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In pre-COVID times, calling the Hoke family "busy" would be an understatement.
Hyper-social and community-oriented, Laura and Michael Hoke and their two children barreled daily through club meetings, social lunches, farmers markets, volunteer projects and more. In Austin, regularly ranked the best place in the U.S. to live by various magazines, it was easy to fill their calendar.
But after a month of staying home to help stop community spread of the virus, a different Hoke family is emerging.
They're home together every night. They eat their meals outside. There's extra cookie-baking. There are more family movie nights. Daily bike rides. Longer bedtime routines. Fewer plans.
"We do so much less than we did a month ago, but somehow life feels richer than ever," said Laura Stromberg Hoke, whose job in the nonprofit sector allows her to work from home. "I don't want this crisis to go on forever, but I desperately want our future as a family to look more like this."
Amid outbreak fears in mid-March, Austin's schools shuttered, and museums and social venues shut down. Families found themselves with little choice but to stay home together.
It's a stark change for Austin, where families like Melissa Huebsch-Stroud's often trade extra square footage in a suburban home and yard for a more compact house near downtown. They avoid traffic but rely on school, playscapes and museums for activity and to keep toys to a minimum at home.
"That's all out the window," said Huebsch-Stroud, whose family just installed a playscape in their minuscule backyard "to ensure physical activity and therefore sanity."
Families like hers say they are lucky to have the opportunity to stay safe at home with their jobs and families, even as financial, emotional or logistical challenges take their toll.
Working and parenting full time, at the same time, often feels like an impossible task. Huebsch-Stroud was even inspired to create a family life spreadsheet to process her feelings of being overwhelmed (see below).
Melissa Huebsch-Stroud made this spreadsheet to try and figure out why it felt so draining to work and parent full time every day. (Courtsey: Melissa Huebsch-Stroud)Melissa Huebsch-Stroud
Jobs are cut, electric bills are up, dishwashing is constant, bandwidth is strained, food bills are high.
"They eat like seven times a day," local mother Evelyn Escamilla says, almost incredulously, of her three teenagers.
But they find comfort in the new habits they've built around home life—daily walks, a stocked kitchen—after staying there, for a change.
"The benefit is having this more 20th century family life, like the kind that I grew up in," said Anthony Haley, whose two kids are ages 9 and 6.
Jimmy Stewart, owner and co-founder of Do512, built his livelihood on people going out and doing stuff. Earlier this week, he and the three kids built a campfire and pitched tents in the backyard.
"I'm already thinking about how when this is all over, I'm definitely going to miss parts of it," Stewart said. "I'd say these are definitely traditions that we will try to carry on."
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."