Developer Doug Launius said he knew 10 years ago that Southeast Austin was a place to invest: it's close to downtown and the airport; the land is relatively affordable; it is served by three major roadways—SH 71, SH 130 and FM 973; and the rolling hills are beautiful.
"It really is much closer [to Central Austin] than most people think," said Launius, principal of the Southeast Austin-focused development firm Marketplace Real Estate.
Marketplace owns some 900 acres in the area, including the site of a forthcoming 7-million-square-foot mixed-use development called Velocity, which is about a mile away from the site of Tesla's recently announced $1.1 billion Gigafactory.
Launius welcomes its arrival, which a local industry expert said will speed development—and the growth of property value—in the area.
"Tesla opening their factory … is going to accelerate the growth in the area and help us bring the services, the grocery stores, and all the things that we want to do to the area more quickly," he said.
(The above map shows the approximate sites of the Austin Green (north) and Velocity (south) developments. The blue marker is near the entrance to the Tesla site.)
The area southeast of Austin began developing over the last five to seven years for a number of reasons, including rising property costs within the city limits and the construction of SH 130, which improved mobility in the area, said Eldon Rude, principal of the local consulting firm 360 Real Estate Analytics.
"A lot of it has to do with its proximity to Austin, relative to some other suburban areas, and the ability to buy land, develop and build homes that are affordable, if you will, for first-time and first move-up homebuyers," he said.
This growth includes Velocity, which plans to build 2,683 units of multifamily housing, 2.9 million square feet of office space and 42 acres of parks; H-E-B, which bought 16 acres in the development in 2016; and Austin Community College, which owns 124 acres adjacent to the development and plans to build a regional workforce center.
There is also the Austin Green development, from the local development firm GroundWork, which began the process of securing City Council approval for the 2,100-acre project earlier this year. As proposed, it would include 12,000 residential units as well as retail, office, industrial, medical and park space—and now, with Elon Musk's announcement last week, the Tesla factory.
The Tesla effect
Rude expects the factory to further development in the area, as a new workforce—first the construction workers who build the factory and then the employees who work there—drives up demand for housing and other services. Tesla's suppliers may also move to the region, compounding the effect.
This will likely affect the area's affordability, Rude said, and prompt more investment, such as an expansion of DVISD and the arrival of big-box stores.
For Launius, Tesla's arrival is proof of the area's appeal. "We say it's like throwing gas on the fire. The fire was already burning out there pretty strong, and then Tesla comes [and] announces," he said. "I think it's only going to be beneficial for Southeast Austin and Del Valle."
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Designs for stations along Project Connect’s Blue Line were presented this week, giving a detailed look at what part of the rail system extending from downtown to the airport could look like.
The planned stations that have gotten the latest focus include Waterfront, Travis Heights and Lakeshore stations past Lady Bird Lake.
At the Waterfront station, the preliminary design aims to prevent visual obstructions and save on costs. This is accomplished by a transit guideway that will lower from the bridge to a level station.
Heading onto East Riverside Drive, the light rail faces a curve requiring a slow down to about 10 miles per hour.
The Travis Heights station could involve relocating a pedestrian crosswalk zone at Alameda Drive to Blunn Creek. Since light rails can't effectively operate on a steep grade, this allows the transit guideway to avoid that.
From there, the rail will extend to the Norwood Park area, and though it will reach along the right-of-way zone, the park will be able to remain open.
A view of the Blue Line by Lady Bird Lake. (Project Connect)
The line involves some coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation. That's because the department is working on an intersection that will have to be built before the phasing of the section of the Blue Line involving an I-35 crossing.
When it comes to the safety of cyclists and walkers, design ideas include a pedestrian hybrid beacon by East Bouldin Creek that would provide a protected signal to cross. And for the intersection TxDOT is carrying out, Project Connect is working with them on pedestrian access across the intersection. It could involve shared use paths along the street and crossings beneath it.
This summer, the public can expect 30% of design and cost estimates to be released. Though the project was $7.1 billion when voters approved it in November 2020, the latest estimates factoring in inflation and supply chain constraints show it could ultimately be upwards of $10 billion.
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Plans for an Amazon warehouse in Round Rock—a $250 million project slated to be a large distribution center—are on hold.
This comes just after the tech giant had its worst financial quarter in seven years.
- Late last year, it announced an expansion at the Domain adding 2,000 more corporate and tech jobs.
- Amazon still owns the site in Round Rock. Plans for it are unclear.
- Early this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon is aiming to scrap warehouse space as it faces a slowdown in its e-commerce operations.
Part of that effort involves exploring the possibility of ending or renegotiating leases with outside warehouse owners. Another aspect is a plan to sublease warehouse space.
“It allows us to relieve the financial obligations associated with an existing building that no longer meets our needs,” an Amazon spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal. “Subleasing is something many established corporations do to help manage their real estate portfolio.”
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