What would Austin be without its City Hall, Central Library or iconic 360 Bridge?
For 50 years, Austin developer Hensel Phelps has shaped Austin with city-focused landmark developments across the metro, gracing the top spot on Austin Business Journal's best general contracting list for years in a row.
In 1972, the company broke ground for the first time in Austin with the Town Lake, or Mopac Bridge project, connecting the developing areas of West Austin to the rest of the city.
Hensel Phelps broke ground for its first project, the Mopac Bridge, in 1972. (Texas Freeway)
The Town Lake Bridge was one of eight available bridges in Austin at the time of construction. (Hensel Phelps)
Since then, it's headed several projects, including:
- The Pennybacker (360) Bridge: After the Town Lake Bridge success, the company set out to build the world's second cable-supported bridge. Newcomers and native Austinites alike take to the nearby 360 Bridge Overlook Trail to see sunset views of the cliffside, copper-colored landmark.
- Dell Diamond Baseball Stadium: Since it opened in 2000, the Round Rock Express, the metro's Triple-A- Minor League baseball team, has held countless games at this 85-acre, 11,000+ capacity stadium.
- Samsung Fab 2 Chip Fabrication Facility: When Hensel Phelps helped Samsung with its second semiconductor project in the area in 2007, the grand opening ceremony was commemorated with the University of Texas Longhorn Band, UT Cheerleaders, pop singer LeAnn Rimes and a bald eagle to boot.
- Austin Central Public Library: With six floors, a rooftop garden and plenty of window views of downtown, Austin's Central Library project quickly became a central hub for the city when it opened in 2017.
- Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium: The company has had a hand in all major expansions of the Texas Longhorns' longtime football stadium.
Austin's new Central Public Library first opened in 2017. (Hensel Phelps)
Through dozens of projects dotted throughout the region, Hensel Phelps' Southwest district manager and Vice President Brad Winans said the company's focus has always been the public sector.
"That's where we think we support and develop the city, from truly grassroots, truly local support and involvement in the community," Winans said. "Our job is to develop things that truly support the city, not specific to one business."
Austin's City Hall was constructed with native Texas limestone and built with sustainability in mind. (Hensel Phelps)
A University of Texas graduate and 30-year employee, Winans said that the company's 2004 City Hall project felt most impactful to the community. The building, built from both native limestone and recycled materials, embraced sustainability and high-tech qualities, including solar panels in its garage, while maintaining a classic Texan identity.
"It's a very hard industry to be a part of, but it's also very rewarding," Winans said. "For me, City Hall means a lot because the back in the day, we called it 'The Jewel,' and so it's great to be part of that."
The company has constructed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in the past and will continue to help expand the airport. (Hensel Phelps)
With 50 years under its belt, Winans said the company will continue to work on the "endless" development opportunities coming to the city, from expansion of the rapidly-growing Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to projects in the tech sector.
"Everybody seems to want to come to Austin," Winans said. "It'd be nice if things did kind of spread out a little bit, but right now there's still a very eager push to develop in and around Central Texas and I think (Hensel Phelps) will be a major part of that."
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Home of reformed "party school" Texas State University, San Marcos has attracted a reputation for its rowdy college parties and jam-packed river. But as the former home of Lyndon B. Johnson and the birthplace George Strait's career, it's clearly more than a college town.
With its unique blend of old-Austin charm and a fierce individual identity, this laid-back town located 30 minutes south of Austin serves as a great breath of fresh air for fast-paced city dwellers. (Just don't go comparing it to Austin with the locals.)
From a San Marcos has-been, here's a guide to all things "San Mo:"
(Don's Fish Camp/Facebook)
The heartbeat of San Marcos is its river, which cuts right through the middle of town and dominates most summertime activities. When you hit the crystal-clear water, which remains a crisp 72 degrees year-round, you'll understand why.
