COVID-19 is still raging on, reaching the Texas House earlier this week, but Austin's tech sector is booming.
Here are some of Austin's most breaking stories, broken down into bite-size pieces, so you can be informed quickly.
Austin Convention Center receives first patients: The Austin Convention Center's alternate care site opened its doors on Tuesday and received its first three patients on Thursday. Following the surge resulting from holiday gatherings, hospital admissions for the virus have been on a steady incline, which puts other emergency patients at risk. With up to 200 spare beds to relieve hospital ICUs, Austin Public Health hopes the site will help control the overwhelming surge.
Bumble files to go public: Austin-based matchmaker app is ready to get on the market—the stock market, that is. Bumble filed its registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday, estimating that the initial public offering could raise $100 million, and could hit the stock market as early as this year. Though it hasn't released the number of shares it plans to sell or the price range, keep an eye out for the ticker "BMBL" on the NASDAQ.
Chencho Flores dies after COVID-19 complications: Lifelong Austinite and multi-talented musician Chencho Flores said a final goodbye to his home city on Jan. 10 after suffering COVID-19 complications. The 91-year-old began playing music around the community in the 1940s, picking up guitar, accordion and eventually becoming known for his singing and MC abilities. He stayed active in the community with Conjunto Los Pinkys up until his death.
COVID-19 in the House: State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, tested positive for COVID-19 three days after the Texas lawmakers called this year into session, he told the Texas Tribune. Deshotel had received a test six days before he tested positive and said he had "no idea" how he contracted it, though he is now in quarantine. The news came the day after House members gathered for the start of 2021 session, which will not require members to get tested before they enter the chamber. Upon hearing the news, some House members, including Democrats Erin Zwiener and Michelle Beckley, said they would quarantine according to CDC guidelines.
Digital Realty goes east: Joining an ever-growing list of companies making Austin home base, Digital Realty announced Thursday that it would be packing up and moving its HQ from San Francisco to Austin. Austin has become a choice destination for business owners with Oracle and Tesla both announcing their move to the city last year. Digital Realty already has Texas roots: an office in downtown Dallas and more than 30 data centers around Texas. The company did not announce when they would make it to Texas but they maintain they will keep a strong presence in San Francisco.
Elon Musk may be moving to Texas, but another tech billionaire isn't following in his footsteps. Oracle founder Larry Ellison announced while he is leaving California, he is headed for blue waters.
We've compiled the latest Austin news and information to help you keep up with interesting stories and breaking news around the city. Here is what we have shared so far this week:
Dec. 15: Housing market isn't matching historic trends this time of year and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Real estate immune to pandemic: Austin's housing market was already hot before major tech companies started relocating here. KXAN reports that record-low housing inventory is causing homes to sell faster—35 days—and at higher levels—$441,000 median sales price—in Austin than usual. Even the usual holiday sales dip seems unlikely this year, experts claim.
Another Silicon Valley departure: Oracle may be moving here, but Oracle's founder is heading the other direction. Billionaire Larry Ellison already moved from California to Hawaii, using "the power of Zoom" to keep connected with the continental U.S. Ellison, the world's seventh-wealthiest person, also has some business interests in Hawaii, Austin Business Journal reports.
Return of The Pier?: Historic restaurant The Pier on Lake Austin could soon return long after being forced to shut down in the mid-2000s, but it won't make any progress until at least January, Austin Monitor reports. The Pier, a Lake Austin restaurant for 47 years, is attempting to reopen at its old location but requires a zoning change to make needed repairs. A Lake Travis version of the restaurant was short-lived.
Tiny desk treatment: Black Pumas recently hosted an at-home, stripped-down set for the Tiny Desk music series hosted by NPR. Playing a Tiny Desk show has become a right of passage for many musicians, adding to the accolades Black Pumas has received this year, including three more Grammy nominations to follow up their Best New Artist nod.
P. Terry's ventures south: The 19th location of P. Terry's Burger Stand will debut Wednesday in New Braunfels, representing the Austin-based chain's southernmost location yet. It's a precursor to P. Terry's first San Antonio location, CultureMap reports, originally scheduled for this fall but moved to summer 2021.
