1. Covid vaccine
As it has since Austonia.com launched on April 8, 2020, the ongoing need for COVID-related information has dominated our coverage. Our most-read covid story this week is about the use of technology to identify and book vaccine appointments.
Additional COVID coverage this week:
- COVID-19 variants: What you need to know
- Worried about your second vaccine shot? Here's what 10 Austin providers advise
- Texans 50 and older will be eligible for the COVID vaccine starting March 15
- All are racing for a vaccine with data showing younger Austinites receiving more shots than those 65+
- Update: Austin Public Health will now release vaccine appointments on Monday evenings
- Great news, grandparents: CDC says it's okay for vaccinated people to gather mask-free indoors
- PHOTOS: Restaurant, bar workers protest for vaccine accessibility
- 2. Mask mandate
Mask on. Mask off. Mask on. The battle between Texas and Austin over COVID-related policy continued as Gov. Greg Abbott removed COVID restrictions. Shortly after, Mayor Steve Adler announced that some restrictions were back in force via health department orders, which resulted in Attorney General Ken Paxton filing suit against Austin to remove local restrictions. Meantime, most businesses are keeping mask requirements in place.
- UPDATE: Austin's mask mandate stays alive for at least two more weeks as Paxton's lawsuit is postponed
- Three Austonia writers walked into bars with the mask mandate lifted. Here's what they saw.
3. APD officer charged
Officer Christopher Taylor has been charged with murder in the shooting of Michael Ramos, the event that ignited Austin's Black Lives Matters protests and led to budget changes at APD.
4. Austin Energy windfall
Austin Energy announces that it most likely made $54-million during the deep freeze by selling excess power to the ERCOT grid. Power prices, around $50 per megawatt hour pre-storm, spiked to the maximum-allowable $9,000 per megawatt-hour at times during the power shortage. There's considerable uncertainty around AE's ability to collect, so it may make as much as $104-million, or suffer a $16-million loss.
- Gas, nuclear and coal plants power Austin Energy to make $54 million during winter freeze, while 40% of Austin suffered without electricity
5. Former Westlake player killed
Former Westlake High School football standout Jackson Coker died Wednesday morning after rolling his Jeep on Bee Cave Road, returning from an early morning workout. Coker was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead on the scene. Coker's high school coach, Todd Dodge, said Coker was the "heart and soul" of the 2019 state championship team. Coker was attending Columbia University remotely, as a member of its football team.
Austin's first major league professional sports team, Austin FC, announced parts of its early season schedule. The team's first-ever game will be Saturday, April 17, against Los Angeles FC, in LA. The nationally-broadcast match will be on FOX and FOX Deportes. Austin FC's first home match, at Q2 Stadium, will take place Saturday, June 19, against the San Jose Earthquakes.
7. Best chicken sandwiches
As our city starts to buzz and hum again with a hint of its former energy, many of our readers resonated with our survey of the chicken landscape.
Terry Black’s Barbecue is journeying outside of the smoked meats sphere and into the hospitality sector, announcing plans to open “Friday Mountain,” a resort-style vineyard near Driftwood.
According to a report from the Austin Business Journal, Friday Mountain will be located on 64 acres at 150 Concord Circle, featuring a boutique hotel with 22 rooms, a 14-acre vineyard and a 20,000-square-foot underground wine facility, a spa, event space, all-day café and high-end restaurant. Construction is poised to start in the next month.
The courtyard outside of the event space will echo Hill Country architecture. (Rogers-O'Brien Construction)
Co-owner Mark Black said he expects construction to last about 10 months, hoping for opening early next year, and would hire around 140 employees: 60 full-time and 80 part-time.
The new project has long been in the works for the restaurateurs—including Mark’s twin brother Mike and sister Christina—who come from the same lineage as those behind Lockhart’s Black’s BBQ but separated the business due to a falling out within the family.
Friday Mountain was originally planned to be a wedding venue but issues arising about noise, traffic and environmental concerns led the Dripping Springs City Council to ask for updated plans.
A rendering of the entrance to the planned underground wine cave. (Rogers-O'Brien Construction)
In the new plans, which have since been submitted, Black said he heard the neighborhood's concerns and is focusing on working with the right contractors to avoid issues. Black said he knows not everyone will be on board with the venue but that it will provide a little something for everyone.
To bring the concept to life, Black is partnering with engineers at Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., architects at Lawrence Group, and Rogers-O’Brien Construction Co. Ltd. as the general contractor.
As for the vineyard, Black has partnered with Salt Lick Cellars to have wine aged and ready to drink wine upon opening and will hand off wine making operations to enthusiast Phil Price.
According to a Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation filing, the project will cost an estimated $20 million to be completed in January 2023.
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.