A few years ago while at the Austin Technology Council's CEO Summit, David Aktary sat in an audience of hundreds as a speaker asked who was involved in cryptocurrency or blockchain. At the time, Aktary and two others were the only ones to raise their hands. But this past year, Aktary says nearly everybody has become involved in some way.
"There's just a culture shift at a technical leadership level in Austin," Aktary told Austonia. "Everybody's paying attention now, which definitely wasn't the case before."
Aktary is head of Aktary Tech, a local software development firm that provides insights on web, mobile, and blockchain technologies. He says this mainstream shift has reached Texas, and Austin in particular. A recent LinkedIn study echoed that statement and said that while crypto doesn't have a set home, Austin was positioned as a notable leader that saw growth this year.
But the same study found that Austin made three crypto hires per 100,000 this past year. That nets in just 2% of the market share, behind the Bay Area and New York City at 12% and 18%, respectively.
Aktary said the talent pool in Austin is lacking because universities haven't built up the mass of candidates yet for companies to choose from, requiring imports to the region instead.
"The reserves of both talent and funds are on the coasts right now, so it's going to take time," Aktary said. "But we have a chance here with crypto to change those odds."
But on the latter, Aktary says blockchain and crypto offer alternative funding mechanisms outside of venture capital, creating an opportunity for Austin to catch up. Plus, many companies are opting for remote work, allowing people to work from anywhere, and for many, the option to live in Austin is appealing.
"People, particularly blockchain, crypto people, are moving to Austin, but not because that's where the jobs are," Aktary said. "They're doing it because it's Austin."
And when it comes to Austin's emerging crypto-art scene involving non-fungible tokens, which are digital collectibles also known as NFTs, Aktary said tech CEOs are taking more of an interest, even if that crowd isn't directly buying or selling them.
"People are becoming ridiculously wealthy off of pixelated JPEGs. That's ridiculous but they are. There is that appeal to this sort of get rich quick impulse," Aktary said. "They understand that that's appealing to an audience, and they maybe want to get involved somehow."
With Texas, Aktary thinks Austin is the only city worth paying attention to, even if Dallas and Houston are seen as competitors. "Mainly because of their large reservoirs of wealth. But it's old wealth, and neither of those have a very highly developed tech scene," Aktary said.
Meanwhile, the Texas Blockchain Council, which had its annual conference in Austin last month, is eying the Bitcoin mining market as a space for the state to make inroads.
President Lee Bratcher said that because of the low energy costs, Texas will become a hub for Bitcoin. He noted renewable energies face challenges with intermittency and grid congestion, resulting in unused energy that could be opportunity for collaboration.
"Bitcoin miners solve both of those problems because you can co-locate them with the renewable wind farm or the solar farm. And they can soak up that energy when it's being created and they can also turn off at any time," Bratcher said. "It creates grid resiliency and some really cool free market incentives for the further development of wind and solar."
Texas politicians are also making attempts to foster the growing blockchain space. In September, Gov. Greg Abbott appointed a small working group to recommend policies and state investments in connection with blockchain tech. Bratcher pointed to representatives like Sen. Angela Paxton, a republican representing Collin and Dallas counties, and Sen. Nathan Johnson, a democratic senator representing the northern part of Dallas County.
"We've made inroads with a lot of elected leaders who are supportive of this industry in Texas, including the governor, and we're trying to keep it as bipartisan as we can," Bratcher said.
For Bratcher, these connections seem promising, and competition with the Bay Area isn't much of a concern. He pointed to Unchained Capital and Compass as major players in Austin's current crypto scene.
"There are a ton of cryptocurrency-VC type companies moving to Austin and out of California," Bratcher said. "There's nobody moving from Austin to California."
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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.