The Texas Department of Transportation kicked off its property acquisition process for the 107 businesses that will be displaced as part of its $4.5 billion I-35 expansion project.

As TxDOT begins purchasing property and mailing notices to vacate, many business owners say they are feeling uncertain as to when they will need to close, what relocation assistance they will get and what property they will relocate to amid Austin’s pricey market.

In a nutshell

Business owners on the I-35 corridor received a notice from TxDOT following the release of its Environmental Impact Statement in late August as part of its legal right-of-way process.

The 90-day notice business owners received informs them they are eligible for relocation assistance and that they have 18 months to file claims. The 90-day time frame means that no businesses displaced by the project will be required to move with less than 90 days notice, not that they must move in the next 90 days, TxDOT public information officer Brad Wheelis said Oct. 12.

What they’re saying

While businesses along I-35 are unlikely to up and leave before the holidays, owners said they feel left in the dark as to when that day will come and what assistance they will get to help with the move.

"[We’re] in a blind spot,” said AJ Johnson, Austin native and owner of Stars Cafe. “[We’re] in the dark.”

Johnson has owned Stars Cafe at 3101 N. I-35, Austin, for the last year and a half, but the cafe has been open since 1966. As the relocation of the longtime cafe looms, Johnson has been eyeing five different properties in Central Austin to potentially relocate to.

“You’re talking about losing 40 years of loyal customers,” he said.

Jaime Cano, assistant director at the Spanish immersion day care Escuelita del Alma, also received the notice.

“TxDOT does understand the negative impact it would have on the community if we were unable to relocate and stay open,” Cano said. “There is already a shortage of preschools and child care facilities [in Austin].”

Escuelita del Alma operates out of two buildings: one for infant care and the other for school-age children. The infant care building was already purchased by TxDOT about two months ago, Cano said, and TxDOT has connected them with a real estate agent to find a new property.

Cano said they are considering finding a new location, or if time allows, building a new site for the school from the ground up. However, Cano can’t make that decision until they receive a firm deadline to vacate from TxDOT.

Joey Slayne, owner of The Glass Coffin: Vampire Parlour, said he feels “very much left in the dark” as to when he needs to vacate and what, if any, relocation assistance he will get.

“Nothing is really affordable, especially for niche shops such as myself,” Slayne said.

Slayne has owned The Glass Coffin for over six years—two of which have been at the I-35 location. Slayne said the landlord of the building he operates his business out of has received help, but he hasn’t.

“Everybody’s telling me one thing, then people are telling me something else,” Slayne said.

Dig deeper

More information on TxDOT’s right-of-way process is available here.