Dec 14: H-E-B responds to reports and 4 more headlines you might've missed
HEB leadership responds: After last week's report from VICE that anti-maskers caused H-E-B to relax mask enforcement, Austin Business Journal talked with one of the grocery company's executives about mask use in stores and supply chain issues. Just as VICE reported, ABJ learned that mask-less patrons are not forced to leave H-E-B stores.
Country great dies of COVID-19: Charley Pride, a country music legend and trailblazer, died this weekend from COVID-19 complications. Pride, 86, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame 20 years ago, becoming the first Black singer to receive such recognition. He's also one of only three Black members of the legendary country music venue Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Austin City Limits TV recognized his 1981 performance during Season 6 of the long-running live music series.
Latin voices during the pandemic: Voces Oral History Center has interviewed nearly 100 people as part of its "Voices of the Pandemic" project documenting how the Latinx community members has coped with COVID-19. Austin Monthly profiled The University of Texas project, which began in 1999 well before the pandemic.
Hemp farmers in Hays County: The first-ever Taste of Texas Hemp Cup, a contest recognizing the state's top hemp farmers, took place this weekend in Hays County. Hemp, used to produce legal CBD products sold in Texas, looks like marijuana but doesn't give you the psychoactive effect of THC. KVUE reports the contest attracted hemp growers from the far corners of the state.
Stock cars at COTA: When NASCAR visits the Circuit of the Americas racing venue next year, the entirety of the 3.41-mile road course will be utilized. Originally designed for Formula 1 racing, COTA has 20 turns as opposed to oval track used in most NASCAR races. Jalopnik reports the late May race will be part of a full NASCAR weekend of events at COTA that will also include the Truck Series.
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Sure, a new Taylor Swift album debuted Friday, but another music icon also has some new music coming out. Austin's own Willie Nelson is releasing a Frank Sinatra cover album, his second such effort.
We've compiled the latest Austin news and information to help you keep up with interesting stories and breaking news around the city. Here is what we have shared so far this week:
Dec. 11: South Lamar Boulevard is getting a makeover and 4 more headlines you might've missed
This rendering shows what the planned transformation of South Lamar Boulevard from Riverside Drive to Barton Springs Road.
(City of Austin)
South Lamar changes: Money from the voter-approved 2016 Mobility Bond is being put on South Lamar Boulevard pedestrian and bikeway improvements, TOWERS reports. This map shows the extent of the changes between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road, all part of broader plans for the entire South Lamar corridor.
Two legends, one album: Willie Nelson offered an exciting announcement to wrap the week: a new album of Frank Sinatra covers. This is the second time that Nelson has paid homage to Sinatra, with the latest album slated for a late February release, per Pitchfork. One song from the album, "Cottage For Sale," is already available online to stream.
Unfortunate COVID-19 milestone: The COVID-19 death tally in Travis County reached and exceeded 500 people Thursday, a grim marker as deaths climb nationally to nearly 300,000 total. City health officials warn Austinites not to relent on pandemic safety measures or risk moving to Stage 5 safety restrictions.
Local election, outside influences: Early voting ends Friday for the Austin City Council Districts 6 and 10 runoff elections, and Election Day is Tuesday. The Austin Independent found a Facebook page that invites outside groups into town before Tuesday's Election Day. It's all an effort by Austin-area Republican groups to help two challengers unseat incumbent Council Members Alison Alter and Jimmy Flannigan.
That didn't take long: Two days after Austin American-Statesman employees announced plans to unionize, the newspaper's management has already rejected the Austin NewsGuild's request to be recognized. The guild's formation was just announced Wednesday, with a "vast majority" of journalists asking parent company Gannett for a seat at the negotiating table.
Dec. 10: Costs of 'Live PD' reality show still adding up and 4 more headlines you might've missedWilliamson County sheriff indicted, arrested on evidence tampering charge in Javier Ambler case(Williamson County)
'Live PD' still lingers: Despite losing his re-election bid amid indictment, outgoing Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody will cost taxpayers long after he leaves Jan. 1. "Live PD" was canceled after revelations that Javier Ambler died in police custody while the reality show filmed the whole thing—and lawsuits are piling up for Chody's defiance to keep the show running, Community Impact reports.