There are three schools of thought when it comes to river tubing in San Marcos:
- For a quieter ride: Although it's the only route to cut through town, the hour-long route from Sewell Park to Rio Vista is the best for quieter family fun. Those with ties to Texas State University can grab tubes at Sewell Park for just $6 and head through several parks and pristine views (though you'll have to trudge a mile back to return your tube). The Lions' Club rental offers a similar option for $18 with an unlimited river shuttle. For both rides, beware of wild rice, which runs rampant due to its endangered species status, and the Rio Vista rapids—they aren't for the faint of heart.
- For the full tubing experience: Located on the outskirts of town, Texas State Tubes combines a back-to-nature experience with a packed party feel. Visitors get a tube ride filled with rapids, lulls and rope swings before heading back on an old yellow school bus three hours later. The standard experience runs for $25, but driving-averse Austinites can also take a shuttle from downtown Austin for $69.
- For the "river rats"—Don's Fish Camp is like Texas State Tubes' slightly edgier twin. Like Texas State Tubes, Don's Fish Camp runs for three hours, though it's located further away from the city and has gained a slightly bigger reputation among tubing old-timers.
- Bring lots of sunscreen, plenty of beverages (don't forget the water, too!) and a rope to tie tubes together. For the best experience, tie each tube together during slow stretches and untie before reaching any rapids.
- Cooler tubes are available for rent at both Texas State Tubes and Don's Fish Camp. While you can bring alcohol to either with no issue, glass and styrofoam are not allowed. Bans against consuming alcohol are also lightly enforced at city parks.
- Make sure to pack for long hours in the sun—hats, sunglasses and shirts are all great for protection. For those committed to keeping their toenails, sandals and river shoes are also recommended.
- Unless you must, don't bring your phone or other valuables—anything can get lost in the river.
- Arrive early wherever you go to avoid crowds, especially in summer.
- Anything you forget—from river shoes to cooler tubes—can be bought for cheap at HEB.
- When you're about to hit a rapid, remember to lift your butt up and avoid the rocks!
More river fun
(Texas State University/Twitter)
Tubing isn't the end-all for river fun in San Marcos. Those interested in picnics or sunbathing can head to the famous Bikini Hill at Sewell Park, which also offers swimming, beach volleyball, basketball and paddleboard/kayak rentals.
Other swimming spots include Rio Vista, which hosts three rapids and has several restaurants nearby, and Stokes Park, which offers a more secluded swimming and trail experience. Five Mile Dam is another popular natural swimming destination, and famous swimming holes abound just twenty miles west in the little Hill Country town of Wimberley (though that might be a day trip of its own).
The crystal-clear origin of the San Marcos River (and possible origin of civilization) can also be explored via glass-bottomed boat at Spring Lake. The only home of the San Marcos salamander, the spring is also thought to be the oldest continually inhabited site in North America.
Once you've dried off, here are a few other things to try around town:
- Wonder World Cave & Adventure Park: This family-friendly attraction includes a natural cave system, a tower showcasing the highest views in the county and a train that runs through a wildlife park.
- Purgatory Creek Natural Area: Nature lovers, bird watchers and mountain bikers will all thrive in this natural area, which features dozens of miles of trails across creeks, limestone cliffs and more.
- The Square: While it's packed with barhoppers at night, strolling through San Marcos' downtown is also a great way to start your day. Visitors can stroll past downtown murals and the occasional live music show at Kissing Alley before stopping at restaurants, cafes and vintage shops downtown. The square also fills up for community events like the weekly farmers market, which runs every Saturday.
- San Marcos Outlets: The San Marcos Outlets are one of the most popular tourist destinations in Texas. Stretched over 1 million square feet, the mall hosts hundreds of stores and can temporarily triple the population of San Marcos in peak season. Make sure to arrive early and wear your best walking shoes.
Here's a look at the best bites in town:
Best breakfast—A Tex-Mex treat off the beaten path, Chepo's offers cheap homemade breakfast tacos and more before it closes at 2 p.m. each day.
