Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is recouping its passenger volume after months of depressed demand due to the pandemic.
More than 1.1 million passengers flew through the airport in May, marking the first time monthly traffic has exceeded one million since February 2020, according to ABIA.
(Austin-Bergstrom International Airport)
Although passenger traffic was up nearly 746% in May 2021 compared to May 2020, it remains short of the traffic volume recorded in May 2019, indicating that air travel demand has not yet fully recovered.
Industry experts and ABIA officials have said that leisure travel is approaching pre-pandemic levels as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and the ongoing reopening. But business and international travel are likely to recover more slowly as businesses evolve their remote-work policies and foreign governments loosen their travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.
The rapid spread of the Delta variant may also impact international air travel, with some countries, such as Portugal and Israel, reimposing or extending travel restrictions in an effort to mitigate its reach.
Despite these pandemic-related concerns, the future of ABIA looks bright. Airport officials announced a new expansion program last week that is intended to meet rising demand. The expansion will include building a midfield concourse—with at least 10 new gates and two new taxiways—that is connected to the Barbara Jordan Terminal via an underground tunnel.
Our initial #AEDP projects will transform the Barbara Jordan Terminal through:
👮♂️ New passenger screening capacity
✈️New gate capacity
🧳A new baggage handling system
🎫Expanded ticket counters
While preparing for a new 10+ gate mid-field concourse. (2/3) pic.twitter.com/SECXEUmZfy
— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@AUStinAirport) July 13, 2021
Since opening in 1999, ABIA has tripled its passenger numbers. Between 2011 and 2019 it was the third fastest-growing airport in the country. Although the pandemic had a catastrophic impact on airports around the country, with ABIA traffic plummeting 95% last April, the latest traffic report indicates a rebound.
ABIA expects that demand this summer will match or surpass that of summer 2019, according to a press release. The airport set its current record for passenger travel in July 2019.
"The long-term plan for (ABIA) is a win for all customers and stakeholders and will ensure the airport is able to keep pace with rising demand for many years to come," CEO Jacqueline Yaft wrote in a memo sent to City Council on Tuesday.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.