- Gary Dinges American-Statesman Staff
Bigger and better than anything Central Texans had seen before.
That was the goal when Austin-based developer Endeavor Real Estate Group set out to plan Domain Northside, the third – and final – phase of the Domain mixed-use project in North Austin.
One year after the first wave of businesses opened their doors, Endeavor executives say the development has not only met, but exceeded their expectations. About 90 percent of the available retail space has been leased, with negotiations in various stages for many of the remaining storefronts.
“By this time next year, we’ll be full,” Endeavor managing principal Jeff Newberg said in a recent interview.
That prosperity happened during a year when a number of shopping centers across the United States were hurting as chain after chain seemed to scale back or shut down altogether.
Domain Northside and its Rock Rose entertainment district feature about 100 restaurants and retailers – many of them locally owned and almost half of them new to the Austin market, such as The Frye Company, Paige and Will Leather Goods.
Nordstrom anchors the development, which also features an upscale Archer hotel.
“You just don’t see many developments like this,” Endeavor principal Billy Osherow said. “We’re very grateful to Austin for embracing Domain Northside. From day one, we’ve been hearing from shops and restaurants that they’re doing even better than they had hoped.”
Planning for Domain Northside started nearly a decade ago. At one time, Saks Fifth Avenue was even set to be a part of the project. The Endeavor team crisscrossed the country studying what worked – and what didn’t – at some of the most prestigious shopping centers. Then the economic downturn hit and plans were temporarily put on hold.
The post-recession vision for Domain Northside had some key differences – such as the lack of that Saks store – but one thing that didn’t change was Endeavor’s intention to make the development into a gathering spot for Central Texans. In addition to places to shop and eat, there are also on-site apartments, as well as offices for companies such as HomeAway.
“We’re really a community,” Newberg said. “Think about it … at 6 in the morning you’ve got someone walking into SoulCycle for a class or walking their dog and that activity continues all the way to 2 a.m. when you see people getting cupcakes from Sprinkles after Rock Rose shuts down for the night.”
Domain Northside marketing director Julie Sutton and her team work to put on a number of activities throughout the year – many of them family friendly – to draw visitors to the development. During the holiday season, for instance, there’s caroling, a photo contest, carriage rides and live music.
“People aren’t just here to shop,” Endeavor principal Ben Bufkin said. “They’re here to hang out.”
‘Very much at home’
With many of his customers living in North Austin, Stag owner Don Weir knew his popular menswear shop on South Congress Avenue needed to grow by adding a second location.
But looking around town, he said, nothing really caught his eye. The centers he found were too generic, not funky enough – until Weir learned about Domain Northside.
“Back when we first opened in 2009, we didn’t even know if there was room for one Stag,” he said. “But Austin has grown massively. It’s a big city. When we decided to expand, we knew a typical mall environment… wasn’t where we wanted to be. Domain Northside has provided us with an amazing shopping environment with a lot of local flavor.”
Foot traffic in the Domain Northside store has been strong and is steadily growing thanks to Endeavor’s efforts on many fronts, Weir said.
“It’s really evident how much the developer cares about this project,” he said.
Erin Condren was another merchant drawn to Domain Northside. In fact, the maker of life planners and notebooks liked the project so much that she decided to double the size of her store before it even opened.
“Walking through Rock Rose, my first impression was that I was surrounded by creativity,” Condren said. “It’s a new experience in shopping. I saw a greater opportunity and decided I didn’t want to be trapped in a small box.”
The store, which opened this month, includes spots for do-it-yourselfers to fine-tune their latest creations, as well as room for groups to hold meetings.
“This space just fits me,” she said. “I feel very much at home here.”
Being around the corner from the Apple store doesn’t hurt either, Condren said. The tech giant recently took the wraps off the new location, which relocated from Domain I, where it had been for the past decade.
Apple is one of only a handful of retailers to move to Domain Northside from Domain I and Domain II. Endeavor built the initial phase of the mixed-use project before selling it to its current owner, Simon.
The Apple Store was a big “get” for Endeavor, Newberg said.
“Apple is the most productive tenant in the world,” he said. “What their brand represents is what our brand represents.”
The new Apple store features the company’s latest design, including walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, which was first rolled out in New York last year.
“It all starts with the storefront — taking transparency to a whole new level — where the building blends the inside and the outside, breaking down barriers and making it more egalitarian and accessible,” Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, said in a written statement.
Inside, shoppers will find new features, such as The Forum, where a variety of events for Apple users of all age are held pretty much each day.
“We are not just evolving our store design, but its purpose and greater role in the community as we educate and entertain visitors and serve our network of local entrepreneurs,” said Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and online stores.
‘Palette for the community’
There are still more businesses on the way to Domain Northside in the coming months.
Upcoming additions include Juiceland and Sway, as well as the city’s first – and only – Amazon Books store.
As for what’s next after that, Endeavor says it will look to the people who patronize the project to help set the course.
“Domain Northside was never intended to be scripted by us,” Bufkin said. “It’s a palette for the community to decide. As this place matures, you’re going to see that.”