Photo courtesy of the Den Foundation

To non-football fans, gaining a yard may not really change lives. But running back Bijan Robinson, number 5 on the Texas Longhorns, is making sure the ground he gains is really going the distance for Austin communities, with a $5-per-yard pledge to improve the lives of chronically homeless people.

For every yard Robinson gains, home-building nonprofit the Den Foundation will donate $5 to the Community First! Village, a mixed-income co-op in far East Austin that fosters community among formerly unhoused Austinites and live-in neighborhood ambassadors. The small pledge, dubbed Den5for5, adds up quickly: Robinson has gained more than 2,000 yards in career rushing yards since 2020, and 1,472 of those since the start of the initiative. By November 15, the pledged amount for the season totaled $7,360.

To amplify the contribution, fans at home, or anyone who likes a challenge, are invited to match the pledge or join at one-hundredth of the scale: 5 cents per yard, which by now would total $73.60. (Donors will have to do their own math using a one-time donation form, since there is no automated system.)

Robinson was a clear fit for the initiative as the new team representative on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) at the University of Texas. He joins returning reps Ben Ballard, Jake Majors, and Moro Ojomo, who use their understanding of player needs to coordinate with athletic department administrators.

"After seeing the work that Alan and the Mobile Loaves & Fishes team do at Community First! Village, I couldn't help but want to get involved,” said Robinson in a press release. “It saddens me when I see someone living on the street, and I always try to do as much as I can, but this partnership with Den allows me to help at a higher level. I hope others will be inspired by the CFV story as much as I am, and will join us in making an impact on the Austin community.”

Community First! Village operates a neighborhood of nearly 30 acres, eventually totaling 51 when Phase II of the master plan is complete. The current capacity at Phase I can support more than 200 formerly homeless residents (with disabilities, who meet the standards for chronic homelessness), and folds those residents into a mostly self-sufficient community. Residents take jobs around the neighborhood, and people from surrounding communities are encouraged to visit for events like movie nights, markets, and voting.

The efforts of Community First! Village are deeply in line with those of the Den Foundation, which emphasizes the same goals to provide shelter, champion a healthy artistic community, and provide important advancement opportunities in education. Both organizations work on a foundational belief in well-rounded community care.

“The Den Foundation is honored to be partnering up with Bijan Robinson in our efforts to support Community First! Village,” said Den Foundation Director Jonny Rodgers. “Bijan is a world-class athlete no doubt, but it was his character and faith that made this an easy partnership. We’re proud to stand with Bijan in our efforts to eradicate homelessness right here in Austin, Texas. And remember … what starts here, changes the world!”

A tracker showing Robinson’s yardage since the beginning of the initiative is available at den5for5.com.

Photo by dszc Getty Images

University of Texas announces major $26 million renovation of iconic tower

The iconic University of Texas Tower does tell time, but it has a clock for that. Before the nearly 90-year-old tower itself starts looking tired, it will undergo a big renovation with a $26 million investment, the remainder of which after completion will go to cleaning up surrounding areas including the Main Mall.

This is the first major renovation of the tower, and thankfully for many Texans who look to it as an unchanging symbol, it won’t be totally redone. The plans include restoring the exterior — not rebuilding, updating the observation deck, and making sure the carillon bells are in tip-top shape. The lead investment comes from the University of Texas System Board of Regents and Chairman Kevin P. Eltife.

“In the 1930s the UT Tower was a bold statement about the enduring excellence of The University of Texas at Austin,” said Eltife in a press release. “Our board is deeply proud to support carrying that bold vision forward for generations to come.”

First built in 1937, the tower looms 307 feet above campus. At the time, it was the tallest in Austin, but as the city has changed around it, it has started to blend into its surroundings with the exception of burnt orange lights on days of celebration or reflection.

The carillon — technically more an instrument in itself than an architectural space to house the bells — contains 56 bells weighing between 20 and 7,350 pounds. There is little information about the expected maintenance, but if it takes an hour to tune a piano, Austinites can assume any carillon refurbishing will be an awe-inspiring undertaking.

According to the release, the university will actively pursue engagement from Longhorns to “join the project and support the centerpiece of campus.” It plans to announce more on November 12 at the football game against Texas Christian University, on home turf.

“The Tower stands on the very spot where our first learning community gathered, and it endures as a beacon for truth-seekers, academic excellence and achievement,” said President Jay Hartzell. “I am grateful to Chairman Eltife and the regents for their incredibly generous support. Their investment will enhance and preserve the Tower’s legacy and ensure that it shines even brighter for generations to come.”

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H-E-B unveils merch for super fans, plus more hot Austin headlines

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. H-E-B unveils merchandise for brand super fans, available exclusively at one store. Kerrville was chosen to launch the company's new line of H-E-B-branded merchandise in celebration of its 117th anniversary.

2. Austin bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season. Don your favorite elf socks and meet the lovely citizens of “Tinseltown.”

3. Draft 'Vision Plan' for Zilker Park unveils land bridge and more possibilities. Austinites are invited to comment on a vision plan that will inform the future of Zilker Park.

4. Austin ranks among world’s 100 best cities in prestigious new report. Austin is the No. 43 best city in the world, according to a new study. (And yes, we beat Dallas.)

5. Austin airport launches new SkySquad travel assistants in time for the holiday rush. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is keeping lines moving during a period of heavy travel with a new team of airport assistants.

