'State of Downtown' report highlights decade’s development boom but shows depletion of creative industry

Downtown Austin is thriving as the region’s economic engine, boasting real estate and job markets that have continued to flourish since the city moved out of the recession nearly a decade ago, according to a report released April 30.

The inaugural "State of Downtown" report was released during an event at Austin’s Central Library. The comprehensive report, which shows the health of the city’s heart—officially bound east to west by I-35 and N. Lamar Boulevard and north to south by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Lady Bird Lake—is an effort by the local organization of stakeholders Downtown Austin Alliance to begin framing the future for the area.

"The community’s vision for the future of downtown is based on inclusion, vibrancy and resilience,” said Dewitt Peart, president and CEO of the Downtown Austin Alliance, in a press release. “We’re putting partnerships in place to help us achieve the 20-year vision for downtown. Producing this report on a yearly basis will keep us focused on making progress toward the vision and will help us recognize success and identify challenges that we face as a growing downtown.”

The 44-page report tells the story of downtown’s importance to the success of the region and health of its economy. At 1,100 acres, it accounts for only 0.5% of the city’s land area. However, its properties carry 10% of the entire city’s assessed valuation—property downtown is 20 times more valuable than the citywide average per acre.

The area hosts roughly 15 million square feet in multi-tenant office space, 10,615 hotel rooms, 14,671 residents and 93,665 employees, with a total of $13 billion in taxable property value. The boom is set to continue—projects under construction include six hotels, from 5th + Brazos to the Marriott on Cesar Chavez; nine office buildings, including the 300 and 405 Colorado projects; the SXSW Center; RiverSouth; and five residential projects, including Plaza Saltillo and The Independent.

"The forward-thinking downtown vision is imperative to maintaining a downtown that is the cultural, economic and development hub of our region and which generates tax revenue critical to funding projects all over the city,” Mayor Steve Adler said in a press release. “The Downtown Alliance works toward solving homelessness, planning and implementing initiatives to improve public spaces, and keeping downtown clean and safe."

However, amid the successes, downtown Austin also faces challenges, mostly related to affordability. Although the report shows significant increases in tech and service industry jobs between 2010 and 2018, downtown lost roughly 2,000 arts and entertainment jobs during the same period.

The loss of music and arts jobs stands out due to Austin’s longtime reputation as the "Live Music Capital of the World" and as a hub for those who want to make a living out of art. Austin’s government has been working to develop programs to meet the affordability needs of the local creative industry; most recently, it announced the creation of a "digital tipping" program for musicians.

Austin has also seen, for the second year in a row, a 5% increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, an issue acutely felt in the downtown area, where the lone city-operated homeless shelter is located and panhandling is rampant. Earlier this year, Austin City Council committed to increasing its shelter and service capacity for its homeless population, a move supported by the Downtown Austin Alliance.
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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