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Photo courtesy of The Modern Architecture + Design Society

Average home prices decreased last month while inventory remained flat, signaling that the Austin regional market needs more housing. The latest monthly report from the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) shows median home prices dropping 6.3 percent in January, marking the largest price decrease since July 2011.

According to the report, the current average home price in the Austin metro area is $450,000. But even with the price drop, homes spent an average of 76 days on the market, only three more days than in December 2022, but 47 days more than in January of last year.

Residential home sales last month declined 27.3 percent in comparison to January 2022, with new listings also seeing a 16 percent decrease year-over-year. However, new listings from December to January increased 63.4 percent to 2,988 homes. ABoR’s report says this trend shows sellers are finding more opportunities in the market, while also demonstrating more active buyers.

Ashley Jackson, 2023 ABoR president, warns that these recent year-to-year comparisons are occurring at an abnormal time in the market. She says January’s data demonstrates a “post-pandemic normal” for the Austin-Round Rock metro area.

“As we reset our expectations to reflect the information our realtor experts are seeing in real-time, we need to look at month-to-month trends to have a true sense of what is going on in the region,” she said in a statement.

Despite the median home price decreases in Austin and Travis County, surrounding areas like Caldwell and Hays counties are seeing the opposite. Jackson says the two outlying counties are “the most affordable pockets in Central Texas.”

“When we have a city like Austin challenged by affordability, the entry point in surrounding areas will slightly increase as people try and find neighborhoods they can afford,” she said.

She predicts rising interest rates and availability of affordable housing will be a much bigger challenge for consumers in 2023.

Photo courtesy of ECPR

545-acre development in Northwest Austin suburb gets county approval

LIFE IN LUXURY COMING SOON

It’s no secret that Austin’s rapid growth over the years has created a need for more housing, and one development company has headed west to accomplish this. Luxury real estate developer Areté Collective received approval from Burnet County for preliminary development plans for about 545 acres of Thomas Ranch lands in Spicewood, just northwest of Austin.

Located just half an hour from downtown Austin, Thomas Ranch is a 2,200-acre master-planned community that aims to provide “new and innovative housing options to the Greater Austin area,” according to Areté Collective CEO and co-founder Rebecca Buchan in a release. The initial plat, or property line maps, includes arrangements for 43 residential lots on nearly 27.5 acres of land, with the remaining acreage set aside for future development expansions on Thomas Ranch.

One of the milestone goals highlighted by Buchan is the collective's ability to make significant progress on the project after its acquisition just over a year ago. When it’s finished, Thomas Ranch will have 3,500 new housing units, a private club and golf course, schools, a resort hotel, and 250,000 square feet of commercial space for Austin businesses and restaurants in an anticipated walkable downtown district.

“We are committed to bringing a global expertise to collaborations with local leadership and business partners to benefit the local economy and community,” Buchan said in a statement.

Austinites will be able to take their pick from a variety of single- and multi-family homes, apartments, senior living, and affordable housing based at different price points. The ranch will also seek to provide residents with an “outdoor lifestyle” that displays the beauty of Lake Travis and the Hill Country, some of the most desirable Austin suburbs.

The final approval process for the Thomas Ranch development will begin later this year, after which the first sale of 450 private residential units will take place. More information about the development can be found at thomasranchtx.com.

An overview look at undeveloped Thomas Ranch

Photo courtesy of ECPR

Thomas Ranch will add 3,500 new housing units once the development is finished.

Austin, Texas - Your City Government/Facebook

New Red River development will double affordable housing units in downtown Austin

Affordable Living

As Austin continues to grow and real estate continues to get pricier, the city council is stepping in. On September 29, Austin City Council approved “full negotiations” to transform a piece of city-owned property on downtown's Red River Street, the former site of HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital. The project will make 232 units available for affordable housing, according to a news release.

The project is being negotiated between affordable and mixed-income business Capital A Housing, affordable housing nonprofit the NHP Foundation, and real estate developers Aspen Heights. The project at 1215 Red River St. and 606 E. 12th St. comprises multiple towers, and targets mixed-income residents, a tactic that aims to diversify the complex rather than creating a socio-economic bubble.

The approval allows negotiations for the Master Development Agreement (MDA), which will ultimately lead to a final approval back in the council. The lease under negotiation lasts 99 years, and should be finalized by spring of 2023 for a summer of 2027 delivery target.

Located near the newly revamped Waterloo Park and a Project Connect light rail line to come, this property has potential to be one of the most connected in the city. The neighborhood is easily walkable to most places downtown, and even some parts of East Austin. It is just up the street from some of the city’s busiest nightlife, a third of a mile from Mohawk, the northernmost of the densely situated Red River music venues.

