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Opera house redevelopment project gets first OK

Site plan presented to the city by applicant Richard Weiss.

By Chad Swiatecki

City Council unanimously approved the first reading of the proposed zoning change to three tracts just east of South Congress Avenue while signaling that there is much negotiating and bargaining awaiting the project, which aims to revive part of the Austin Opera House property as a music venue.

The owners of the three tracts, known as the 200 Academy Drive project, want to remove those properties from the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District to create a mixed-use development at affordable or reduced rates and the music venue.

The size of the music venue is the biggest sticking point between developer Chris Wallin and neighbors who argue the area will suffer from the traffic attracted to what has long been a neighborhood street. The project calls for using 17,500 square feet for music venue space, while neighbors have agreed to a much smaller 3,000 square feet, roughly the size of the nearby Continental Club.

Architect and project partner Richard Weiss said amending the NCCD instead of removing the tracts from it altogether would create future requirements and problems for the project that is largely supported by Council because of the housing it would provide as well as the project’s proximity to future mass transit lines.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the area in question, drafted a motion sheet that would amend parts of the NCCD affecting the project parcels to accomplish much of what is planned. The sheet included the smaller venue size as a placeholder, which she acknowledged could change in the coming weeks as staffers, the developer and neighbors continue to work toward an agreement.

Tovo also suggested the city could push for a density bonus consideration to include specific requirements around the amount of affordable housing included in the project, including the income levels targeted for those units, with up to 20 percent of the units priced for availability to those making up to 60 percent of the area’s median family income.

To date the project has embraced the requirements of the city’s SMART housing program.

The request, which needed nine Council votes as a result of the petition filed against it by neighbors, almost failed after Council Member Paige Ellis passed an amendment that substituted the 17,500-square-foot venue into the reading instead of Tovo’s smaller-sized venue. That amendment passed 6-5 with Tovo, Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter and Council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Mackenzie Kelly voting against it.

When it appeared the request would fall short of the nine votes as amended, Kitchen proposed an amendment leaving the venue size blank to leave that issue open for further work and discussion. That amendment also passed 6-5, with Ellis and Council members Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Vanessa Fuentes and Natasha Harper-Madison voting against.

Tovo said the coming weeks will include much bargaining between the developers and neighbors to find the right balance for a portion of downtown that is changing quickly.

“I feel strongly that we can end up with a project that allows for the return of this historic use on this tract and allows for increased housing opportunities which we very much need and also balances those against, in particular the music use, against the needs of the hundreds and hundreds of people who live in close proximity,” Tovo said.

Mayor Steve Adler, who supports the larger venue proposal, said staff and Council members need to gather data on possible venue capacities and configurations before the second of three required readings.

“I’m not sure we have to decide today what the size of the venue is, nor do we have to decide today what the total amount of affordable housing is on the property,” he said. “Between first and second reading we can try to work through those issues, though I will say as I sit here I would support the applicant’s requested size for the venue given the future traffic patterns.”

The Austin Monitor is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization with a mission to strengthen our shared information space and democracy.


With deposition and trial looming, Elon Musk has offered $44B for Twitter, again

Elon Musk has proposed once again to buy Twitter for $54.20 a share.

The news that Musk is offering to carry on with the $44 billion buyout was first reported by Bloomberg. Now, a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows Musk made the proposal in a letter to the tech giant on Monday.

The New York Stock Exchange temporarily halted trading in Twitter stock twice Tuesday, first because of a big price move and the second time for a news event, presumably the announcement of Musk's renewed offer.

While the per share offer price on this latest proposal remains the same as the original offer, it’s unclear if Musk has made other term changes or if Twitter would reject it. According to other reports, a deal could be reached this week.

The stock closed at $52.00/share Tuesday, indicating market uncertainty around the $54.20 offer.

After Musk informed Twitter of plans to terminate the original agreement in July, Twitter sued. A trial has been expected in Delaware Chancery Court on Oct. 17.

With the proposition of a buyout on the table again, it revives the question of whether Musk might move Twitter from San Francisco to Central Texas.

He’s done so with some of his other companies. Tesla’s headquarters in southeast Travis County had its grand opening earlier this year and tunneling business The Boring Company moved to Pflugerville. At least two other Musk companies, SpaceX and Neuralink, have a Central Texas presence without being headquartered here.

Technology journalist Nilay Patel this afternoon voiced concerns that owning Twitter and Tesla together could be problematic for Musk, as his Tesla manufacturing facilities in Germany and China are both in countries that have disputes with Twitter over content moderation and censorship.

Telsa shares fell after the Twitter news became public, before rallying to close up, at $249.44.

Austin rents nearly double in a year and are now in the top 5 nationwide

While searching for a place to live, Austin renters will face monthly rates of nearly $3,000, a recent guide from rental marketplace Dwellsy shows.

The median rent in August this year was $2,930, a more than 86% increase since August 2021. That’s $820 more than the nationwide median asking rent in August and puts Austin just below the Bay Area, Boston and New York for large cities with the most expensive asking rent.

“Within this group, Austin, TX stands out for the highest increases in asking rent, which has nearly doubled since this time last year,” the study notes.

Outside of those large cities, however, others are seeing even higher rent spikes. Metro areas that ranked above Austin in one-year increases include those like Kansas City, MO with a 112% change in rent since last August and Tucson, AZ with a 124% change.

The data reflects large apartment communities, single-family homes and 2-6 unit buildings.