Editor's note: This is one three articles in a series about how city leaders in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto are expanding and modernizing their downtown areas. For the story on downtown Pflugerville, click here. For the story on downtown Hutto, click here.

When Michelle Ly first opened The Rock Sports Bar on East Main Street in downtown Round Rock in 2014, the area was mostly professional offices and a coffee shop, she said.

Ly said the present iteration of the downtown area, with its large and diverse offering of businesses and residences that often share property lines, was still in progress when she first opened The Rock.

“It was a tough time to open because nobody really knew that there were great things coming to downtown,” Ly said.

As Round Rock grows in size, city officials and local business owners are working to bring a slate of new improvements to the downtown area. Those include additional housing, expanded parks and infrastructure improvements. Some large-scale projects are in progress, while others are still in either the planning •or conceptual stages.

“Everybody thinks our downtown is just two blocks,” Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan said. “It is so much bigger than that; it just takes time to develop.”

Ongoing growth and development

Over the last decade, new businesses—from bars and restaurants to retail stores and coffee shops—have resulted in a more bustling downtown area.

Since she first opened The Rock, Ly, who is also a Round Rock City Council member, has opened two more venues downtown—The Alcove Cantina and The Flats.

Others have recently opened businesses downtown, including the Villarreal family, who opened the Long Branch Saloon in 2015 followed by the La Esquina Cantina.

Jaime Villarreal said the city’s rapid growth—U.S. Census data shows the population grew nearly 20% from 2010-20—makes Round Rock a great place to open a new business, especially in the downtown area.

“You’re going to bring more people down here,” Jaime said. “More people down here is better for everybody.”

Beyond new businesses, other projects underway include the city’s new library, road and utility improvements, and additional residential areas along McNeil Road at the southern edge of the city’s downtown district.

Expected to open in January, the new Round Rock Public Library will bring a three-story parking garage with a capacity for 300 vehicles.

The city broke ground on the project in June, and Bradley Dushkin, Round Rock’s assistant director of planning and development, said it will bring numerous benefits to the community, especially with its parking garage. The area is also receiving road and utilities improvements in keeping with the city’s downtown master plan.

Known to the city as the Northeast Downtown Improvements, the one-block stretch encompassed by North Lampasas Street, Burnet Street, East Austin Avenue and East Liberty Avenue is under construction. Crews are updating the area with new urban asphalt streets, parking, sidewalks and lighting.

Along McNeil Road, two residential developments will bring the city closer to its goal of building 1,000 new housing units within one-quarter mile of Main Street.

Furthermore, The Depot, a condominium project adjacent to the city’s administrative buildings, began work in late 2021.

Dushkin said those moves will help establish a much-needed balance to the downtown area.

“By increasing the range of land uses, particularly the residential land uses, getting more rooftops here can create that daytime activity,” he said.

Coming down the pipeline

As the City Council eyes a 2023 bond election, officials are discussing several more potential downtown projects.

One potential project centers on a new use for the current library building on East Main that involves the Round Rock Chamber, which now operates out of the Palm House, a historically significant home that was relocated next to the Round Rock Public Library in the 1970s.

In August, chamber leaders announced they would seek a new headquarters, leaving the Palm House’s future location uncertain.

While it is still unclear where the Palm House will be relocated, Morgan said one option for the chamber’s new home could be the old library building at 216 E. Main St.

Officials are also discussing park projects in the area, including The Lawn at Brushy Creek, which would extend an existing trail down Sheppard Street toward central downtown as an expansion to the Brushy Creek hike and bike trail.

City staff stated the project would bring additional parkland to downtown Round Rock and solve stormwater issues by providing options for water detention and water-quality management, and turn the area into a community amenity.

In recent months, city staff stated developers have expressed interest in creating a housing option similar to The Depot, but located on land near the city’s water tower along Mays Street and Liberty Avenue.

Nancy Yawn, Round Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau director, said a thriving and dynamic downtown filled with varied local businesses and entertainment options enhances the visitor experience, contributing to the local economy.

“When you have your locals so proud, and [they have a] sense of place and community, tourists come down here like, ‘Wow, this is full of energy and just a great place to be,’” Yawn said.•