It's a recent Wednesday night and a crowd is queuing at the Museum of Ice Cream, an Instagram-friendly hotspot comprised of installations including a plastic-sprinkled-filled swimming pool and rideable pink animal crackers that recently took up residence at the Domain shopping and entertainment complex.
A little over a mile away, fans pack into Q2 Stadium, Austin's first professional sports stadium and home to the Austin FC professional soccer club, which is midway through its first season.
As the world tiptoes back to normalcy despite a continuing pandemic, North Austin continues to court new businesses that are making a major impact on both the city's economy and the local landscape. But with all of this change and development, how do longtime residents and business owners feel about North Austin's sustained growth?
After all, North Austin has changed significantly over the years. After some started calling the city "Silicon Hills" in the 1980s due to the influx of tech companies to the area, many of those companies settled in North Austin, with some of them opting to office at the Domain—a retail, entertainment, office and residential complex that quickly became a second city-center after it opened in 2007. Even Apple, which already has a significant presence in town, plans to mark the 30th anniversary of its first Austin office with the debut of a $1 billion campus in Northwest Austin in 2022.
Mike Lavigne has lived in North Austin for more than 20 years and has been a resident of the Crestview neighborhood since 2002.
"We have a 12-year-old daughter and I can't think of a better place on earth to raise a child," Lavigne said. "(The neighborhood) is mixed in terms of age and economic status. It still has diversity and, most importantly, it has families."
Lavigne said that as a whole he appreciates the role that places like the Domain serve in Austin.
"We need those multiple city centers. The Domain and Mueller are the few places that have been able to take some of the stress off single-family neighborhoods," he said. "I like that there's a place for apartments and retail and all of those things that don't need to be everywhere but do better when they're together. I think that's necessary and it's a smart way to grow."
That doesn't mean, however, that Lavigne isn't concerned about the impact that the influx of chain shops, restaurants and bars in the area are having on small business owners and the "old Austin" vibe in general. As a partner in Violet Crown Clubhouse, a neighborhood hangout for Crestview and Brentwood residents that features an arcade and an ice cream shop, and as an investor in the oddly wonderful holiday-themed dive bar LaLa's Little Nugget, Lavigne can attest firsthand that the pandemic has been "a kick in the pants" for local businesses.
"There's definitely a lot of places that were epicenters for communities that are just gone and they're not going to come back. It's up to us to create new places and keep things odd and unpredictable. That's on us to do as natives," he said. "(When it comes to progress) there's no turning back now. Whether it's good or bad remains to be seen."
Austin is currently ranked nationally as the second most overvalued market in the nation, and finding homes in the North Austin area can be next to impossible. Jen Sparks, broker and owner of Kifer Sparks Agency, said that currently there are only seven homes on the market and 38 homes with pending contracts in the Domain area between Mopac and I-35 and 183 and Walnut Creek."The consistent growth in the Domain area by top-tier employers continues to attract highly skilled tech talent, which is in turn driving competition in the real estate market. With a large number of restaurants and nightlife options and the new Q2 Stadium, the demand for single-family homes continues to break records," Sparks said. "Although the market historically slows in the fall, I anticipate the inventory in this area will continue to remain low, which will in turn cause prices to rise."
Jenni Carter has run her vehicle inspection business, Sticker Stop, on Burnet Road for the past 15 years. She said it was "pure luck" that she found the property, which is now located less than a mile from Q2 Stadium.
"For us, the growth has been amazing. The more the area grows, the more the business grows. We have been very fortunate," she said. "When we first opened, the majority of our customers were commuters, they worked in this area. Now it seems we have a very even mix of customers that reside around the Burnet Road corridor and work here."
While Lavigne said he enjoys visiting the Domain and looks forward to attending some Austin FC games, he hopes Austinites will continue to buy local in an effort to help keep Austin, well, weird.
"I would say that if there is a cool place in your neighborhood and it's a small local business, make sure you're supporting them double," Lavigne said. "The Domain doesn't need your help, but we do. We don't get the same kind of subsidies that the big guys get. If you care and you want to keep a place, you've got to spend your money there."
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A Union Pacific cargo train hit a man in his 40s, killing him Thursday morning, Austin police said.
The train's driver called the police after the train hit the man at around 12:45 a.m. in the 300 block of Orchard Street, nearby Fifth Street and Lamar Boulevard.
Police have not released the identity of the man.
Over a year after they took the stage for the first time in Los Angeles, Austin FC returned to Banc of America Stadium to snatch the No. 1 spot from LAFC in a 2-1 statement win late Wednesday night.
Austin FC, which has flirted with the top spot in the MLS West this season, has now solidly reached the summit just a year after its second-to-last first season finish. The new top dogs are now 7-2-3 overall.
Here's a look at three highlights from the match:
Flashback in LA
For many Austin FC fans and naysayers alike, the match was more than a fight for the MLS West throne: it also served as a symbol of how far the team has come.
The two clubs first met on the Banc of America pitch as Austin FC saw its first game and first loss all at once in a 2-0 battle last April. It was an exciting but shaky start to the club's first season, and the loss seemed to set the tone for the rest of its inaugural year as the club dipped to second to last in the conference.
If Austin's first season was hallmarked by its first match, then its second-year success was foretold by its back-to-back five-goal victories to kick off the season.
Since then, the club has battled its own first-year shadow, claims of "bonus games" and a few unexpected obstacles—both on and off the pitch—but it has almost always come out on top.
That fight to the top was fully realized Wednesday, even as the club played its toughest opponent yet. Even with a man down in the middle due to Daniel Pereira's red card last game, the club kept its cool through even the trickiest moments of the match. Jhojan Valencia, who patched the Pereira hole in midfield, got his first MLS start and first MLS assist as Ruben Gabrielsen scored the first goal of the game.
Gabrielsen came to Austin FC as a potential hero for the team's center back position, but the club's resident Viking has already nabbed two goals in his first season with the team.
"That's center forward material," Austin FC announcer Adrian Healey said as Gabrielsen took control of Valencia's pass, paused to fake out the defense, and calmly tucked the ball into the left corner to complete the first goal of the match.
Even as LAFC dominated possession for much of the match, Austin FC saw another wide-open goal opportunity crumble as midfielder Diego Fagundez's shot hit the corner goalpost in the 23rd minute.
But Fagundez wasn't finished. The midfielder was short on his Verde hair dye but full of surprises as he nimbly sunk a shot over LAFC defense to make it 2-0 with 10 minutes to go.
Fagundez, who has spent more time setting up goals for his teammates (becoming the No. 1 assister in the MLS in the process), finally took the center stage with his second goal this season.
Owen Wolff, head coach Josh Wolff's own son, had a scoring opportunity of his own foiled by the goalpost as he started his first MLS match as one of the youngest starters in the league this season.
But Austin FC wouldn't score again; instead, LAFC powerhouse Carlos Vela made the win a bit trickier in the 86th minute as he got past Austin keeper Brad Stuver to cut the lead in half. The other Wolff quickly subbed in a five-prong defense as the club kept steady for the final 10 painstaking minutes to win the match.
BONUS: Stuver's career-making match
Six saves on the night in LA for Brad Stuver! 🚫 pic.twitter.com/02V6hcUd3Y— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2022
After two weeks on the bench due to a knee gash, Austin's star keeper Brad Stuver had the Stuver-iest match of all time (yes, we're making it a word) as he pulled off six saves to help his team to No. 1.
Stuver looked like a pinball machine as he pulled off save after save with his feet, hands and body to keep it nearly 100% clean on the back end.
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