Apple announced Dec. 13 it will invest $1 billion to build a 3 million-square-foot second campus on a 133-acre tract of land on the Robinson Ranch property northeast of the intersection of Parmer Lane and McNeil Drive. Apple officials stated they will initially hire 5,000 new employees but that the campus could hold up to 15,000 people.
Austin officials praised the announcement for the new jobs it will bring, including Mayor Steve Adler, who said the city and Apple share a “creative spark” and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I think this is really important for Austin, for its mobility issues and for its housing issues,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler told Community Impact Newspaper on Dec. 13. “We need more than one downtown center. We need more activity centers in the city, and I think this kind of activity is how we move toward that. The Domain’s turning into one. Robinson Ranch needs to be one as well.”
Jimmy Flannigan, City Council member for District 6, where the new campus will be located, said the effect of Apple investing in Austin could be huge for taxpayers.
“What we know when we look at the tax base is when you have significant commercial development it really helps fund all of the other things the community is asking for: transportation improvements, parks improvements and frankly helps keep the tax rate a little bit lower, especially when the city is not giving a subsidy to this campus,” he said.
Williamson County approved a $16 million, 15-year incentive agreement Dec. 18 with Apple to reimburse 65 percent of the company’s property taxes.
Drawn to Northwest Austin
For the past several decades the Northwest Austin area has attracted attention from tech firms that have opened offices or large campuses. Apple has leased space at 12545 Riata Vista Circle for years, and in 2012 the company announced plans to build its Americas Operations Center adjacent to its office on Parmer Lane on 38.8 acres of land. Under an incentive deal with the city of Austin, Apple agreed to build
1 million square feet of office space and create at least 3,600 new jobs.
Other corporate campuses have also sprung up on Parmer over the years. The 7700 Parmer campus is primed to nearly double to almost 2 million square feet of office space thanks to Austin City Council approving its proposal in 2017.
Farther east, the Parmer Austin corporate center, while still under development, is also home to corporations such as GM, The Home Depot and pharmaceutical company Allergan. In 2019, 3M will relocate its 800 employees to Parmer Austin. Mark Emerick, senior vice president of real estate firm CBRE’s Austin office, which handles the leasing at Parmer Austin, told Community Impact Newspaper in July that many companies are interested in Parmer Lane.
“When you look at the park and see Home Depot, 3M, Allergan, GM and Dell across the street—four Fortune 500 companies—that’s making a statement,” Emerick said.
Apple’s next steps include submitting site permits to the city of Austin, starting site preparation and installing utilities. Kristina Raspe, Apple’s vice president of local real estate, said the company expects to have its first buildings operational in 2021.
Impact on traffic
Over the past five years traffic counts along Parmer Lane have not increased significantly. Data from the Texas Department of Transportation shows only an 8.2 percent increase in the number of average daily vehicles, from 40,582 in 2013 to 43,920 in 2017.
The state agency is not planning any projects on Parmer between SH 45 N and I-35. However, it plans to begin construction in 2019 on a project at I-35 to convert the intersection at Parmer to a diverging diamond interchange. North of SH 45 N, TxDOT will expand Parmer to six lanes in a project being partially financed through the 2016 Mobility Bond.
Capital Metro also reported adding an infill MetroRail station near the Apple campus is not likely in the short term because the track’s alignment is on the eastern side of the Robinson Ranch property while Apple’s proposed campus is on the western side, spokeswoman Mariette Hummel said.
However, the transit agency did add Parmer Lane to its high-capacity transit vision map called Project Connect to study adding some form of bus-rapid transit on Parmer.
Williamson County Commissioner Cynthia Long said she is using the Apple deal to fast-track improvements, such as adding managed or toll lanes to Parmer.
Even with the increases in jobs and future tax revenue, many residents are also concerned about rising home prices.
Demand continues to outpace supply in Austin’s real estate market, and the Northwest Austin area is “primed” for the arrival of the new Apple campus, Austin Board of Realtors President Steve Crorey said. Concerns remain, however.
“If we don’t get serious about our infrastructure, our traffic, putting [more diverse] product on the ground for everyone, we’re going to lose businesses like this,” Crorey said.
Surrounding communities such as Leander and Liberty Hill are likely to see a spillover of new Apple employees buying households or filling rental properties as well as driving new development.
“Austin proper does not have a ton of land left to develop new homes,” said Cindi Bell, president-elect for the Williamson County Association of Realtors.
Affordability and availability themselves may drive more incoming residents to Austin’s suburbs out of sheer necessity, Realty Texas Realtor Suzanne Gantner said.
“If you’re wanting to buy something in the Austin area the affordability right now is just crazy,” she said.
Additional reporting by Jack Flagler, Emma Freer and Iain Oldman