NYE21 during COVID-19: The city of Austin typically holds a family-friendly New Year's Eve celebration on Auditorium Shores, but that's not going to happen during the pandemic. Instead, KXAN reports that live music performances from six bands across three venues, including Saxon Pub, have already been filmed for a virtual event this year. More details are expected to be released soon.
Company-CEO relocation package: A real estate investment firm from the United Kingdom is relocating to Austin, and—in seemingly familiar fashion—its CEO is moving here, too. Etienne Cadestin, CEO/founder of Longevity Partners, leased space in downtown Austin instead of Portland, Salt Lake City and Miami because we're cheaper and more focused on sustainability, Austin Business Journal reports.
AISD waits for pandemic relief: After spending $51.2 million on pandemic emergency needs this year, Austin ISD is yet to recoup most of those costs from the state, which controls CARES Act federal funding received earlier this year. KXAN learned that, at best, only 75% of those emergency expenses can be recovered, and it's unlikely AISD will even get that much back.
Transgender representation on task force: Public Safety Commission agreed with LGBTQ leaders that a transgender representative is needed on the city's task force for reimagining public safety. The commission voted unanimously for the recommendation, which City Council must ultimately approve, according to the Austin Monitor. The move comes as anti-transgender violence is up nationwide.
Dec. 9: Lady Bird Lake is safe for your four-legged friends again and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Lady Bird Lake is now free of toxic algae that threatens the safety of dogs swimming in the water.
Your pup can swim again: If there is any benefit to the increasingly cool weather, it's that Lady Bird Lake is safe again for your dog to swim. Since a deadly algae outbreak in 2019, the city has been testing the lake for toxins that likely killed dogs last year. For the first time since mid-July, those toxins are no longer active in Lady Bird Lake, KXAN reports.
Latina media moguls in training: Become a certified "Media Chica" as part of a new program from Latinitas, an online magazine in Austin since 2002. Austin Woman Magazine covered the creative program, which offers young Latina women media training and field experience—with their work published by Latinitas. The program has already graduated three cohorts.
Kendra Scott anniversary: The Women's Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at The University of Texas has nearly hit its one-year anniversary. Famed Austin jeweler Kendra Scott started the program and doubles as a teacher. She reflected on the institution's first year with the Austin Business Journal this week, with hopes a decade from now that Scott can say "we changed Austin."
Council candidate's curious company: Campaign finance reports can be revealing, as Austin Chronicle learned this week. The alt-weekly revealed that District 6 candidate Mackenzie Kelly hired an Infowars videographer to produce her campaign ads despite his history of bigoted social media messages. Kelly's campaign denied any connection between the candidate and the Alex Jones-led "news" site.
Lamar art installation to retire: Did you know those blue panels lining the underpass of downtown Lamar Boulevard is actually a public art display installed in 2003? Most people don't get it, probably why the work is slated for "delisting" on Thursday's City Council agenda. Even the original artist endorses the piece's retirement, KUT learned.
Dec. 8: Live music venues could be rescued soon and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Mohawk music venue on Red River Street
Live music miracle: Multiple short- and long-term efforts to rescue music venues and other "legacy" Austin businesses proceeded last week at City Hall. Emergency grants are available, up to $140,000 for six months, Community Impact reports, and $15 million exclusively for venues could be unlocked by January.
Real tree > fake tree: It's not too late to get a real Christmas tree and embrace the holiday spirit this December. Austin.com compiled this list of tree farms that let you cut down your own Christmas Tree in true Griswold family fashion.
Music legend lost: A fixture of Austin's music scene was laid to rest this weekend. Margaret Wright, 78, was a singer and pianist known for taking over any venue she performed, according to the Austin American-Statesman, whether it be the Driskill Hotel or Skylark Lounge. "She knew every tune ever written," said Harold McMillan, a bass player who has played alongside Wright for three decades.
