Tesla's new Gigafactory in Austin has done more than tack on national headlines: it's also reshaping Riverside and the rest of southeast Austin.
Michele Bryant, manager of Treehouse Apartments on Oltorf Street, said that "low availability (and) heavy demand" is ending previous specials and sales at the complex as Tesla employees take root in the area.
"We leased 13 units to Tesla employees in the last two months and many more are inquiring daily," Bryant said.
Tesla's Giga Texas is located 15 miles from Riverside's hub and sits near another southeast Austin feature, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Though the Gigafactory won't be complete until the end of the year, the company is hiring droves of new workers. In April, Tesla CEO and Austin resident Elon Musk tweeted, "Over 10,000 people are needed for Giga Texas just through 2022!"
Another busy dat at Giga Texas - it almost looks like the Millennium Falcon now @elonmusk 🛸
📷 @peterdog15 (1 of 4 pics) pic.twitter.com/K5CYWIzK8o
— Tesla Owners of Austin (@AustinTeslaClub) May 13, 2021
Austin Board of Realtors President Susan Horton said that the influx of tech companies has affected where people choose to move within the Austin metro. "We are projected to have 35,000 new jobs here by the end of the year because of just the tech industry," Bryant said. "Tech is booming, and they want to be as close to those areas as they can."
The effects of the ongoing tech and California migration have already been felt throughout Austin, but areas with close proximity to the companies' headquarters, including Pflugerville and Riverside, are seeing the biggest changes to their communities.
when i moved to austin just 10 years ago the east side was where my community was, where i went to feel like i was home, even with the riverside college kids. but even then it was much smaller. now since the tech boom's gentrification east side is nearly lost -- https://t.co/ppbX0MQ8WX
— Kate Sánchez⁷ (@OhMyMithrandir) June 6, 2020
Road construction plagues much of Oltorf, the street parallel to the south of Riverside, and new apartments are constantly being reconstructed or remodeled to match increasing demand.
East Riverside-Oltorf has been known for slightly higher crime rates, but it's also an affordable oasis amid the sky-high Austin housing market. Young people starting their careers flock to the area, which has an average 1-bedroom rent at $150 cheaper than the rest of Austin and half the price of rent downtown, according to Zumper.
But a change in landscape means a change in price. At Treehouse, there's more interest than there is room, and Bryant said the complex ended a special because they simply don't need it to bring people in.
On Riverside and nearby Oltorf Street, new high rises catered to young people stand half-built, and existing properties are constantly undergoing remodels.
Bryant, who has worked at Treehouse Apartments for two years, has already noticed changes to the neighborhood.
"I have noticed more mid-rise properties being built," Bryant said. She added it is "most likely due to tech and Tesla housing needs."
The neighborhood that is dotted with taco trucks and Austin treasures, such as Emo's Austin and Buzz Mill, is now slated for a revamp that mirrors The Domain in North Austin.
The project, nicknamed "The Domain on Riverside," is a 10 million-square-foot project approved by Austin City Council in October of 2019. The behemoth, labeled River Park, would double the size of its North Austin counterpart. The project could take over two decades to build, with its first phase set to be complete in 2023.
Rendering of River Park.
While some, including the project's developers, say the development will help add affordable housing and bring business into the area, others such as Save Our Hoodz, a local organization bringing attention to displacement, say the project contributes to gentrification.
The development is part of a bigger-scale operation adopted by the city in 2010. The East Riverside Corridor Master plan intends to bring more green space and walkability to the area, but it's also led to increased interest from cash-happy investors.
With Oracle bordering Riverside to the north and Tesla to the east, a change in landscape has already begun, and a transformation of the area seems almost guaranteed.
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If you are a committed, grunge-wearing resident of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy–almost automatic–to look at Texas as an extraordinarily dry, hot and culturally oppressive place that is better to avoid, especially in the summer. Our two granddaughters live with their parents in Portland.
Recently we decided to take the older girl, who is 15, to Dallas. Setting aside the summer heat, a Portlander can adjust to the vibes of Austin without effort. So let’s take Texas with all of its excesses straight up. Dallas, here we come.
Our 15-year-old granddaughter and her sister, 12, have spent summer weeks with us, usually separately so that we could better get to know each individually. In visits focused on Austin and Port Aransas, the girls seemed to be developing an affection for Texas.
Houston and Dallas are two great American cities, the 4th and 9th largest, each loaded with cultural treasures, each standing in glittering and starchy contrast to Austin’s more louche, T-shirts and shorts ways.
