'The Real World' house would no longer stand under proposed Austin Convention Center expansion plans
Austin Convention Center expansion efforts took another step forward, setting up the potential demolition of two downtown blocks and one pop culture landmark.
"The Real World" house, now home to Vince Young Steakhouse, is located within the footprint of the event center's proposed westward expansion. City Council agreed Thursday to initiate land acquisition discussions and bring back property sale proposals by summer 2021.
The MTV show filmed in Austin in 2005 and debuted the same year. By the next year, Colorado-based Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant opened in the former "Real World" house at 3rd and San Jacinto, converting the home's infamous indoor pool into a fountain, which still stands today.
Other than the fountain, only the pool equipment remains today, according to Phillip Brown, owner and chef at Vince Young Steakhouse, which opened in November 2010 after Rio's closed. The location still draws the occasional tour group, he said.
"Every once in a while you'll see a big group of the segways out on the street corner talking about 'The Real World' house," Brown said. "So maybe that's brought us some business, too."
Vince Young Steakhouse is among several restaurants and businesses that would be impacted by the 750,000 square foot, $1.2 billion expansion proposal, which council members approved in May 2019 and was upheld by voters later that year. Other local concepts in the area include Café Blue and YORU Sushi, which opened earlier this year.
Despite recently renewing the restaurant's lease for the next 5 years, Brown said he and other nearby tenants fear the potential cost and burden of having to relocate sooner than anticipated.
"Are we here as long as we want to be here, or are we here another 2-3 years?" Brown said. "There's a lot of uncertainty right now for us."
Brown is hoping the city works with landowners to ensure displacement costs are covered for Vince Young Steakhouse and other impacted businesses. Eminent domain would obligate the city to provide such assistance, he said, although that idea has not been proposed publicly.
Exact details of the land purchase will be worked out as part of the negotiation process approved Thursday. City Council increased the hotel occupancy tax last year from 7% to 9% to help finance the expansion.
This rendering shows proposed plans for the Austin Convention Center westward expansion efforts.City of Austin
"This action is the first of a two-step approval process. … The second step of this process is anticipated for the summer of 2021, with a real estate purchase and sale agreement with accompanying documents," a city spokesperson said in a statement.
The longtime warehouse converted into "The Real World" house is now valued at $16 million, according to the latest Travis Central Appraisal District records. When it was converted into a reality show setting in the mid-2000s, MTV reportedly enlisted Austin-based designer Joel Mozersky, who has gone on to gain notable clients, such as Uchi, Lonesome Dove and Native Hostel, among others.
"The Real World" house regains pop culture notoriety every few years. In 2005, the house was named "Best Bed & Brothel" as part of an Austin Chronicle critics category created for that year alone. Well-known cast member Wes Bergmann revisited the site 10 years later, and most of the cast reunited in 2018 when Bergmann got married.
Facebook Watch is now streaming the full season of "The Real World" Austin for those who wish to relive the nostalgia.
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Austin parents and grocery store shelves are feeling the effects of a nationwide baby formula shortage.
Caused mostly by a February recall due to contamination issues, followed by the Abbott Nutrition factory closure in Michigan, the shortage has left Austin shelves barren. However, earlier this week, U.S. officials announced a plan with the facility to restart production.
In the meantime, local parents in crisis have turned toward the Mother’s Milk Bank to keep their babies fed.
HEB on East 7th has been picked clean of formula and is limiting purchases. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The milk bank—which takes donations from lactating mothers and dispenses milk to babies in the NICU—has been helping feed upwards of 30 families in need as the formula supply tightens.
According to the bank’s executive director Kim Updegrove, Mother’s Milk Bank has seen an uptick in calls from parents with healthy babies in need of help since the shortage began.
“We aren't used to hearing from families with healthy infants,” Updegrove said. “They're typically very upset, angry, frustrated, sobbing—it's scary to not be able to feed your infants. So in the past few weeks, those calls have been significantly increasing.”
Mothers are only able to donate if they are within a year postpartum, so Updegrove said they are constantly bringing on and retiring donors. While donors had been on a 30% decline leftover from 2021 when the shortage began, Updegrove said the shortage has led to mass community interest and more than 90 prospective donors in just the past few days.
“We and other milk banks are experiencing significant interest from the community—becoming milk donors and helping to turn around this crisis,” Updegrove said. “Every infant needs to be fed, every one of us can relate to that need, and we need to make sure as a community that it happens.”
Whole Foods downtown was also cleaned out of typical formula. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While you may still be able to find formula at places like Whole Foods—which currently has goat milk, soy and plant-based formula in stock—Updegrove said it might not be what a baby needs.
Updegrove said it is best to buy types that say “infant formula,” as they are FDA approved and will provide the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a baby needs. Plant-based, homemade, non-cow's milk or diluting formula may not provide the same nutritional value.
As the community navigates the shortage, Updegrove said the most important way to help out is to not panic buy or stockpile.
“This is a crisis for families,” Updegrove said. “This is the time for the community to gather together and figure out what everyone can do to help families with young infants.”
Next time you’re sitting at a red light in Austin, you may look over and see a car without a person at the driver’s wheel.
Autonomous vehicle tech company Argo AI has brought driverless operations to Austin and Miami, starting out with only company employees using the service. Later on, tests with Lyft and Walmart will carry out ride-sharing and grocery delivery services, with the help of a human safety operator. The company has already made moves on this front in Miami Beach where some Lyft passengers have used its autonomous vehicles with a human operator.
While its platform is designed for integration with multiple vehicle types, the test fleet uses the Ford Escape Hybrid and VW's all-electric ID.Buzz.
The Pittsburgh-based company says this progress on its autonomy platform has been more than five years in the making and boasted about reaching this milestone before others.
"Argo is first to go driverless in two major American cities, safely operating amongst heavy traffic, pedestrians and bicyclists in the busiest of neighborhoods," said Bryan Salesky, Founder and CEO of Argo AI.
Expect to see the autonomous cars on the road during daytime business hours as the tech aims to learn from a diversity of road infrastructure and driving behaviors.
The company, which is testing in eight cities in the U.S. and Europe, has brought its tech to Austin as the company looks to expand in densely-populated cities. In particular, Argo is looking at ridesharing, delivery and logistics companies for integrating its autonomous vehicles into their digital services.
Argo anticipates its service availability to someday cover more than 15 million people in Austin, Miami and Washington D.C.
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