Your eyes do not deceive you. Austin has changed quite a bit since the 2017 edition of South by Southwest.
A rash of high-rises have popped up in Central Austin, while new mid-rises have mushroomed in East Austin, South Austin and, especially, West Campus.
The past 12 months have ushered in some major landmarks, too. We’ll introduce a few worth checking out whether you’re visiting for SXSW or an Austinite.
Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin”: This phenomenal work of art — designed by the late American modernist — doubles as a monumental work of architecture. Go on a sunny morning when the interior shimmers with color. It’s open during regular Blanton Museum of Art hours at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Congress Avenue; entry is included with museum admission. Go to the Visitors Services desk inside the museum’s east wing to obtain tickets and don’t skip the exhibition on Kelly and his last masterpiece (blantonmuseum.org). Also new and nearby on campus: Rowling Hall at Guadalupe Street and MLK with its astounding 4,000-square foot abstract interior mural by José Parlá.
Austin Central Library. Another building of consequence rose during the past months where Shoal Creek enters Lake Lady Bird on West Cesar Chavez. The interior with its jutting stairways is stunning and bathed with natural light, but don’t miss the rock plaza by the creek (library.austintexas.gov). Nearby and under way: The Independent, an off-kilter residential spire known casually as the “Jenga tower,” is taking definite shape. At 58 stories, it will be Austin’s tallest building. There’s a new bridge on West Second Street, too, that links up more new shops, offices and public spaces where two defunct city utility plants, Green and Seaholm, once stood.
Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Let’s hope you won’t need the services of this replacement for Brackenridge Hospital, but the whole multi-building complex near the UT Dell Medical School is a model of forward-thinking health care housed in up-to-the-minute buildings (seton.net). Soon to come nearby: an innovation center where the shuttered old hospital still stands, also the Moody Amphitheater in remodeled Waterloo Park along Waller Creek, which is well under way.
Domain Northside. Most visitors to SXSW stay in Central Austin, but if you are drawn closer to the metropolitan area’s more northerly population center near MoPac (Loop 1), this complex of hotels, shops, offices and residences — just over a year old — is stuffed with popular local attractions along fairly dense, walkable blocks of planned urbanity (domainnorthside.com).
Fairmont Austin Hotel. Austin’s largest and newest hotel is scheduled to open in time for SXSW. Workers were putting the finishing touches on when we walked by recently along Red River Street. An airy elevated walkway connects the shiny new building to the Austin Convention Center. From this vantage point, note all the new towers in the Rainey Street district to the southeast (fairmont.com/austin).
Briscoe Center for American History. A city once museum-poor is now museum-richer. The Briscoe has been around for decades, but it recently opened its doors on its first real exhibition space on Red River Street, which currently offers a sharp-eyed show on civil rights photography (www.cah.utexas.edu).
Park for free in the LBJ Presidential Library lot and note the Briscoe entrance to the left of the breezeway. And, hey, if you haven’t been to the LBJ in a while, its permanent exhibition was completely overhauled not long ago (lbjlibrary.org).
Oracle South Austin Campus. We are not saying that you should try to gain access, but if you head east on the still relatively new boardwalk along the south shore of Lady Bird Lake to stretch your legs, you’d end up at this “cloud campus” which includes residences for Oracle employees. Many of the big national tech firms keep offices in Austin, but few are so prominently placed in such a green, inviting spot (oracle.com).
“Yippee Ki Yay.” You might have encountered a whimsical Stickwork sculpture by Patrick Dougherty in another city, but for the next few years, you can also frolic around this enchanted hamlet made of brush in Pease Park along Shoal Creek. There’s usually plenty of street parking along Parkway (peasepark.org).
Return engagements: Almost any Austinite can elaborate on the tensions and stress created by all this rapid change, including traffic and parking snarls, displacement of longtime residents and businesses, and a palpable loss of community.
Still, we spied some rays of light this past year, such as the restoration of a beloved East Austin mural at East 12th and Chicon streets, and the revitalization of Republic Square Park, which hosts a weekend farmer’s market and one of the city’s busiest transit stops at Guadalupe and West Fourth streets.
Remember Jumpolin, the piñata store that was demolished to make way for a SXSW party a few years ago? It has reopened at 2605 E. Cesar Chavez St.
To tell the truth, this is probably the last SXSW to view the Hope Outdoor Gallery graffiti park above North Lamar Boulevard, but backers expect to recreate it at Carson Creek Ranch.