Led in conversation by Michele Glaze with Samsung Austin Semiconductor, business leaders gathered at the convention center to talk about Austin’s resiliency and what that means for the city’s airport, transit and wider building and human infrastructure.
“How do we make sure that all these different investments, whether it's I-35, Capital Metro, or Project Connect or other investments downtown, etc,” Austin Transit Partnership's Peter Mullan started. “How are we ensuring that they're working together?
He went on to say that they shouldn’t be looked at in isolation. “I think we're actually in a really good position for these investments to support one another.”
Hosted by the Austin Chamber of Commerce, here’s their panel’s take on how different sectors of Austin are expanding and what interconnectedness might look like:
Tracy Thompson, Austin Bergstrom International Airport
More than 14 million passengers will pass through the airport this year. That’s according to a current forecast Thompson shared while adding that the airport is facing a “growth reality.”
After all, Austin has the fastest growing airport in the U.S. based on scheduled service, Thompson noted. It’s mainly due to an increase in service by Southwest and American airlines. Plus there are new services internationally, with flights now heading out to Germany and Amsterdam.
And while the airport may just seem like a stop along the way, Thompson talked about the role it plays in the growth of the city.
"Aviation, we do more than just move people in cargo, we move ideas,” Thompson said. “We get a lot of new ideas to our city, people benefit and our Austin Americans can go out into the world.”
Dewitt Peart, Downtown Austin Alliance
As President and CEO of the alliance, Peart is all about keeping track of projections for the rapidly growing space. His call is that the size of downtown will double in the next 10 years.
“Investment in infrastructure is so critically important because imagine you’re doubling the size of your central business district, arguably you’re going to double the number of people,” Peart said.
In his view though, it’ll require Austin taking charge on education and the workforce, affordability and strong transit. Peart mentioned that he also thinks it’s key to keep incentives high in order to continue attracting big tech.
“Projects like Samsung, Oracle, Tesla—we can’t screw that up,” Peart said.
Robert Bryce, journalistDrivers venture out in the snow Sunday evening. (Christa McWhirter)(Christa McWhirter)
With the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri this week, Bryce reminded the room that the grid came within about five minutes of a complete system blank, which he said would have caused mass mortality.
“The intermediate power networks are the fundamental networks that drive everything in our economy,” Bryce said. "Everything that we touch, eat, in one way or another has been electrified. And issues that we're facing in the United States and Texas, in particular, are the resiliency of our energy networks.”
He argued natural gas is not the villain and moving forward, the state should consider using multiple fuels. A report by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that failure by natural gas producers to supply adequate fuel to power plants exacerbated the electricity shortage.
For how the grid affects Austin in particular, Bryce pointed to Austin Energy, mentioning its recent decision to not shut down ownership of coal-fired capacity at the Fayette power plant.
If we’re facing more extreme weather, we cannot rely on weather-dependent renewables,” Bryce said.
Peter Mullan, Austin Transit PartnershipHow much has Capital Metro spent on Project Connect ads?(Capital Metro)
Mullan shot back on Bryce’s points.
“We had a long discussion about fuel diversity, I don’t think it’s gonna matter if we can turn the lights on if our planet is dead,” Mullan said.
Mullan’s main notes were about Project Connect, the multi-billion transit plan that voters approved in 2020. As chief of architecture at the transit partnership, Mullan says it’ll act as an equalizing force in the community by providing transportation access for people who don’t have ready access to a car or other forms of mobility. Recently, the project has also started on its $65 million anti-displacement plan.
“So it’s not just about trains, it’s about humans,” Mullan said.
But it’s also about businesses. He asked the room full of business leaders to reach out if they’re planning a project on the corridor, emphasizing that it’ll be better than working in isolation.
“We don’t have a huge track record in Austin of public-private partnerships,” Mullan said. “We have to build that capacity.”
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Live Music Capital of the World. Mecca of all things "weird." City of hippies, slackers and honky tonks—Austin's reputation was once synonymous with all things "cool."
But after three years as the top city to live in the U.S., Austin fell to No. 13 in the U.S. News & World Report's ranking this year.
