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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.

Photo by Dani Parsons

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Classic San Marcos pizza joint returns

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Movie pitch: a third-generation pizza joint gets reincarnated in its original building in San Marcos. It’s true! Valentino’s served the community for more than 35 years in a century-old building at 110 North LBJ Dr., before suddenly closing in 2018. The interior has been completely rebuilt, but owners Harlan Scott and Cody Taylor repurposed what they could and stayed true to the original menu (“pizza, salad, subs, wings, and the famous Valentino’s cheese breadsticks”). The new-old restaurant is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 am to 11 pm, and until midnight all other days, selling slices until 3 am.

One unique Austin restaurant, plant-based gastropub the Beer Plant, is launching another August 25. Named Tellus Joe by day and simply Tellus by night, this Oaxacan restaurant and bar is completely plant-based while staying true to regional cuisine. Tellus Joe is keeping things casual with organic coffee, pastries, and breakfast tacos, while Tellus turns up the atmosphere for finer dining featuring tlayudas, aguachile negro, and cauliflower steaks with carrot mole. The restaurant at 3108 Windsor Rd. is very small; reservations should be made by phone or email (512- 220-0459 or reservations@tellusjoe.com).

Other news and notes

Cookie baker Tiff’s Treats and sign maker — uh, Tex-Mex restaurant — El Arroyo are teaming up to deliver cookies in style. El Arroyo signs featuring cookie one-liners will be printed as stickers for all one and two dozen cookie boxes starting August 25. The Tiff’s Treats truck will also make a stop at the restaurant from 10 am to 7 pm that day, handing out free cookies and delivery coupons. Photo opps are, of course, promised.

[Updated from last week's food news, which included the wrong date.] August 26 is National Dog Day, and surely in a place like Austin there will be plenty to do. Here’s one: Asian smokehouse Loro and dog treat makers the Pawstin Barkery are teaming up to provide free gourmet dog snacks on the restaurant’s patio, while they last. They’re made with peanut butter, bananas and Loro beef tallow. Loro is an easy place to eat with dogs year-round, and serves barbecue by James Beard award-winning chefs Tyson Cole and Aaron Franklin.

The ever-classy Watertrade cocktail bar announced a new bar manager in Nadia Hernandez, and a new cocktail menu along with her. The menu is inspired by the sekki, 24 short seasons used to organize agriculture, and includes a wide variety of alcohols and even some nonalcoholic spirits. The bar is more accessible than Otoko, the sushi restaurant where it resides, which now lends some hosomaki rolls (small maki rolls) so bar patrons can taste the fish, too.

September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, so Garrison Brothers Distillery is going on tour. Restaurants and bars nationwide are incorporating the distillery’s Small Batch or HoneyDew Bourbon into limited edition dishes and cocktails. Five Austin locations are participating: Eureka!, III Forks Steakhouse, and Blue Corn Harvest in Georgetown, Cedar Park, and Leander. Follow the itinerary and track your progress on the Bourbon Takeover of America Passport app.

It’s fun to indiscriminately inhale tacos, but why not kick it up a notch and learn something? Tacos of Texas, a podcast by James Beard nominee Mando Rayo, launched its second season on August 16, and has already covered the “intersection of tacos and music,” focusing on “screwmbia,” and LGBTQ+ taco lovers. Airing on Tuesdays, this KUT and KUTX joint production will explore culture through tacos in 12 more episodes this season. Listen on kutkutx.studio.

Rendering courtesy of Lincoln Ventures

East Austin carts out grocery store and café as part of new 6-story development

east side lifestyle

A mixed-use development featuring apartments, coworking space, a grocery store, and a café is springing up in East Austin.

Austin-based real estate developer and manager Lincoln Ventures is developing the six-story project at 2700 E. Fifth St. The yet-to-be-named development will offer a total of 625 apartments, row houses, and live/work units.

Aside from the coworking space, grocery store, and café, amenities will include two outdoor pools, a gym, a spin studio, a yoga room, a pet spa, a dog run, and a catering kitchen.

Construction is set to start in the second half of 2022, with the opening tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2024.

“As East Austin continues to grow along with the city, it’s important to tap into the lifestyle needs of the area, and this project captures that energy by providing a unique variety of environments, services, and experiences to the residents and the community,” David Kanne, CEO of Lincoln Ventures, says in a news release.

Lincoln Ventures’ partner in the East Fifth Street project is ELV Associates, a Boston-based real estate investor and manager. Chicago-based Pappageorge Haymes Partners is the architect, and Austin-based Michael Hsu Office of Architecture is the interior designer.