Dogs from the valley: Austin Humane Society rescued 15 dogs from shelters in Del Rio, Texas, where the city lacks a no-kill status, KXAN reports. The pups arrived in Austin for medical evaluations before being made available for adoption. This is good news for AHS after reports last year that overcrowding and volunteer issues threatened the shelter's no-kill status.
Party down: A new hotel and event space in the Hancock neighborhood caught social media flak this weekend for hosting hundreds at a dance party. Chances are, the event dodged statewide health orders because the outdoor setup was "not subject to an occupancy limit," KVUE reports. Nonetheless, Austin health officials recommended party-goers quarantine up to a week.
Dec. 7: Debate begins over who should get COVID-19 vaccine and 5 more headlines you might've missed
Return of the Mack, kinda: The University of Texas performance on the football field leaves a lot to be desired this season, but a former coach's daughter just delivered a "Jeopardy!" championship performance on the popular game show. KXAN reports that Katherine Ryan, daughter of longtime UT coach Mack Brown, won Friday's show and returns Monday as the defending champion. The episodes were filmed in early November before host Alex Trebek lost his battle with cancer.
Bring your blankets: The recent cold-weather snap takes its toll on individuals experiencing homelessness. That's why Front Steps is accepting blanket donations through the spring for visitors to its downtown ARCH homeless shelter and beyond. KXAN reports there is a special need for larger blankets based on feedback from shelter visitors.
Get in line for a vaccine: The Austin Latino Coalition is pushing the city to distribute the vaccine to low-income minorities as soon as possible, according to KVUE. This tool from the New York Times helps identify how soon until you might gain access.
Vaccine could be required: Just because a vaccine is coming online doesn't mean everyone wants to take it. KVUE reports that employers may be able to require their workforce to take the vaccine once it becomes widely available. Some exceptions will apply, but there's nothing in the books saying companies cannot enforce vaccination, according to one legal expert.
Businesses battle COVID-19: The Westover Hills neighborhood near MoPac and US 183 just lost a business to COVID-19. Hempton's Retro Threads announced it is closing at the end of the year, according to KVUE, after almost 5 years of selling vintage clothing, jewelry and handbags.
Don't break anything: Home appliances such as ovens, dishwashers and laundry machines, are getting used more than ever—and breaking down more than ever. KVUE reports the wait time for repairs are up significantly because of this higher-demand, and a limited supply chain only makes matters worse. Some local residents are waiting weeks for service repairs and replacements as a result.
One of Austin's own was named among the top kids of 2020, according to TIME magazine. We've compiled the latest news headlines around Austin to help catch you up on this story and other breaking news around the city.
Here is what we have shared so far this week:
Dec. 4: Austin teen is one of TIME's best this year and 4 more headlines you might've missed
16-year-old Austinite Ian McKenna was named a finalist for TIME magazine's Kid of the Year honor.
1. Best kid in Austin: For the first time, TIME magazine awarded its first Kid of the Year, and Austin's own Ian McKenna was among the five finalists for the honor. The 16-year-old gardener was recognized for helping curb youth hunger with produce he grew himself.
2. Tourists might save music venues: Austin is dishing out $15 million in emergency relief money to "iconic" Austin music venues, pulling from hotel tax dollars typically used to fund the convention center. This is the first time the city has deemed it legal under state law to use tourism hotel taxes for this purpose, potentially setting a new precedent, Community Impact reports.
3. State troopers in the city: The state wants to take over law enforcement efforts from Lady Bird Lake to 32nd Street and from I-35 to North Lamar Boulevard—and possibly to MoPac, according to The Texas Tribune. That means state troopers would patrol the streets instead of city and school cops under a proposal touted this week by Gov. Greg Abbott.
4. Utah monolith doesn't stand alone: After a viral frenzy over a mysterious monolith appearing and disappearing in the Utah desert, Austin Community College is getting involved in the fun. KXAN reports that ACC's welding department built a metal triangular column similar to the one magically showing up across the globe.
