We’ve all heard it before, ‘Austin isn’t what it used to be,’ despite residents complaining about their beloved city morphing since the 1880s. However, that’s not to say Austin hasn’t changed.
With expansive population growth, new businesses steadily flowing in, celebrities snapping up local property and constant new development, Austin is making its way through some growing pains.
Here are some of the parts of the city longtime Austinites gripe about and newcomers don't notice.
From its origins as a pseudo-red light in the 1990s to its emerging identity as a luxury shopping center and tourist destination, South Congress has been the epicenter of change in Austin. While many legacy businesses—think Prima Dora, Güero's Taco Bar and The Continental Club—are still operating, it has also seen its fair share of closures since the pandemic: Most recently, Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds announced it would closing.
the south congress area is raising my blood pressure— woman (@fiorellino__1) August 6, 2022
For each closure, there has been a handful of new openings, namely along Music Lane, which was completed in spring 2020. The new strip has brought crowds to luxury stores and restaurants that are typically reserved for the likes of The Domain, like designer brand Hermès, social club Soho House and luxury perfumery Le Labo. One person's sadness about the change is anothers excitement.
Since 2019, Austin has added 32 new buildings to its skyline, with another 28 under construction and yet another 25 in the proposal stage according to a June Downtown Austin Alliance report. In the words of the antique Austin-American Statesman in 1936, “Rip Van Winkle would have rubbed his eyes in amazement,” upon seeing the difference just 10 years can bring to the skyline.
While newcomers, especially tech executives, look forward to moving into the newest high rises, they mean big changes for long-time Austinites. The new towers mean the closure of Rainey Street favorites, as well as the 4th Street Warehouse District.
Making restaurant reservations
One of the most universal complaints about the ‘new’ Austin, from locals and visitors alike, is the need to make a reservation at most restaurants in town. This is a big change for locals that have lived here most of their life—you rarely had to make reservations pre-pandemic. And while this isn't loved by newer Austinites, it's the norm they know.
While you can still find walk-in options—think Lou’s, Taquero Mucho, Magnolia Cafe and Terry Black’s Barbecue—most restaurants with two or more dollar signs on reservation sites like Resy are likely to require a reservation… likely a month or more in advance.According to Open Table, some of the hardest places to get a reservation are celebrity hotspot Aba, James Beard Foundation Award-winning restaurant El Naranjo, Lady Bird Lake rooftop bar P6, sushi restaurant Uchi and farm-to-table restaurant Emmer & Rye. You’ll need to break out your calendar for those.
This massive development in North Austin is the go-to stop for luxury brands like Gucci, Anthropologie, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. and Restoration Hardware. Split into two sides: The Domain and Domain NORTHSIDE. Originally opened in 2007, The Domain has changed drastically in its 15 years of business and is often called Austin’s “second downtown” but that still doesn’t change the fact that it still feels like a new area to longtime residents.Smart City apartment locator Maddie Hastings said she doesn’t often lease locals at The Domain, mostly people from out of town, and when she does, they don’t typically stay more than a year. Still, for newcomers, it's a fun development to work, eat and play.
Austin FC vs. UT
Verde has yet to stamp out that burnt orange cult following in town. Austin FC has gained a steady following despite only being on its second MLS season, but the University of Austin has strength in numbers from the hundreds of thousands of Longhorns who have graduated from the famous school living both in and outside of Austin.
Longhorns fans are often older Austnites or those that have graduated from the school. But for newer Austnites, they don't have a connection to the school and are instantly welcomed into the diverse and fresh MLS team.
That said, Austin FC and Longhorn fans seem to be peacefully coexisting, with part-owner and UT alum Matthew McConaughey saying "the more, the merrier."
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The final link on the SH 45 Loop chain is approaching a roadblock.
Travis County Commissioners have asked Hays County Commissioners to halt the State Highway 45 expansion project, which would create a 3.5-mile stretch connecting I-35 to FM 1626, feeding South Mopac.
Travis County Commissioners said they haven't been part of the discussion, citing the impact that the "missing link" would have on the area's traffic and growth.
"Making the connection from I-35 to FM 1626 would effectively make Mopac an I-35 bypass, dramatically increasing vehicular and truck traffic," the letter read. "The traffic impacts of this decision by Hays County would have a profound and detrimental effect almost entirely on Austin and Travis County."
Commissioners also cited environmental concerns. With traffic increasing on Balcones Canyonlands Preserve lands, City of Austin Water Quality Protection lands, the Edwards Aquifer and endangered species habitat, Travis County said the area's water quality and environment are at greater risk.
Hays County's Position
But Hays County has a different perspective. Around 40% of the county's residents work in Austin, while around 20% of Texas State University's commuters come from Austin. To access Mopac, many of those metro residents rely on FM 1626—a two-lane rural roadway—to go to school or work, causing congestion in the South Austin neighborhood of Shady Hollow.
“What it will do is relieve the pressure on 1626, and some of these in some of the eastern parts of the county that will have that connection between 1626 and 35,” Hays County Commissioner Mark Jones told KXAN.
Travis County expressed concerns that the area would experience rapid growth if the 3.5-mile stretch is built. Citing Hays County's 60% growth from 2000 to 2010 and a Texas Transportation Institute study, the county said growth has already occurred. Now, they say it's time to play catch-up.
"SH 45 can be built with access restrictions that limit sprawl along the roadway. It can be built with all of the environmental protections our ingenuity can contrive. It can be built with all the associated green space, landscaping, and neighborhood protections we desire. But it must be built," Hays County's website said.
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra said he hopes to discuss the move between the courts and hear from the community. Becerra also said the Travis County letter will be discussed at the next Hays County Commissioners' Court meeting.
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Texas is going deeper into the QB depth chart after Saturday's tough home loss to Alabama left Quinn Ewers with a shoulder sprain and his backup Hudson Card with a right ankle sprain. Ewers is said to be week-to-week and Card day-to-day.
Next up, at third string, is Austin's Charles Wright. Wright ran the first team offense in practice early this week, according to Justin Wells of Inside Texas. Coach Steve Sarkisian wouldn't comment on that, but said that Wright was "next man up" during the Alabama game, when it wasn't clear Card could continue.
Wright was recruited by former coach Tom Herman, who said he expected him to be a starter someday. Wright decommitted from Iowa State to join the Longhorns.
He's played in two games, Texas Tech last year and Louisiana-Monroe in the opening game of this season. Wright has not yet thrown a pass in a game.
Who's behind Wright? That would be freshman QB Cole Lourd, and another Austinite, former Hyde Park QB Ben Ballard.