“We are thrilled to join this project to help deliver an unprecedented level of affordable housing,” said CEO of Capital A Housing Fayez Kazi in the release. “[It] will double the number of income-restricted units in downtown Austin.” The city currently manages 233.

The residential towers contain a total of 921 units, with more than a quarter reserved for low-income Austin families. Of those 232 units, half have more than one bedroom — 90 with two bedrooms, and 23 with three bedrooms. These are all within the 27-floor south tower.

All of the previous hospital site will be redeveloped, and the project will take up almost the whole block. This includes amenities such as a 30,000-square-foot plaza, a food hall, a business incubator, and onsite childcare deemed “affordable.” In keeping with the neighborhood’s musical traditions, an onsite music venue will offer rent below the market rate.

Breaking with some of the uglier history in the area, this development attempts to balance out some of the errors of the '60s, when the city displaced 475 households for the Brackenridge Hospital, the Frank Erwin Center, parking, and the same park new residents will be able to enjoy outside their door. The release points out that while 218 families were displaced, this project gives back the same number of affordable housing units, plus an additional 14.

“It’s important to remember this history of this area,” said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison. “The urgent need to reconcile those bad decisions is what drove me to push my colleagues to give our city staff more time to kick the tires on this proposal… .”

Mayor Steve Adler commented on the plans, noting the substantial increase of affordable housing. "We need more,” he said, “but this is an important step.”

More information about the project is available at austintexas.gov.

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Tenacious D will play the best song in the world in Austin this fall

Spicy Meatball

America's favorite (only?) comedy rock duo is back on tour, and lucky for Austinites, they've announced the addition of three Texas dates this fall. Of course, we're talking about none other than Tenacious D, comprised of Jack Black and Kyle Glass.

The duo's Spicy Meatball Tour is currently underway this month in Europe, with newly extended dates including Houston (September 13), Grand Prairie (September 14), and Austin (September 15).

Supporting acts are yet to be announced, but tickets are on sale as of Friday, June 9, at 10 am. Fans can purchase tickets HERE.

According to a release, the tour dates come on the heels of the recently-released recorded version of Tenacious D’s viral, fan-favorite live cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” The single is accompanied by a video directed by longtime D collaborator Taylor Stephens, and features our dynamic duo in a glorious, romantic romp by the sea. Last month, they released their first new song in five years, “Video Games,” which has been streamed over 18 million times across all platforms in less than a month. The animated music video, created by Oney Plays, brings video game-ified versions of Black and Glass to life in classic and hilarious ways.

In addition to the single releases, Tenacious D will be the special guest at this year’s Video Game Awards, happening on June 25 at the Hollywood Bowl, where they will perform their new single.

But of course the burning question remains: Will Black perform his equally viral "Peaches" from the recent Super Mario Bros. movie? There's only one way to find out.

Full Tour Dates are below (new dates in bold font):
6/7/23 Berlin, Germany @ Zitadelle
6/8/23 Nickelsdorf, Austria @ Nova Rock Festival
6/10/23 Milan, Italy @ Carroponte
6/12/23 Zurich, Switzerland @ The Hall
6/13/23 Brussels, Belgium @ Forest National
6/14/23 Rotterdam, Netherlands @ Ahoy
6/16/23 London, England @ O2 Arena
6/18/23 Clisson, France @ Hellfest Open Air Festival
6/25/23 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl (Video Game Awards)
9/6/23 Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
9/7/23 Franklin, TN @ Firstbank Amphitheater
9/9/23 Indianapolis, IN @ All IN Music Festival
9/11/23 Rogers, AR @ Walmart AMP
9/13/23 Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
9/14/23 Grand Prairie, TX @ Texas Trust CU Theatre
9/15/23 Austin, TX @ Germania Insurance Amphitheater

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is ridiculous and fun at the same time

Movie Review

The Transformers series has been one marked by near universal derision by the critics and (mostly) massive box office, highlighting the divide between those who watch movies for a living and those who just go for fun. Given that history, it seemed unlikely that the latest film, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, would unite the two factions.

Like the last film, Bumblebee, Rise of the Beasts is a prequel to the Transformers films directed by Michael Bay from 2007-2017 (Bay remains as a producer). Set in 1994, it features a way-too-complicated story involving something called the Transwarp device prized by three separate groups of Transformers: The Autobots led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen); the Maximals, animal-esque bots led by Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman); and the Terrorbots, led by Scourge (Peter Dinklage). One guess as to which of those groups is the evil one.

