With another pandemic winter behind us and the threat of omicron waning, workers are grabbing their briefcases and heading back to the office.
Kastle Systems, a property technology company, reports almost 62% of Austin metro offices were occupied as of March 30, a figure that jumped nearly 9% from the week before then. It's higher than what's seen in Dallas and Houston and even metros on the coast.
This return to the office in Austin and elsewhere is being driven in part by big tech.
For example, some Google employees returned to the office months ago. Last month, Google said it expected most workers to return to offices three days a week and have two days of remote work by this month.
Starting next week, Apple will ease out of remote work by starting a hybrid schedule that requires two in-office days weekly and tacks on another in late May.
Reporting from the Wall Street Journal noted that Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other leadership at the company work from Hawaii, Cape Cod and Europe though workers made a return to the office on March 28.
This increased office activity means downtown Austin is bustling once again for office workers, influencers and people looking for entertainment. TikTokers are pointing to their favorite dining spots like the Fareground Food Hall. Castle Hill Fitness just brought back weekly workouts for yoga, dance and cardio. The Paramount Theatre is hosting a comedy festival this month while venues like ACL Live and Stubb's Bar-B-Q have regular shows slated for the spring and summer.
This liveliness is only the start. With tower announcements and leases from giants like Meta and TikTok pouring into downtown, there's bound to be even more activity in and outside the office in the coming months and years.
Sixth of Guadelupe will lease all 33 of its commercial floors to Facebook parent company Meta.
A February study from the Pew Research Center shows 60% feel less connected to their coworkers now, showing a want for back to office work. Still, a majority, 61%, say they are choosing not to go into their workplace.
Andrew Brodsky, a professor at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, says labor market conditions are favorable to employees at this point in time.
In the case employees don't want to return to the office, they can find a company that will allow remote work.
“Part of what organizations are struggling with is that some employees really want to come back to the office because they like that collegiality, they’re much more productive in the office and other ones want to just continue working virtually,” Brodsky said. “So there’s a little bit of conflict from two sides about how to remediate that.”
Different incentives, such as Google reimbursing workers for a subscription to e-scooter maker Unagi or allowing hybrid schedules, could be part of the solution for companies to get employees back in the office and fill newly-leased buildings.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.