5. Whole lot of office space: Whole Foods Market is building a second downtown office building next to its 15-story West Sixth Street tower, which was constructed in 2017. The new building, slated for completion by the end of 2021, will be shorter than the original. TOWERS reports this news helps explain the unique architectural choices of the original development.
Dec. 3: This South Austin strip mall is getting a major facelift and 4 more headlines you might've missed
Brodie Oaks Shopping Center at South Lamar Boulevard and Loop 360 will be revamped into a 3 million-square-foot mixed-use development by late 2022 or 2023.
(Barshop & Oles)
1. Major South Austin project announced: Brodie Oaks Shopping Center at South Lamar Boulevard and Loop 360 will soon become a mixed-use development with more than 3 million square feet of newly developed residences, retail and restaurants—and one-third of the project includes office space, too. The development will be the size of two Barton Creek Square Malls, according to the Austin American-Statesman, and it won't be ready until late 2022 or 2023.
2. Tax bills behind schedule: Wondering why you haven't been hit by a Travis County tax bill yet? KVUE learned that most people haven't received their 2020 tax statement because the county waited to see how November's election might impact the city's tax rate. Keep in mind that property valuations were frozen last year, so the tax impact could be less severe in 2020—check here if you cannot wait for the mail to see the damage.
3. Slice of Sundance here in Austin: Austin Film Society will host a satellite location of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, which is going virtual this year. Austin Chronicle reports the prestigious movie festival, normally held in Utah, is tapping independent theaters around the country to decentralize the event next year, with AFS hosting "social distant screenings" to festival-goers.
4. Pennybacker bridge jumper speaks: FOX 7 talked to the 21-year-old South Austin man who jumped off Pennybacker Bridge in a recent viral video. Naturally, he doesn't regret it and gained about 1,000 extra YouTube followers out of the whole deal—as well as a fractured skull, brain bleeding and emergency surgery.
5. Final call for COVID relief: The city is accepting applicants for its emergency relief funding, which still has more than $4 million leftover for Austin residents who lost income during the pandemic. The city told Austonia in mid-October that less than $1 million had been distributed so far due to low demand. Qualifications have since been updated to enable more access to the relief money, with nearly $8.5 million now distributed to needy residents.
Dec. 2: Mayor Adler called out for Cabo trip and 4 more headlines you might've missed
1. Mayor Adler doesn't lead by example: While COVID-19 cases spiked in early November following the Halloween weekend, Mayor Steve Adler urged Austinites to "stay at home." As it turns out, his message was broadcast from Mexico where Adler traveled after his daughter's wedding ceremony in Austin. Austin American-Statesman reporter Tony Plohetski reports that health officials urged gatherings to be limited to no more than 10 people at the time, yet the wedding hosted about 20 guests who were "probably not" wearing masks the entire time, Adler admits.
2. 11 APD officers disciplined: Confrontations with police in late May resulted in several protestors getting injured by pepper spray, bean bags and foam bullets. Now KVUE has counted 11 police officers that have been punished for their actions during those protests—including a cop accused of calling a protestor "that gay dude." KXAN reports that multiple lawsuits have also been filed by protestors against APD, and Police Chief Brian Manley updated use-of-force policies following the protests.
3. Unemployed? Receive a $100 relief gift card: If you're a musician or worked in the hospitality industry, you likely qualify for a $100 H-E-B gift card from the Red River Cultural District. The business group of mostly music venue owners has distributed $155,000 so far this year in COVID-19 relief money, according to Austin360, and this fourth round of support includes $45,000 for unemployed music industry and service workers.
4. Road rage is rampant: Local officials think road rage is a greater issue locally than the 14 combined cases reported so far this year. FOX 7 talked to traffic patrollers who are concerned that COVID-19 and holiday stress could add to the road rage shooting in southeast Austin last week.
5. New mental health hospital: Austin State Hospital is being rebuilt in Austin's Triangle neighborhood as part of a $305 million, 380,000-square-foot project. The area for the 80-acre campus has been cleared, KVUE reports, putting the 240-bed mental health hospital on track to open by June 2023.