My first day of work at Austonia was on Monday, March 9. By the end of that week, local officials had canceled SXSW and our small team was headed home to work remotely.
It was from our virtual newsroom—spread out across our respective kitchen counters, living room couches and home offices—that we launched a daily newsletter and, in early April, our website.
Since then our team has covered the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, our newest corporate citizen (Tesla) and celebrity resident (Joe Rogan), homelessness, two elections, the mayor's trip to Cabo San Lucas, Project Connect and the administration of the first COVID-19 vaccines.
To end the year, we've compiled a list of 10 important stories we published this year. Here's to more to come in 2021!
1. 'Somehow life feels richer than ever' for some Austin families finding new at-home routines (April 16)
Karen Brooks Harper spoke to local families early on in the pandemic to learn about how they were coping—and discovered that many were bonding during all the time spent at home together. "I don't want this crisis to go on forever, but I desperately want our future as a family to look more like this," one mom said.
2. Two days of protest: demonstrators shut down I-35, Austin police respond with tear gas as police killings mobilize residents (June 1)
In late May, Austin residents took to the streets to protest the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Mike Ramos in Southeast Austin. Protests continued through the summer and ultimately led to the Austin City Council voting to cut the police department's budget—to the chagrin of many state lawmakers.
Editorial advisor Rich Oppel and myself teamed up to write about one of the biggest economic development projects seen in Austin this generation: the forthcoming Tesla Gigafactory, which is under construction in Southeast Travis County after a marathon process to secure property tax abatements and environmental permits.
4. Meet the two names from Austin behind the transformation of the new Joe Rogan podcast studio (Sept. 10)
Senior Producer Sonia Garcia profiled two local business owners entrusted by mixed martial arts enthusiast and comedian Joe Rogan to construct his new podcast studio, where he has since interviewed fellow Austinites Matthew McConaughey and Alex Jones. The recent transplant moved to the Texas capital from Los Angeles in July, bringing his $100 million podcast with him.
5. The Austonia guide to Proposition A, the ballot issue that could green-light Project Connect (Oct. 14)
(Emma Freer/Austonia staff)
On Nov. 3, Austin voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition A, which raised the city's property tax rate to help pay for Project Connect. The $7.1 billion transit overhaul plan is already being implemented, but it faced vocal opposition. This guide dives into how much Project Connect will raise property owners' tax bills and how it will address concerns about displacement.
Publisher Mark Dewey was thrilled to announce that the Local Independent Online News Publishers association had chosen Austonia as a finalist for its national best emerging publisher award. "Recognition like this from our peer group motivates us to work even harder on our mission of connecting you to our ever-changing city," he wrote to readers.
Photojournalist Jordan Vonderhaar visited homeless camps around Austin to document how residents were dealing with the pandemic—and ongoing cleanups orchestrated by local and state agencies. Last year, Austin City Council voted to overturn the city's camping ban. Advocates applauded the move as an important step toward decriminalizing homelessness. But many residents, business owners and state leaders opposed the decision, which they argued would threaten public health and safety.
8. Austin health official concerned about bars "masquerading as restaurants" to stay open amid COVID surge (Nov. 20)(Laura Figi/Austonia)
Reporters Laura Figi and Waylon Cunningham wrote about a state loophole that allows bars to reclassify as restaurants in jurisdictions, such as Travis County, that have not allowed bars to reopen. Dr. Mark Escott, the local public health authority, raised concerns about this policy last month, citing the rising number of COVID cases and hospitalizations, and has continued to advise residents not to attend such establishments. But bar owners and employees say they must remain open—or close permanently.
9. What Adler's Mexico vacation means for his chances in the Biden administration—and post-COVID political career (Dec. 3)
Earlier this month, news broke that Austin Mayor Steve Adler had hosted a small, outdoor wedding for his daughter in early November and then traveled via private jet to a family timeshare in Cabo San Lucas—while publicly asking Austinites to stay home. I spoke with political experts about what this scandal might mean for his career, especially if he runs for higher office.
10. Good times have faded at the TarryTown Shopping Center, the once-thriving neighborhood hub where animal rights activist Jeanne Daniels has pushed out local favorites (Dec. 22)
Writer Bryan Rolli took a deep dive into the once buzzing TarryTown Shopping Center that now stands desolate. Since inheriting the shopping center in 1999, Jeanne Crusemann Daniels has enforced strict rules that have resulted in the elimination of businesses that used or sold animal products. Long-time Austinites and former business owners remember what the shopping center was once like.
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Austin police lifted the shelter in place order after searching the area around 9600 block of Great Hills Trail near the Arboretum for a 41-year-old man named Stephen Broderick, who they believe is responsible for shooting and ultimately killing three people in Northwest Austin
As of 5 p.m., the suspect is still at large and considered to be armed and dangerous, though police do not believe he is actively targeting anyone else. During a press briefing at 4:45 on Sunday, APD Interim police Chief Joseph Chacon said they are switching the search from the immediate area to a fugitive search as they have exhausted all the leads they currently have.
Chacon confirmed during the briefing that Broderick was a former Travis County Sheriff's Office deputy. Chacon said they will remain on the scene for "several hours" and there were 75 FBI agents on the scene as of the briefing.
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. Chacon said a child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Broderick was described as 5 foot, 7 inches with a medium build and was last seen wearing a gray hoodie, sunglasses and a baseball cap.
"We're very sorry that obviously that this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
At a 2:30 p.m. press briefing, Chacon said APD responded to a "shoot, stab, hot shot" call on Great Hills Trail and Rain Creek Parkway at 11:46 a.m. to find the three victims with gunshot wounds. APD was joined by the Austin Fire Department. ATCEMS, the local chapter of the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, Department of Public Safety, and the Round Rock Police Department for support.
Though Austin Travis-County EMS originally reported it as an active shooter situation, police now believe the incident was an isolated domestic event.
"This is still an ongoing and active investigation and we do not have this individual in custody yet," Chacon said during the first press briefing. "We would ask if you have your neighbors, phone numbers, call or text them check on them and make sure that they're okay. We are concerned that he might possibly take a hostage and be himself sheltered somewhere waiting for us to leave."
At this time the Great Hills Trail scene is still active. We are still asking residents to shelter in place and report suspicious activity. While a suspect is still at large it appears this is a domestic situation that is isolated and there is no risk to the general public. -PIO8
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
Three helicopters and SWAT teams were sent to the area, as well as 18 ATCEMS response assets. According to Austin Police, the incident occurred at an apartment complex near Great Hills Trail and Rain Creek Parkway.
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
APD announced at 1:02 p.m. that Loop 360 will be shut down in both directions from Spicewood Springs to 183 due to the incident. The roads will remain closed until law enforcement is able to wrap up the crime scene and units demobilize.
TRAFFIC UPDATE: Loop 360 will be shut down in both directions from Spicewoods Springs to 183 due to ongoing incident. - PIO8
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
This is a developing story.
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Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
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