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 Domain will be getting its tallest and largest building yet.
According to the Austin Business Journal, a 26-story tower known as Domain Central 1 is set to have 456,000 square feet of rentable space, more than 10,000 square feet of retail space, an amenity floor and a terrace on each office floor.
Atlanta-based Cousins Properties is behind the tower, though it’s uncertain when shoppers and office workers can expect to see the finished building.
In a recent earnings call, company leaders noted material and construction costs have increased, indicating work on the tower might not start this year as filings indicated. If the timeline does stick to plans indicated in filings, construction would start in November and reach completion in June 2025.
While the final price tag could change, Domain Central 1 has an estimated cost of $143 million.
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Austin is in dire need of new apartments, as a report shows the city will need more than 100,000 additional apartment units by 2035 to keep up with demand.
Commissioned by the National Apartment Association and the National Multifamily Housing Council, the study found that Austin had the highest apartment demand across the nation using projected percentage growth and absolute new renters from 2021-2035.
Texas dominated the need for rental housing, with Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston following closely behind in slots two and three, respectively. The study said percentage growth tends to favor smaller metros while absolute growth favors larger metros.
While the study showed Austin was most starved for new units, it ranked fifth for the absolute number of units needed by 2035: 117,107, or a little over 9,000 units per year. Meanwhile, DFW needs 269,906 and Houston needs 209,084, both higher than totals in any other metro on the list.
In terms of percentage growth needed, Austin ranked second for percent growth needed at 2.6%, DFW slipped behind at 2% and 1.9% for Houston per year.
All combined, Texas ranks sixth for needed housing, requiring 653,285 new units and an increase of 1.6% per year.
According to a report from the Austin Business Journal, 60 projects were delivered locally in 2021, adding 15,198 new units across Travis, Hays, Williamson, Caldwell and Bastrop counties. There are 50,000 units currently under construction in Austin, though 45,000 are awaiting permits, which can be a lengthy, year-plus long process right now.
Additionally, the industry is grappling with regulatory changes and supply shortages that are slowing the process.
As of July, 47 apartment complexes are under construction, making up 13,270 units according to Apartmentdata.com, and another 128 communities representing 42,257 units are proposed.