Steven Spielberg opens up personal history in The Fabelmans

Movie Review

For over 40 years, director Steven Spielberg has been delivering some of the most popular blockbuster movies of all time as well as a bevy of Oscar-quality dramas, a combination that’s unique to him. For his latest, The Fabelmans, he’s decided to go more personal than ever, telling a thinly-veiled version of his own childhood.

Sammy (played mostly by Gabriel LaBelle) is one of four children – and the only son – of Mitzi (Michelle Williams), a concert pianist, and Burt Fabelman (Paul Dano), a computer engineer. From an early age, Sammy is enthralled by the art of filmmaking, first remaking a train crash sequence from The Greatest Show on Earth, and gradually moving on to more adventurous stories.

Burt’s advancing career, which moves the family from New Jersey to Arizona to California, causes stress for various members of the family, most notably Sammy and Mitzi. Sammy must deal with anti-Semitic bullies, while Mitzi falls deeper into a mental health crisis. Sammy’s movies continually offer a respite for the family, though, giving him a creative outlet and the rest of them a chance to forget their troubles for a while.

Written by Spielberg – his first writing effort since 2001’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence – and Tony Kushner, the film is heavy on emotions but presented in a way that those feelings don’t always translate. Spielberg is no stranger to depicting fraught family situations in his long career, but in showing ones from his own family, it feels like he pulled back, not wanting the scenes to be overwrought or schmaltzy.

The result is a story that isn’t as universal as some of his other films. As the film is told from Sammy’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in his pursuits and various discoveries as he gets older. The mindsets of the rest of the family are less clear, even though his parents and sisters are ever-present. Mitzi’s state of mind is a concern from the start, but it’s not always treated as such by other important characters.

Just as Sammy’s movies are an escape for his family, so too are they some of the best parts of the film. Sammy figuring out the process and secrets of filmmaking is informative and often thrilling, especially if you’re a cinephile. Spielberg has been considered a master for so long that watching him revisit the days when he was learning as he went is catnip for movie lovers.

In addition to being a dead ringer for a teenage Spielberg, LaBelle is a fantastic actor. It’s no easy feat to carry a movie on your shoulders, and LaBelle makes the assignment look easy. Williams’ performance will likely be more polarizing; she employs a very mannered speech pattern that works in some situations, but not all. The film also includes memorable short appearances by Seth Rogen, Judd Hirsch, and David Lynch.

Spielberg has provided the moviegoing public with such pleasure over the years that he deserves to have a movie that’s mostly for him. The initial viewing of The Fabelmans left this critic wanting, but perhaps it will gain more traction on a second screening.


The Fabelmans is now playing in theaters.

Photo by Merie Weismuller Wallace/Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Gabriel LaBelle in The Fabelmans

Texas billionaire Tilman Fertitta acquires award-winning California resort

tilman goes laguna

Fans of Tilman Fertitta's nationwide hospitality brands are in for a treat. The Billion Dollar Buyer has just secured an award-winning, 30-acre resort in sunny Southern California.

Fertitta has purchased the acclaimed Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel, a premier beachfront property in the sunny SoCal getaway destination. Notably, the Montage Laguna Beach Resort Hotel is one of only six hotels in the U.S. to score the Forbes Triple Five-Star hotel status. The Montage has also been included among Travel + Leisure’s Top Hotels in the World.

Image courtesy of Montage Laguna Beach

Fertitta's newest purchase overlooks the ocean in Laguna Beach.

“I am truly thrilled to acquire this world-renowned property and add one of America’s most iconic trophy resorts to our luxury hotel portfolio,” Fertitta noted in a statement. “I have been traveling to Laguna Beach for over 30 years. It is one of my favorite places to visit and one of the most beautiful areas in the world. The Montage is a stunning oceanfront property and one of the premier hotel brands in the world.”

Press materials didn't list the property purchase price, but Law360 reports that the deal is in excess of $660 million.

The Craftsman-style resort sits on a coastal bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Impressive amenities are highlighted by the 20,000-square-foot Spa Montage, which offers eucalyptus steam rooms, dry redwood saunas, ocean air whirlpools, fireplace lounges, a state-of-the-art fitness center, a movement studio, and a lap pool.

More outdoor fun includes two pools and direct beach access, a museum-quality fine art collection, and more than 20,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, per press materials.

Every resident space — the 260 guestrooms, including 60 suites, beach bungalow-style rooms, and multi-bedroom villas — boast stunning views of the Pacific.

Dining destinations offer chef-driven interpretations of coastal California flavors inspired by region. The property is designated and included in the distinctive Legend Collection of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

“We are thrilled that Tilman is the new owner of this one-of-a-kind property and welcome him into the Montage family,” said Alan Fuerstman, founder, CEO, and chairman of Montage International. Mary Rogers, the Montage's GM added, “The staff is thrilled to be working with Tilman. Everyone here at the property is tremendously excited about his purchase and look forward to continuing to provide a world-class experience to all of our guests."

Aside from his palatial Post Oak Hotel in Houston, Fertitta also owns 14 other hotel properties around the country, including the award-winning San Luis Resort in Galveston, plus five popular Golden Nugget casino and hotel locations.

Another feather in Fertitta’s luxury portfolio cap is the iconic Huntting Inn, one of the most charming and historic locales in East Hampton, New York.

No stranger to California, Fertitta's presence there includes Catch Seafood and Catch Steak, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s Steakhouse, Morton’s The Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, The Palm, and more — all part of his 60 brands and more than 600 concepts nationwide.