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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Airbnb is moving to make its COVID-induced ban on house parties permanent—but from the affordable housing shortage to
"Under 25" bans, the short-term rental service may be losing its shine in Austin.
In 2019, the company moved to prohibit “open-invite” parties that were advertised on social media and “chronic party houses." By 2020, its ban broadened to all parties and events "until further notice," which was officially coded into policy Tuesday.
From August 2020 to January 2022, Airbnb denied over 48,000 reservations in Texas from serial party offenders, and around 3,300 reservations were declined through the "Under 25" system in Austin.
For some Austinites, the party ban may be the last straw.
Society has progressed past the need for Airbnb's https://t.co/44rTBDQPX1
— Caleb (@ipleadthef1th) June 20, 2022
But Airbnb has already caught plenty of flack for its possible contributions to the nation's housing shortage.
In Austin, short-term rentals are required to be registered through the city. And while the city reports around 1,900 rental units in the rental registry, according to city demographer Lila Valencia, data collection site Inside Airbnb has tracked close to 12,000 in the area.
Inside Airbnb founder Murray Cox said that too many Airbnbs in Austin could shrink the available housing market.
"If the housing units (have) been taken off the market, that's displacing people, it's making housing more scarce. And it's probably driving the cost of housing up," Cox told Austonia.
Short-term rentals could also eat into new housing in Austin, from apartment buildings to accessory dwelling units on single-family properties.
"If new housing has been built, and it's being tied to Airbnb, that's also really just servicing the tourism industry as opposed to the housing needs of the city," Cox said.
Because a large portion of its customers are tourists, Airbnbs may also tend to crowd around desirable areas, such as downtown or South Congress. South Congress's average rent now rivals New York City, according to Austin Business Journal.
"When that happens, you're taking away housing units in an already densely-populated area where there is more of a shortage of housing," Valencia said. "And so then the people who historically once lived there are no longer able to afford to live there, and the unit itself isn't even going to somebody who could afford to rent it on a more permanent basis, but rather to people who are coming in and visiting for a weekend or two."
Despite the pandemic—and growing frustration among homeowners and renters—Airbnb saw a record year in 2021. But two of Airbnb's billionaire founders have quietly sold $1.2 billion in company stock in the last year, a possible premonition of what's to come.
And while some have created an Airbnb "empire"—one company owns 338 available listings in Austin—many priced-out Austinites are fed up with big investors' influence in the tight housing market.
These are not imperialist conquerors; they’re over leveraged milk toast millennials who probably borrowed money from their wealthy boomer parents and be bailed out by the same #housingmarket#airbnb#recessionpic.twitter.com/K6DM8bT730
— Texas Runner (@OGtexasrunner) June 21, 2022
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