- Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
An Austin redevelopment project that seemed a little more than a decade ago to be a bit of a gamble is now often lauded as one of the most successful mixed-use communities in the country.
Catellus Development Group is the overseer of the Mueller development in Central Austin, transforming the city’s former airport into a bustling, 700-acre neighborhood with shops, restaurants, single-family homes, apartments, offices, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, the Austin school district’s performing arts center, the Thinkery children’s museum and more.
On its website, the city of Austin lauds Mueller as “a model for responsible urban planning and development.”
Today, Mueller is about 70 percent built out, according to Greg Weaver, Catellus’ executive vice president. The project could be mostly wrapped up in as little as two or three more years, he told the American-Statesman this month.
Once completed, Mueller is expected have about 5,900 residential units, more than 4 million square feet of commercial and retail space and 140 acres of parks and open space. Currently, about 5,000 people live at the development, according to Catellus.
Interest in the community has been strong from the start, Weaver said, and is showing no signs of slowing down. A six-screen Alamo Drafthouse cinema is under construction along Aldrich Street between Ragsdale and Robert Browning streets, for example, and should open by year’s end, the Austin-based chain said.
The Alamo Drafthouse at Mueller will be an anchor of the budding Aldrich Street District and will feature an adjacent bar with patio seating, as well as a stage for live music.
“There’s always been this desire to have an entertainment and restaurant district at Mueller,” Weaver said. “Aldrich Street has been many years in the making to ensure we captured the right mix of businesses and design as we begin to roll out the district.”
Catellus has signed agreements with several restaurants who will call the Aldrich Street District home either this year or early in 2017. Already, Weaver said, Mueller is home to about 30 locally owned restaurants, in addition to regional and national chains.
First to open will be Bribery Bakery and L’Oca D’Oro Pasta Kitchen, which are on the ground floor of the AMLI at Mueller apartment building.
They’ll be followed by B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub, Lick Ice Creams, Halcyon Coffee + Bar + Lounge, Stella Public House and J.T. Youngblood’s Fried Chicken. The five restaurants will share the first floor of the new, 56,000-square-foot “Diamond Building,” named for the shape of the block it occupies at Aldrich Street and Simond Avenue.
Two floors of office space will sit atop the Diamond Building restaurants.
The restaurateurs bound for Mueller say they’ve got big plans in the works. The interior of B.D. Riley’s, for instance, will be constructed in Ireland, just like its counterpart on downtown Austin’s East Sixth Street, then disassembled and transported to Austin for installation, said John Erwin, the business’ founder.
“My partners and I have been searching for the perfect spot for an Austin expansion for well over two years, and we all agree we found that spot on Aldrich Street in Mueller,” Erwin said. “Our designers and craftspeople in Ireland are already working to bring another true Irish pub experience to Austin.”
Lick’s addition to Mueller comes just months after the ice cream shop opened a location on Burnet Road in North Austin. The Aldrich Street District location will be near the Thinkery, a hot spot for children and their families.
“We’ve been so intrigued by the Mueller project and the Thinkery relocation for quite some time,” Lick co-founder Anthony Sobotik said. “Seeing its rebirth is exhilarating and we wanted to be a part of that because we like to seek out locations within neighborhoods so we can grow with that community and be a destination that’s walkable and bikeable.
“We’re going to incorporate a bit more color and playful elements to celebrate this location being directly across from the Thinkery and, since we’ll face a lovely promenade, we’ll be able to have more outdoor seating than our current shops.”
At least four or five more restaurants are in talks with Catellus, Weaver said, and could be announced soon.
“They’re all really good, very desirable names,” he said.
Aldrich Street, like most streets in the Mueller development, is named after a well-known figure in Austin’s history. Roy Aldrich served as a Texas Ranger from 1915 to 1947 and it was his farmland that later became a part of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport.
“People may not realize they are already enjoying Aldrich Street when they visit Lake Park and the Thinkery, but they’ll certainly recognize how they are part of Mueller’s evolving town center when Alamo and these terrific local eateries start opening this year,” Weaver said.
The vision for the Mueller neighborhood emerged during two decades of planning by city leaders and neighborhood groups, ultimately culminating in a master plan. The public-private project continues to bring jobs, housing, and services to the region, and is currently generating $3.9 million annually in property taxes, said Pam Hefner, redevelopment project manager with the city of Austin’s Economic Development Department.
“Like so many of the citizens who were actively involved in shaping Mueller, those of us at the city who have worked on the Mueller redevelopment for more than a decade are pleased and eager to see Mueller’s plan for an urban town center becoming more fully realized with the construction of the Alamo Drafthouse and ground-floor local restaurants,” Hefner said.