For over a hundred years, Austinites have lamented that their city's charm is gone, and some continue to worry that the city has swapped too many of its grittier live music venues for gleaming corporate towers.
Has Austin's coolness taken a fall from grace? Here's a look at what could be affecting Austin's reputation.
Migration and affordability—not so cool
3. The median priced home costs $635K, while the median Austin resident can only afford a $438K home.— Nik Shah 🏡 (@NikhaarShah) June 16, 2022
This affordability gap of $187K is 3x higher than at the national level! pic.twitter.com/CH036nj8Nn
There can always be too much of a good thing–including dating profiles bragging about packing up and moving to Austin.
Austin saw a higher growth rate than any other U.S. city from 2010-2020 as the metro attracted 171,465 newcomers in a decade.
With highly publicized move-ins including billionaire Elon Musk, podcaster Joe Rogan and tech HQs, came a gaggle of Californians eager to eke out a living in the burgeoning "boomtown" paradise.
An affordability crisis ensued.
Young people, who often serve as the drumbeat of a city's "coolness," are quickly being priced out amid skyrocketing rent. While a Rent.com study ranked Austin as one of the best cities for young professionals in 2022, the city's share of 20-24-year-old residents was 7.5% of the population in 2019—down from 8.6% in 2010.
And the so-called "slackers" that helped make Austin famous are now struggling to survive in a city where the median price for a home is now $550,000, especially as many in the city's creative class make well below a living wage.
Live music and things to do—still cool
The outside, Zilker, Towne Lake, Barton Springs, dozens of decent hiking within the area. This is the advantage, do the free outside stuff (Austin has wonderful patio restaurants, etc but then the 💵 goes) More time inside less advantage to living here.— Trust_w/o_Journey_Is_Compliance (@runningman902) June 7, 2022
Austin was famously dubbed the "Live Music Capital of the World" in 1991 when officials discovered that the city had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. And with 46.4 venues per 100,000 residents in 2018, that mantra remained largely true for years.
After the worst of the COVID pandemic, which was estimated to shutter up to 70% of music venues in the Red River Cultural District alone, the city's live music scene has worked hard to bounce back. The city now has the fifth-highest number of small music venues per capita in the nation and comes in at No. 4 among the best live music cities in the U.S., per a 2022 Clever.com study.
And many of Austin's unique attractions remain timeless. While paddle boarding on Town Lake has become overcrowded and even caused swimmer's itch for some, outdoor attractions like Barton Springs Pool, the Barton Creek Greenbelt and other Hill Country swimming holes remain a popular pastime.
And while the coolness of Sixth Street has become riddled with violence and safety concerns, the city still boasts plenty of nightlife districts.
Instead of the Armadillo Den of Austin yore, the new Austin boasts bachelorette party entertainment on West Sixth Street, intimate concerts in East Austin and a refuge for tech professionals on booming Rainey Street.
Keeping Austin Weird—barely hanging on
If you know...you know pic.twitter.com/auDQyVurUy— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) September 3, 2021
Leslie Cochran, the high-heel-wearing homeless man who personified the "Keep Austin Weird" movement, is long gone. In his place are controversial attempts at keeping that mindset alive, including an Instagrammable sculpture of the mantra approved by the city's Historic Landmark Commission in February.
But pockets of that signature Austin feel still exist. It's not uncommon to see Sam Greyhorse riding on his horse on South Congress.
And while South Congress is losing longtime businesses and gaining luxury retailers in its new Music Lane development, other areas—like Barton Springs—still retain their carefree, old Austin feel.
New "weird" strongholds have cropped up as well, like Austin FC's Q2 Stadium, where 20,500 soccer fans gather to chant Austin's mantras, lift up inflatable chickens and celebrate their community.
"Cooler" alternatives emerge
Moving out of Austin is so good for your mental health.— 𝒟𝑜𝓁𝓁𝓎 𝒷𝒶𝒷𝓎 🥂 (@adeeoxox) July 30, 2021
Still, Austin's residents are facing the second-most overvalued housing market in the nation, and many are looking for greener—and cooler—pastures.