Mirage (Pete Davidson) in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Mirage (Pete Davidson) in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) is a former soldier in Manhattan who can’t find a job and tries his best to take care of his sickly brother, Kris (Dean Scott Vazquez). Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback) works at a museum on Ellis Island, where she encounters an artifact with unusual markings. Through a series of unlikely but still fun events, both of them are dragged into the conflict between the Transformers, with nothing less than the fate of the universe at stake.

Directed by Steven Caple Jr. and written by a team of five writers, the film is as ridiculous as any of the previous iterations, and yet somehow it becomes the most entertaining entry yet. Some of this has to do with the human characters, who are given engaging scenes outside of the ones with Transformers, allowing them to be relatable instead of just pawns in the robot battles.

The trifecta of Transformer groups turn out to be actually interesting, rather than an excuse to fill the screen with CGI nonsense. The Autobots, as usual, are the main heroes, and with Bumblebee using movie quotes to talk and Mirage (Pete Davidson) lobbing wisecracks constantly, they’re rarely unentertaining. Having the animal-like Maximals on board gives a new dimension, and the seemingly unstoppable Scourge makes for an intimidating villain.

That’s not to say, of course, that the film doesn’t devolve into chaos on multiple occasions. Several of the battles, including the final sequence, seem designed to be almost incomprehensible. But Caple and the visual effects team appear to have understood that clarity makes for a better moviegoing experience, and so even as bedlam reigns, there’s a level of focus to the film that other films in the series have not had.

Even though his character isn’t fully fleshed out, Ramos brings a kind of streetwise energy to the role that makes him stand out. Fishback is not given as much to do, but she’s still highly enjoyable. Cullen, who’s been voicing Optimus Prime since the 1980s, is still a commanding presence, allowing Davidson, Michelle Yeoh, Perlman, and more to bring their own unique flair to their characters.

It may be a low bar to jump, but Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is the best film so far in the series, cracking the code of pairing humans with robots for a (semi)intelligible story. A late movie teaser will have fans geeking out over the future, but it’s best to enjoy this film for being as good as it is.

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Transformers: Rise of the Beasts opens in theaters on June 9.

Austin Public invites viewers to step into the studio to celebrate 50 years of public television

Austin On-screen

Public television may call to mind images of children's shows and documentaries, but the format has lots more to offer — especially if staying in touch with local culture is a priority. Austin has a strong connection to the medium, as the city with the longest continually running public access station in the country, and now it’s celebrating 50 years by naming the month of June Austin Public Television Month.

A public event on June 25 will invite viewers to stop by the Public Access Television Studio (1143 Northwestern Avenue) from noon to 4 for an open house. Visitors can explore, take interactive tours, and mingle with complimentary refreshments by the Austin Film Society (AFS), which the state-of-the-art multimedia facility on behalf of the City of Austin.

Channel 10 (formerly Austin Community Television, or ACTV; not to be confused with KLRU, or Austin PBS) can trace those 50 years back to Mt. Larson, in Westlake, where some University of Texas students “[carried] their video production equipment on their shoulders,” according to a release. With the help of community activists and members of the Texas Commission on the Arts, they started the city’s first broadcast.

This was about more than entertaining Austinites — although Austin Public has done plenty of that over its decades. It was, and still is, a platform for locals to get messages out that likely won’t be picked up by major private networks. (Think of Austin’s wacky KOOP 91.7 FM on the radio today.)

“When community television ... launched, it was the only free-speech outlet available for residents that provided a voice for traditionally underrepresented groups and perspectives unavailable within mainstream media,” said Rondella Hawkins, the City of Austin’s Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs Officer.

“The City of Austin has continued its commitment to preserve and support the access TV channels," Hawkins continued, "to distribute the content created by the local community at the studio facility, using the state-of-the-art video production equipment.”

And even though these programs are for their viewers, they represent an irreplaceable opportunity for the people who work on them to start or continue their craft. “Leveraging these resources,” continued Hawkins, “it’s through our partnership with Austin Public to provide the training and the pathways for promising careers in the creative industry.”

Austin Public runs a paid workforce development program called Creative Careers, and broadcasts highlights on its producers. The station's many programs include lots of hosting opportunities, like on The Gene and Dave Show, which highlights the disabled experience with comedy, and in nerd-culture conversations curated by Kaiju Labs Media.

Austinites have Channel 10 to thank for attracting and developing talent like film director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused), who founded AFS, and Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Sin City). Now in addition to that main channel, Austin Public also runs Channels 11 (for Christian programming) and 16 (for music programming).

“The history of Public Access in Austin is intrinsically tied to the growth and success of the City’s creative sector, and public access remains vital to the culturally focused expressions of a diverse city," said AFS CEO Rebecca Campbell.

Register for the free open house at at Austin Public at austinfilm.org.