Best brunch—Head to Blue Dahlia for a classic hangover cure: mimosas and an all-day breakfast menu (including the best waffles in town).
Best coffee—Jo's Cafe is the epitome of San Marcos and offers coffee, breakfast tacos and more on a quiet street near downtown.
Best Tex-Mex—Since 1976, Herbert's Taco Hut has been serving low-key Tex-Mex eats just steps away from Rio Vista Park. Honorable mention—Toma Taco.
Best date night—Palmers' charming courtyard has earned plenty of Hays County awards and is perfect for a date night out.
Wine & dine—Patio Dolcetto is never too packed and always stocked with the best wines, wine-based cocktails and artisan appetizers in San Marcos.
For dessert—From goat cheese & raspberry to animal cracker, Rhea's Ice Cream offers ice cream flavors that easily rival Amy's. Just next door is Gil's Broiler—home of LBJ's favorite dessert, the Manske roll.
Zelick's Icehouse- Perhaps the most San Martian activity known to man is grabbing a $6 beer & shot combo at Zelick's after a long day of tubing. Built out of a 1930s gas station, the "Best Little Icehouse in Texas" offers live music, events and a queso-centric food truck in a laidback setting near the square.
Davenport Lounge—The former home of Buzzmill Coffee, this cozy indoor-outdoor venue features craft cocktails, great food and live music almost every night of the week.
Treff's Tavern—Tired of big-city prices? For the first week of every month, this North LBJ neighborhood favorite offers $2 house drinks of your choice all night long.
Stonewall— San Marcos' lone gay bar brings in clientele of all types for its 18+ restrictions, drag shows and lively events.
Shade Rooftop Bar— One of several rooftop bars downtown, Shade offers a more laidback setting on the rowdy square.
Sean Patrick's—San Marcos' best Irish pub offers Irish eats, dozens of beers on tap and activities ranging from darts to watch parties.
Cheatham Street Warehouse—Originally a humble grocery warehouse, this unassuming venue was the site of George Strait's first performances and has since hosted plenty of other honky-tonk greats.
The Marc—From its famous Latin Nights to Shaquille O'Neal, the biggest venue in San Marcos brings in famous attendees from all genres, especially EDM.
Open mic nights and more— Live music and weekly open mic nights can be found dotted across the San Marcos Square, with popular hotspots including Nephews and the Gray Horse Saloon. Further out, events are often held at the truly unique Studio San Martian as well as Roughhouse and Middleton Brewing.
Elon Musk lives in a Westlake mansion at least part-time with his baby mama and new twins, a new report suggests.
Documents acquired by Insider show Musk and Shivon Alice Zilis, the mother of his twins and one of his top Neuralink executives, listing the same Austin residence for their address when petitioning to add Musk's last name to his kids' legal names.
Austonia finds one local home listed under the mother's name, Shivon Alice Zilis, matching the price tag Insider said the house was worth: $4.5 million. According to the Travis County Appraisal District, Zilis got the deed for the home in August 2021, 4 months before giving birth to Musk's twins.
The home, located in Westlake, was built in 1999 and sits on a little over an acre of land in a gated community. The 4,579 square foot home has six bedrooms, five baths and a pool.
Google satellite view of Musk's residence in Westlake.
Where Musk lives has been highly contested in the past. In July 2021, Musk claimed his primary residence was a 20-feet-by-20-feet box in Boca Chica, Texas, that he rents from SpaceX. Then in December 2021, the month Musk's then-girlfriend, Grimes, had a child with Musk via surrogacy, the Wall Street Journal reported he lived in a $17.9 million Lake Austin home owned by PayPal co-founder Ken Howery. Musk denied he lived in that home, but said he had stayed there previously.
Musk has not commented on his residency since, but the Twitter account that tracks his jet movement shows he's in Austin days at a time on a near-weekly basis.