Instead of cross-continent moves, some new move-ins are now relocating to nearby cities, according to a Placer.ai study. The study found that Austin's "boomtown" status could already be overshadowed by new tech markets like Philadelphia, Phoenix and Raleigh, North Carolina.
And even within the state, Austin fell behind Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as Texas' most sought-after city.
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Austin has been in the national spotlight for more than extreme growth—the last two years have brought a handful of violent crimes, missing persons cases and shootings.
Some of the most heartbreaking cases have yet to be solved. Here's a small update on some ongoing, high-profile cases in Austin.
Moriah Wilson | Suspect still on the run
Star biker Moriah Wilson was found dead in her East Austin home.
Professional cyclist Moriah “Mo” Wilson’s alleged killer, Kaitlin Armstrong, is still on the run and was last spotted leaving LaGuardia Airport in New York City on May 14—three days before the Austin Police Department obtained a warrant for her arrest.
Wilson was shot to death in her home on May 11 just hours after she went swimming with fellow cyclist Colin Strickland, who Armstrong had previously dated. Strickland said it was never a secret that he dated 25-year-old Wilson and had “no indication” Armstrong would react violently, as she had been dating other people as well.
While Wilson’s family said they don’t believe she was romantically involved with anyone, the case is being investigated as a crime of passion.
Investigators believe Armstrong might be using her sister’s name, Christine Armstrong, in New York State. A $5,000 reward has been issued for information leading to her capture.
Timothy Perez | Missing since March 2022(Robert Perez)Conroe couple Robert and Sandra Perez haven’t seen their son, 32-year-old Timothy Perez, since he left to go visit his brother in Austin on March 5. The couple said he got lost and called Robert for help at 1 a.m. before the call disconnected.
"He said, 'Dad, come get me, I'm lost,'" Robert Perez told Austonia. "I said, 'Pull, over,' but he just hung up, and we were never able to get a hold of him."The Austin Police Department found Timothy’s car—cold and with an empty tank—around 15 miles from his brother’s home at 4:30 a.m. the same morning
Timothy was last spotted again that morning when Round Rock Police responded to a welfare check called in by St. William Catholic Church. RRPD photographed him, said Timothy refused to identify himself and left without incident; Timothy wasn’t reported missing until a few days later.
According to EquuSearch, Timothy’s phone pinged briefly in Conroe on March 16 but hasn’t been located since. RRPD officials said they believe Timothy is voluntarily missing based on his interaction with officers.
But his parents think Timothy might've suffered a nervous breakdown and still drive from Conroe to Austin every few days to look for their son.Due to the sighting at the church, APD closed its missing person case on April 8 but Round Rock Police still lists Timothy as missing.
Timothy is a 6'2, 180 lb. Hispanic man with shoulder-length black hair, a full beard, and brown eyes. Anyone with information on Timothy Perez's disappearance can call the family's private investigator at 512-844-7933.
Jason Landry | Missing since December 2020
More than 31,000 acres were combed through to find missing Texas State student Jason Landry. (Caldwell County Sheriff's Office)
Texas State University student Jason Landry went missing on Dec. 13, 2020, after his car was found abandoned in Luling as he was driving home from nearby San Marcos to Missouri City, Texas, for winter break.
Landry’s car was found crashed with keys still in the ignition and all of his personal possessions, including his clothing, some with drops of blood, and phone, but no one in sight.
As conspiracies have swirled around the internet about what might've happened that night, Capt. Jeff Ferry, who is the lead investigator on the case, said "no doubt this is a tragedy… but it’s not a crime.”
More than a year later, friends and family of Landry are still searching for him and have erected billboards reminding locals of his disappearance and offering a $10,000 reward: one going southbound on I-35 and another along U.S. Hwy. 183 north of Luling.
The billboards were leased for 13 weeks in April but they may extend the rental—meanwhile, the case is in the hands of the Texas Attorney General Cold Case and Missing Persons unit. Anyone with information is asked to call (512) 936-0742.
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