our people and their ability to ensure our customers are happy.”
When Moore and Beseda wanted to create an exciting design for their new location, along with a new up-scale large detailing facility to complement their existing Brodie Lane wash location, they contacted our company. They appreciated our design philosophy — being able to create car wash designs that are highly functional with great traffic flow, but that still possess outstanding street appeal to get the customers in the door, and do it all without breaking the bank. A description of the design process we undertook for their Highway 183 North location, along with the equipment utilized in the project, is explained in the sections that follow.
The site is located on a typical Texas-style frontage road parallel to Highway 183 North in the northern part of Austin. As experienced car wash operators, Moore and Beseda had already established the best way to lay out the site by the time we were contracted to start designing the buildings. Taking their basic layout, we refined and enhanced their ideas, creating a highly functional layout with great stacking, superior traffic flow, and excellent cross-access to adjoining properties.
In the completed design, we were able to provide 20 large free vacuum and detailing spaces, four employee spaces, and one handicap space. A challenge to designing in Austin is the region’s requirement for a large rainwater-retaining pond on site. This was placed out of the way at the rear of the site in the right corner. The dumpster enclosure was placed on the opposite side facing the rear access road surrounding two sides of the property. The by-pass exit lane was placed next to it. Two small vacuum enclosure buildings were placed on the site in strategic locations to make short runs for the vacuum units’ piping. These were both expanded in size. The first to allow for detailing materials and equipment storage, and the second to house a greeter’s kiosk and vending.
The owners told us that they selected our company due to our wide variety of interesting and colorful car wash designs. They wanted something different, something fresh and appealing, an alternative approach and direction to what the other architects were doing in the Austin area at the time. They were also willing to give us the financial latitude necessary to achieve a more unique design, allowing us more freedom to come up with something that was truly eye-catching to customers.
There were, however, several design challenges to achieving this look. First, although the site had small setback requirements, the overall footprint available for the main building was limited due to the relatively compact size of the site. Second, the existing cross-access road easement located in the front of the property adjoined to an existing restaurant next door. Building height also was an issue since there was a 30-foot height restriction placed on the property. In addition, the city of Austin planning and zoning department also had some substantial design requirements to contend with in order to get their approval. Combined, these proved to make it somewhat difficult to create an interesting building with true “street presence” that stayed within budget, yet did not sacrifice any of its functionality.
Our design solution was to make the building two stories to address the small footprint issue. We installed an appealing left-to-right wave-shaped curved metal roof with a saw-tooth-cut covered colonnade out front of a walls-of-glass storefront on the first floor, and a similar metal roof heading front-to-back on the second floor. Another curved metal roof of the same type was added at the rear over the loading porch and manager’s office. The roof area between
was left flat with high parapet walls to hide the A/C units and other rooftop equipment. To add interest and appeal, long straight walls were limited, roof parapet walls placed at various heights, and decorative columns located on all four sides, all working together to break the boring rectangular shape of the building.
The Austin city requirement of a large percentage of glass on each elevation led us to install numerous large storefront windows on the building. These were designed to read horizontal with multiple mullions at 24” on center (o.c.) for their full height. This look is reinforced by rows of continuous 2”-high horizontal break-metal strips running along the walls at 48” o.c. and wrapping around the entire building. Both the window frames and the break-metal strips are painted bright cherry red. Combined with the interesting curved roofline, the end result is an outstanding modern architectural design that has proven to be extremely appealing to customers without sacrificing any functionality and achieving that unique fresh appearance desired by the owners.
INTERIOR BUILDING LAYOUT
Designed as an up-scale Flex wash, the manager’s office was located at the entrance of the wash tunnel and adjacent to the full-service/detailing spaces with large windows all around. The wash tunnel entrance features a large covered loading porch, a standard feature on all of our designs. The curved roof design over it matches the shape of the roof in the front of the building. Inside tunnel length is 102’ 8” by 20’ 0” in width, with a 130’ 6” long conveyor. The drain trench is a new custom-design self-cleaning type specifically designed by Car-Wash-Architect.com and SoBrite Technologies for the project. The wash tunnel is well lit with a number of enormous 8’ x 12’ wide windows and numerous light fixtures. Inside the tunnel near the exit is a large popped-out space where the owners elected to place a towel cleaning area for handy access to the exit for the employees. The wash tunnel’s exit (facing the main highway) features an exit porch with numerous square decorative columns and a large arched clearstory window above the door.
The equipment room is located adjacent to the wash tunnel. Since electric wash equipment was utilized, the equipment’s footprint could be reduced to a smaller size than that required for an equivalent hydraulic system. This extra room was utilized for the water reclaim system manufactured by SoBrite.