In Austin, Lincoln Ventures is best known for its student housing developments, including The Ruckus, The Rukus 2.0, Moontower, and Waterloo. The company recently announced 80 Rainey, a 49-story tower that will include 644 rental units, along with bars and restaurants. The Rainey Street project is set for completion in the summer of 2025.

The new East Fifth Street project will include housing and coworking space.

Rendering courtesy of Lincoln Ventures
The new East Fifth Street project will include housing and coworking space.
Courtesy photo

Austin gets a green thumbs up on ranking of environmentally friendly U.S. cities

green thumbs up

Considering Austin’s growing population, we’re getting the green light when it comes to the city’s impact on the environment, especially when compared with other Texas metros.

The Capital City lands at No. 26 among the 100 largest U.S. cities in a new WalletHub ranking of the country’s greenest places, making Austin the greenest city ranked in the Lone Star State.

To determine the cities promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle, WalletHub compared the 100 largest cities across 28 key green indicators. Those factors include greenhouse gas emissions per capita, number of smart energy policies and initiatives, and green job opportunities.

Here’s a sampling of how well Austin did in the overall showing, with No. 1 being best, No. 50 being average, and No. 100 being worst:

  • Excess fuel consumption per year, No. 78.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions per capita, No. 73.
  • Median air quality index, No. 34.
  • Share of commuters who drive alone, No. 31.
  • Percentage of green space, No. 40.
  • Farmers markets per capita, No. 12.
  • Walkability, No. 55.
  • Bikeability, No. 48.

Here is where other Texas cities landed on the greenest cities list:

Garland, No. 44.
San Antonio, No. 46.
Laredo, No. 68.
El Paso, No. 69.
Irving, No. 74.
Plano, No. 79.
Lubbock, No. 83.
Arlington, No. 85.
Dallas, No. 89.
Corpus Christi, No. 90.
Houston, No. 93.

San Diego tops the WalletHub list.

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A version of this story originally appeared on our sister site, InnovationMap.

Image courtesy of Lake Flato Architects and Ten Eyck Landscape Architect

Hip Austin lodging group checks into Houston with new boutique hotel

introducing hotel saint augustine

A long-rumored and highly anticipated boutique hotel is finally arriving in the Montrose neighborhood in Houston, thanks to a popular Austin hospitality company that continues to expand its empire of stylish, weird, and wonderfully kitschy properties.

After more than a decade of speculation, a new, design-centric hotel will check into the heart of the Museum District, courtesy of Bunkhouse, the hip Austin-based hospitality company known for attention to design, music, and community-driven experiences.

Dubbed Hotel Saint Augustine, the new Houston inn will be nestled on Loretto Drive, adjacent to The Menil Collection museum. The first Houston presence for Bunkhouse, Hotel Saint Augustine is slated to open in fall 2023, the company announced.

“Hotel Saint Augustine will be a unique addition to the Montrose neighborhood and Richmond Avenue corridor,” Menil spokesperson Sarah Hobson tells CultureMap. “The abundantly landscaped hotel, designed to be only two stories tall so that it remains in scale with the surrounding buildings, will enliven this corner of the neighborhood with new amenities and offerings. Interestingly, John and Dominique de Menil’s initial plans for the museum included a nearby hotel for visitors. The Menil Foundation is delighted to support this project by Marchbanks Company and Bunkhouse.”

Boasting 71 rooms on two floors, an event space, a restaurant, and bar, the hotel promises eclectic design and lush landscaping, a press release notes. The Marchbanks Company — which has collaborated with Bunkhouse on Texas properties including Hotel Saint Cecilia and Hotel Magdalena in Austin, and Hotel Havana in San Antonio — will handle overall development.

Design, a Bunkhouse pillar, will be directed by renowned architecture firm Lake Flato. The firm has worked previously with Bunkhouse on the Hotel San José and Hotel Magdalena in Austin, plus the Hotel San Cristobal in Todos Santos, Mexico. In a first for Bunkhouse, design studio Post Company will spearhead the interior design of the project, per a release.

Working the tree-lined existing space into the hotel’s exterior vista, Austin-based landscape architects Ten Eyck will craft the grounds and gardens throughout the property, creating winding pathways and outdoor spaces integrated around the tree canopy.

Austinites familiar with the Bunkhouse brand (aka, all of us) will recognize the seven (of its nine) hotels in the Lone Star State, including five in Austin, one in San Antonio, and one in Marfa.

In 2008, cult favorite Houston website Swamplot revealed Bunkhouse’s concept designs for a five-story, 75-room hotel complex planned for 1634 Westheimer Rd.

Now, Houston fans of stylish hotels can get in on the lodging secret Austinites have known for years.

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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.

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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.