Apple announced Dec. 13 it will invest $1 billion to build a 3 million-square-foot second Austin 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.
On Dec. 18, Williamson County commissioners approved an incentive deal with Apple. The agreement, known as a Chapter 381 economic incentive agreement, was approved unanimously after representatives from area economic development organizations and Apple spoke before commissioners, touting the benefits of the deal for local taxing entities.
In exchange for investing $400 million in purchasing the land and developing the campus as well as creating 4,000 new jobs, Williamson County would abate or reimburse 65 percent of ad valorem taxes for real and business personal property for 15 years, according to the proposed terms of the agreement.
“Everyone came together to see the greater good,” said Ben White, director of economic development for Cedar Park, speaking on behalf of the surrounding communities involved in the agreement. “It’s a unique situation we find ourselves in, in Williamson County. We all play together, we all win together.”
He said the deal took a year to broker and was largely influenced by the quality of area school districts such as Leander ISD and Round Rock ISD. Apple began a private, nationwide search last year around the same time Amazon publicly announced it was searching for a location for its second headquarters, White 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.
Potential future with RRISD
The new campus will open within the boundaries of RRISD and the Chapter 381 agreement between Apple and Williamson County does not include RRISD tax abatements. County officials told Community Impact Newspaper that RRISD will receive about $13 million per year in tax revenue from the new campus.
According to Sheri Bonds, director of career and technology education for the district, the expansion could provide opportunities for district students.
“With a company like Apple, the opportunities for students are pretty much endless, but it really comes down to what Apple wants to do,” Bonds said. Although no partnerships between Apple and the district have been discussed, Bonds said educational opportunities in engineering, marketing and technology would be very beneficial for students.
“We are always looking for internship opportunities, site visits and job shadowing,” Bonds said.
Bonds said the district has existing partnerships with area companies including Dell and Samsung Austin Semiconductor. Those partnerships, Bonds said, help provide students with real-word experience.
Bonds pointed to the future campus’s proximity to McNeil High School, where the district is preparing to expand and upgrade its Career and Technical Education space.
“It might be interesting to see where our two paths can converge together and come up with some creative ideas for our kids and Apple,” Bonds said.
Impact on traffic
Critics of the deal have pointed to the area’s transportation challenges; however Commissioner Cynthia Long said she was able to use this deal as leverage for fast-tracking transportation improvements on Parmer that she has been eying for six years, including managed lanes, added turn lanes and removal of stoplights.
Long said she spoke with the chief of staff of the governor’s office, the executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation and the executive director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to secure agreements on improving the roadway, a feat that was more easily done with the knowledge of the forthcoming Apple campus.
Over the past five years traffic counts along Parmer have not increased significantly. Data from TxDOT shows an 8.23 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 to its high-capacity transit vision map to study adding some form of bus-rapid transit on 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 new Apple employees buying houses 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.