With its barbecue, active outdoor culture, and young atmosphere Austin draws many startups and entrepreneurs to its Central Texas hills, but its reputation as a top city for commerce is beginning to crowd downtown high rises and raise housing prices. Now new businesses are looking to settle into East Austin and two developers are creating an affordable space for creative industries.
The multi-use development called thinkEAST is a 24-acre live-work district for Austin residents. ThinkEAST will combine homes and studios to create a collaborative community tailored to creative industries.
Austin attorney and arts advocate Robert Summers says he and his partner Richard deVarga want the artistic community to include technology startups and people from a variety of industries.
Summers said, “Tech is obviously a part of the creative industries but there’s a much broader umbrella of people from the food industry, to the fashion industry, to all types of creative industries that we want to include at thinkEAST.”
ThinkEAST is located near the east 7th Gateway Corridor bordering Shady Lane and Govalle Park. The land was previously a fuel tank farm for an air force base.
City of Austin Demographer Ryan Robinson, said the movement of businesses into East Austin, coincides with the demographic changing from minority family households to a single, non-Hispanic white population. He said the ongoing, rapid change will continue because of the lands affordability, proximity to downtown, and the diverse culture that most employees want.
“East Austin will continue to be attractive residentially and will have increase attractiveness for just a wide variety of entrepreneurial startups,” Robinson said, “I would not be surprised to see a Facebook or a Google pop up.”
With the change of East Austin’s demographic, Robinson said gentrification is occurring in many areas and residents are being priced out of their homes. He said he expects thinkEAST to have a positive influence because it provides an entirely new housing option that will keep current residents in East Austin.
Summers said a goal of the thinkEAST project is to answer the demand for affordable housing near the city’s core.
Summers said the target audience is not just young creative minds and entrepreneurs but “anyone who is being priced out of living in Austin and local small business who are being priced out of leases.”
The live-work units will have a home and studio on one floor and can be rented out for $1,000 per month. Summers said the cost is marked for those making 30 to 80 percent of Austin’s $50,000 median household income. In addition, Summers said he wants to attract services lacking in the area such as dentist offices and dry cleaners.
Summers said they are expecting to have 150 homes and 300,000 square feet of development in a 28-building complex. Applications for thinkEAST are planned to be released in October. The entire plan is projected to cost 100 million dollars.
Grant Heimer, president of the University of Texas Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency, said thinkEast’s affordability and creative community will help young graduates with their startups.
“So many student entrepreneurs that are at UT right now want to stay in Austin not only because it is a great city to live in,” Heimer said, “but because they have made so many connections throughout their time here.”
The first phase of thinkEAST units will open in 2016 and will include gardens, a walking trail and community center.
Construction on a road accessing the site is set to begin this summer.