Austin’s most important developments of the decade
Which building projects had biggest impact in the last 10 years?
This article was copied from Curbed Austin.
Austin’s built environment has changed tremendously—one might even say mind-blowingly—over the past 10 years. The post-recession building boom, combined with an influx of tech money, saw unprecedented construction in all directions. A number of neighborhoods —in both the central city and surrounding suburbs—developed in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade prior. But which projects were the most important and impactful?
Downtown: Can’t stop won’t stop
There were skyline-changing towers—including the Independent, now the tallest building in the city—with more on the way. Then, there were redevelopments of historic—or, at least, old—structures, such as the former Seaholm Power Plant, which anchors a whole downtown district that includes the new Central Library. a new building housing Facebook, Austin Proper hotel, and the aforementioned Independent.
The Rainey Street Historic District on the edge of downtown also saw dramatic change, as the bars and restaurants that had already started displacing people living in the longtime residential neighborhood by the beginning of the decade found themselves in turn marked for replacement by, or at least becoming neighbors with, a number of residential and hotel towers. Hotel Van Zandt was an early entry in the cluster, which also includes 70 Rainey and apartment complexes such as Skyhouse Austin, and the Camden Rainey Street Apartments. And we’re going to throw in the Fairmont Austin, just across the street near the Austin Convention Center, since it brought its large-scale luxury to the nearby area as well.
The University of Texas didn’t sleep on development this decade, either. The 2010s saw the rise of the Dell Medical School as well as Robert B. Rowling Hall, a new graduate business facility that interacts with the busy city streets around it.
The transformation of North Loop’s Highland Mall into the Austin Community College Highland campus is another notable redevelopment, as is Springdale General, which rose on the grounds of the former site of a gas tank farm in East Austin. On a smaller scale, boutique hotels such as Carpenters Hall and edgy hostel Native repurposed a former union hall and locksmith shop, respectively.
Many neighborhoods have seen incredible transformation as well. We probably don’t need to talk about South Congress, which was already well into its world-famous shopping and hospitality run before the turn of the 21st century; that trend certainly continued with the addition of more boutique hotels such as the aptly named South Congress Hotel and upgrading of old standards such as Austin Motel. There was also much building of condos and some mixed-use activity and closing of longtime, boutique businesses—a trend that looks to continue into the next decade.
In East Austin, the finally realized Plaza Saltillo complex was a major event, development-wise—not so much setting a tone for the already transformed East Sixth and Seventh Street corridors as affirming it and perhaps ushering in the next phase, which looks to include taller residential buildings and more office space.
The Domain area in north Austin saw a huge boom in retail, mixed-use, residential, and office buildings—no doubt driven by the opening of Domain Northside and Rock Rose, as well as significant surrounding office buildings. And while the Mueller community started to be developed almost the minute the old airport closed in 1999, the 2010s saw major mixed-use and residential expansion, including the opening of an HEB, the Thinkery, and an Alamo Drafthouse, bringing its walkability closer to what was envisioned from the start.
Tech company campuses
While computer giant Apple started moving into Austin in the 1990s and slowly expanded its presence throughout the decade, it made a major leap in 2015 with the completion of its Apple’s Americas Operations Center and purchase of four additional buildings in North Austin. The company’s presence and continued expansion was a major driver of the explosive grown in northern suburbs such as Round Rock, Pflugerville, Cedar Park, Leander, and Georgetown, as well as to the Domain area, currently the demographic center of the city.
The opening of Oracle’s East Riverside campus was a more under-the-radar event, but it brought 560,000 square feet of office space to its 27-acre lakefront compound in East Riverside—as well as displacing about 200 families by demolishing the Lakeview Apartments, longtime housing for residents with middle incomes and paving the way for more upscale development in the then affordable area.
Homes and homelessness
On the other end of the spectrum, the Community First Village, a nonprofit, planned development focused on ending homelessness in Austin, opened its 24-acre community in 2016, announced a $60 million expansion drive in 2017, and 3D-printed a model home/office to usher in the building of that expansion in 2019. A less happy “development” related to homelessness—one we can only hope is temporary—occurred when Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered “sweeps” of homeless people camping on underpasses of state highways and made a state-owned, paved lot in Southeast Austin with a few structures on it available as their new “campsite,” an encampment now informally known as “Abbottville.”
New takes on suburbia
Not everyone can or wants to live in the central city, but the past decade proved that the suburbs can be just as innovative—maybe more so—than urban development. While it does have a counterpart in Austin’s Sol NetZero community, Manor’s Whisper Valley took sustainability to a new level. Massive planned community Goodnight Ranch, which aims to offer new homes at affordable prices, took off in Southeast Austin. Taking a cue from demographic trends, the Kissing Tree, a 1,322-acre, gated community aimed at the 55-and-up set, sprang up in San Marcos. And it would be an egregious oversight to leave out Starlight Village, Leander’s midcentury-themed new neighborhood.
Finally let’s not forget the green spaces that have been restored or reimagined (though mostly the latter) over the past ten years. The restoration of Republic Park is the most obvious, but the completion of the Waller Creek tunnel provided an opportunity to begin executing the ambitious plan for a linear park along Waller Creek, christened Waterloo Greenway this summer. The Shoal Creek Conservancy and the city made big strides in restoring that waterway, and grants made major restorations of Pease Park a reality—a project that broke ground this month.