In front of the equipment room is a stairway leading up to the second floor where an oversized employee break room is located. This large space was designed to be subdivided into company offices in the future and is to be used for employee training. At the very front of the building is a spacious and very up-scale customer lobby featuring large full-height glass walls of an interesting saw-tooth design, modern chairs and tables, multiple large TV monitors, two restrooms, and a refreshment center.
For this new location the owners decided to go with MacNeil Wash Systems, the brand they had previously selected for their Brodie Lane location. Electing to install fully electric equipment this time, they packed the tunnel full of equipment including three of MacNeil’s RS-1000 Top Brushes, a necessary feature in a city filled with SUVs and trucks. One of the key pieces of wash equipment they selected was the RS-701 SuperFlex Wrap-Around. As explained by their general manager John Pinson, “this provides true wrap-around cleaning capability from the middle of the car to the lights, front to back. Customers love that we don’t have to tape anything, plus it is very efficient to run high volume and not to have to worry about damaging mirrors, antennas, or wipers.”
For wheels they installed a MacNeil Wheel Boss Cleaning System and Gloss Boss Tire Shine Applicator. Another significant feature to their success has been to install a MacNeil’s BluWave Linear Profiler with its high-pressure rinse technology.
Austin has been hit hard by a record-breaking drought for the last decade — so hard, in fact, that the area announced the possibility of closing car washes in an effort to conserve municipal water supplies under Stage-3 conditions. So installing an outstanding water reclaim system became extremely important factor in the project. After years of research, owners Moore and Beseda approached Scott Avant of SoBrite Technologies with just one question: “If the city shuts off access to municipal water, how can we stay open?”
SoBrite’s solution was a design that allowed them to wash cars using their Filtermatic reclaim water throughout the wash process. This includes every step up to and including the pre-rinse stage. Using spot-free water in the final rinse stage ensures a clean, dry, and spot-free finish. As Avant explains, “the reverse osmosis system has a by-product called concentrate. We recapture this water for use with chemistry thus maximizing every drop of water in the wash.
As a result, Palms Car Wash is able to wash cars using less than 17 gallons per car on a typical day. In the event that the city tells Palms that they can no longer use municipal water to wash cars, they have the ability to switch a few valve positions and reduce their per car average to an astoundingly low 5 to 7 gallons. With this and a bit of extra storage capacity, they are able to stay open during any mandatory shut down.”
The vacuum equipment on the site is true to the adage that everything’s bigger in Texas. Nearly every component of the vacuum system engineered by AutoVac is super-sized and highly customized — from the footprint to the flagpoles. AutoVac created its Long Reach Arch series specifically for Palms Car Wash. The 14-foot span of each vacuum arch is nearly twice that of the industry standard and incorporates custom features such as lighting, signage, and shade, as well as flagpoles and other accessories on each arch support. Each vacuum station also incorporates its own cyclonic filter separator with an easy-to-use debris elimination system that does not require the service tech to come in contact with the debris. The custom finish was hand selected to complement the cherry red accents found on the site’s buildings.
As with any site of this magnitude, AutoVac performed line loss calculations and engineered Palms’ piping system to ensure that every vacuum station delivers maximum suction performance, even when all stations are in use. The result is a powerful, positive vacuum experience for every customer, every time.
Palms’ customers are simply ecstatic with the great performance and appearance of the vacuum system. It has proven to be a major draw for both new and existing customers and keeps them coming back.
As the facility neared completion, the owners led efforts in overall project color coordination (bright cherry red dominates) as well as the design of unique signage that works perfectly to complement the shape, style, and colors of the building. The striking 35-foot-tall pole sign featuring neon letters and a huge digital sign is especially unique in its design and questionably one of the largest car wash signs seen anywhere in the country. A very tall 60-foot flagpole is installed nearby as well. The brightly painted curved vacuum arches lining both sides of the parking area have a multitude of alternating American and Texas flags attached to them, providing a vista of movement and color to everyone passing by.
The completed facility finally opened its doors in April of this year, and has already proven to be very appealing to customers new and old alike. This addition to Palms Car Wash’s chain has brought a level of service and comfort to local Austin residents that they have never experience before. Its continued growing success is a testament to illustrate what can be achieved when a car wash project is done right from start to finish.
Christopher Crawford and John Diehl are with Car-Wash-Architect.com. They will be writing additional articles in upcoming issues concerning designing and constructing new car washes, as well as renovating existing ones. You can visit their website for more information about the services they offer, or call them at (561) 212-3364.