Three hours up I-35, Dallas loomed before us as a set of gray skyscrapers in a filmy haze, accessed only through a concrete mixmaster of freeways, ramps and exits. I drove with false confidence. Be calm, I said to myself, it will all end in 10 minutes under the hotel entrance canopy. And it did.
The pool at the Crescent Court Hotel in Dallas. (Crescent Court Hotel)
We stayed three nights at the Crescent Court Hotel ($622 a night for two queens), a high-end hotel in Uptown, patronized by women in white blazers, business people in suits, and tall, lean professional athletes, their shiny Escalades and Corvettes darting in and out, and other celebrities like Bill Barr, the former attorney general who shoe-horned his ample self into a Toyota.
Each morning as I walked to Whole Foods for a cappuccino, a fellow identified by a bellman as Billy the Oilman arrived in his Rolls Royce Phantom. Where does he park? “Wherever he wants to. He likes the Starbucks here.”
We garaged our more modest set of wheels for the visit. We were chauffeured for tips by Matt Cooney and Alfonza “The Rev” Scott in the hotel’s black Audi sedan. They drove us to museums, restaurants and past the enclaves of the rich and famous. In Highland Park, The Rev pointed out the homes of the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones and Troy Aikman along with the family compound of the Hunts, oil and gas tycoons.
The Dallas Museum of Art’s “Cartier and Islam” exhibit (until Sept. 18) attracted an older crowd; the nearby Perot Museum of Nature and Science was a powerful whirlpool of kids’ groups ricocheting from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the oil fracking exhibit. Watch your shins.
A Geogia O'Keeffe oil painting called "Ranchos Church, New Mexico" at the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art. (Rich Oppel)
For us, the best museum was the Amon Carter Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth, a 50-minute, madcap drive away via a 75 mph toll lane along I-30. Don’t try it during rush hour. The Carter has an exquisite collection of Remington paintings and sculptures and an excellent array of 19th and 20th-century paintings as well. Pick one museum? The Amon Carter. Peaceful, beautiful, uncrowded, free admission and small enough to manage in two hours.
The Fort Worth Stockyards, a place of history (with a dab of schmaltz), fun and good shopping, filled one of our mornings. The 98 acres brand the city as Cowboy Town, with a rodeo and a twice-daily (11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) cattle drive. We shopped for boots, drank coffee and watched the “herd” of 18 longhorns. So languid was their progress that if this were a real market drive the beef would have been very tough and leathery before it hit the steakhouse dinner plate.
The cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. (Rich Oppel)
But we could identify: the temperature was 97. “I saw a dog chasing a cat today,” said the emcee, deploying a very old joke. “It was so hot that both were walking.”
With limited time, we chose three very different restaurants:
- Nobu, in the Crescent Court Hotel; Jia, a modern Chinese restaurant in Highland Park; and Joe T. Garcia’s in Fort Worth. Nobu’s exotic Japanese menu set us back $480, with tip, for four (we had a guest), but it was worth it.
- Jia was an ordinary suburban strip mall restaurant, but with good food and a reasonable tab of $110 for four.
- Joe T.’s is an 85-year-old Fort Worth institution (think Matt’s El Rancho but larger), a fine Mexican restaurant where a meal with two drinks was $115.
Sushi at high-end restaurant Nobu. (Crescent Hotel)
It was all a splurge for a grandchild’s visit. Now we will get back to our ordinary road trips of Hampton Inns, where a room rate is closer to the Crescent Court’s overnight parking rate of $52. And to corner cafes in small towns.
Did Dallas change our 15-year-old’s view of Texas? “Yes. I think it’s a lot cooler than I did. The fashion, the food.” So, not only Austin is cool. Take Texas as a whole. It’s a big, complex, diverse and wonderful state.
Giga Texas, the massive Tesla factory in southeast Travis County is getting even bigger.
The company filed with the city of Austin this week to expand its headquarters with a new 500,000-square-foot building. The permit application notes “GA 2 and 3 expansion,” which indicates the company will make two general assembly lines in the building.
More details about the plans for the building are unclear. The gigafactory has been focused on Model Y production since it opened in April, but the company is also aiming for Cybertruck production to kick off in mid-2023.
While there is room for expansion on the 3.3 square miles of land Tesla has, this move comes after CEO Elon Musk’s recent comments about the state of the economy and its impact on Tesla.
In a May interview with Tesla Owners Silicon Valley, Musk said the gigafactories in Berlin and Austin are “gigantic money furnaces” and said Giga Texas had manufactured only a small number of cars.
And in June, Musk sent a company wide email saying Tesla will be reducing salaried headcount by 10%, then later tweeted salaried headcount should be fairly flat.
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