New projects underway as city plans transportation upgrades
Along one of the busiest corridors in Austin—Burnet Road—business owners and developers are flocking to open up shop or break ground on new projects that will bring more residents and higher density to North Austin.
The area is targeted for major redevelopment, and with higher-density projects and additional build-out at The Domain, stakeholders say the area could become Austin's second downtown.
"If this becomes the second downtown location with a few high-rises and [other projects], I think you'll continue to see the densities increase here and population growth be supportive of this area," said Scott Harkovich, co-owner of Heather Scott Home & Design on Burnet Road.
North Burnet/Gateway plan
The northern part of Burnet Road runs through the North Burnet/Gateway 2035 Master Plan. The 2,300-acre area is bordered by Metric Boulevard, US 183, Braker Lane, MoPac and Walnut Creek and is slated for higher-density development and mobility improvements.
Christine Freundl, senior planner in Austin's Planning and Development Review Department, said most of the focus of existing development in North Burnet/Gateway has been on Burnet Road near The Domain. However, she has heard of other projects that might soon be submitted to the city.
"We hope to see more activity," she said.
The North Burnet/Gateway plan is what led Harkovich and his wife, Heather, to purchase 1.5 acres on the southwest corner of Burnet and Braker Lane and transform a former auto repair shop into the new home for their retail and design business. The lot includes an almost 0.8-acre parcel that the Harkoviches are taking offers on for development.
"Heather and I looked at this as an opportunity to essentially control an acre and a half of hard corner that moving forward 20 years from now would be a fabulous investment for us as to owning a piece of Austin," Harkovich said.
The remodeled store includes two other tenant spots that the Harkoviches have filled with locally owned Waterloo Jewelers, which opened Dec. 13, and a local franchise of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, which opens in early 2014.
"We've tried hard to set ourselves up with other locally owned entrepreneurs and businesses," Harkovich said. "This corner will have its own sort of vibe."
Part of the North Burnet/Gateway plan will address improving mobility because there are few east-west streets, Freundl said. One project that Endeavor Real Estate Group—the brainchild behind The Domain and development near TopGolf—is assisting with is to extend Esperanza Crossing from TopGolf south to Kramer Lane. This new road will have a 5-foot-wide sidewalk and street trees and will be located near the Kramer MetroRail station.
"It's going to affect the area tremendously and increase [bike and pedestrian] capacity on the corridor and increase dependability," Freundl said.
In November 2012, Austin voters approved a bond package that would provide $15 million to design and construct improvement projects on Burnet Road from Koenig Lane to MoPac near Duval Road and on North Lamar Boulevard from US 183 to I-35 near Howard Lane.
Projects would address mobility, quality-of-life and storm drain issues and increase pedestrian access, said Carolyn Perez, public information officer with the city's Public Works Department. City staff is working with a consulting firm to design select projects along these corridors.
"We're not going to be able to address all the needs of the corridors," Perez said. "We're looking at where there are safety issues and how to spend the money wisely."
Supervisor Dennis Crabill in the department's project management division said the selected projects would serve as a demonstration of what both corridors would look like with all the needed improvements. The city's bond development program initially indicated it would cost between $55 million–$70 million to make all the needed improvements.
The city will have an outreach program to meet with residents, neighborhood groups and stakeholders to receive input on priority projects.
"It's important to us to manage public expectations," Perez said. "Both corridors are badly in need of attention. We're not going to be able to do everything overnight. We'll have to identify future funding sources."
She said the department will look into future funding sources such as another bond program.
Endeavor has been spearheading development on Burnet Road across from The Domain. It leases property to TopGolf, which opened in May and was one of the first projects to follow the new North Burnet/Gateway regulations.
In late summer, two projects broke ground adjacent to TopGolf. Abutting Burnet Road will be a 135-room Home2 Suites by Hilton hotel that will open in fall 2014.
Just south of TopGolf is The Addison, an apartment complex that will have 390 units and open in December 2014. The site will have more of an urban feel, Endeavor Principal Jason Thumlert said.
Endeavor has also just started marketing three retail pad sites that will be developed along Burnet Road, he said.
"We think a sit-down casual restaurant with a nice outdoor patio would be a great amenity to the area and could hit a price point that is not currently served in The Domain," Thumlert said.
Because the site is located in the North Burnet/Gateway area, Thumlert said Endeavor was able to attract higher-density projects. The hotel will front Burnet and have access to sidewalks.
"We're glad to have that increased pedestrian access and bicycle access to and within The Domain," he said. "Whether people are working at IBM or going to The Domain, they will be able to finish that last-mile [trip]."
More than a dozen new businesses have opened on or relocated to Burnet Road in 2013. Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union built a new branch near The Domain that opened in May. Carr Development completed construction in November on a 3,880-square-foot retail building north of US 183 that will bring more business to the area.
In March, Al Freidin and his wife, MaryAnn, bought out Koslow's Furs and renamed it AlMar Furs. Freidin said he worked at Koslow's for many years and remembers when the business first moved to Burnet Road more than two years ago, a move that made getting to the specialty store easier for the business's customers who live throughout the metro area.
"Just being near The Domain is helpful to us," Freidin said, adding that he is banking on future development to further boost business.
TopGolf is a three-story entertainment complex where players hit micro-chipped golf balls into targets on a field. Being near The Domain has contributed to the success of the business, said Brad Spofford, director of operations at the Austin location.
"It's a premier spot, and the whole North Austin [area] has really grown and developed," he said. "I know when we started talking to Endeavor about this particular spot, we were very excited that we could be on the forefront of the Burnet development. We really hope to be an anchor here."