AUSTIN, Texas - Austin’s Rainey Street District is seeing explosive growth this year, with about a dozen residential buildings now in the works.
The new development is coming at the expense of some longtime bars and restaurants, as well as increasing demand on the city’s energy infrastructure, leading to the construction of a new substation.
"Is it better? Is it worse? I don't know," said Ben Siegel, owner of Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden. "I think as a business owner to resist that, is where you're going to find yourself in trouble."
Longtime nightlife spots like Container Bar have already closed their doors, with Reina announcing over the weekend that Sept. 11 will be their last night. The bar posted on Instagram: "We knew this was coming and that our days were numbered."
"Some of them are more than bars. They're people that we've known, they're friends," said Siegel.
The closure of bars and small businesses, to make way for big residential high-rises, is a major reason why Austin Energy says they need more power capacity, and they need it soon.
"There's only so much power that can be distributed from a particular substation into a particular area of town," said Matt Mitchell, spokesperson for Austin Energy. "What were one-stories are 40-stories. That absolutely leads to more energy demand."
That’s why the utility has been building the new Rainey Street Substation, which is nearing completion, ahead of schedule.
"The structural components are all there now, the transformers are all installed, it's ready for electrification later this year," said Mitchell.
The substation’s design, Mitchell says, is the product of feedback from people in the neighborhood.
"This substation is state of the art, top of the line, and it's going to keep power flowing downtown," said Mitchell.
"I guess it's a good thing that you're going to have the energy infrastructure behind all the growth that's happening," said Siegel.
Siegel sees that growth as a positive. He founded the Rainey Business Coalition, working together with his neighbors to capitalize on it.
"There is that nostalgia factor of what it used to be," said Siegel. "But I also recognize that we're heading into something new and exciting."
He sees potential new markets from the construction workers here now, to the thousands of residents who’ll soon call this area home.
"I believe Rainey Street will be the seventh-densest district in the country. In the country. And so all of a sudden if you're a bar or a restaurant that's in the middle of that density, we're in the business of selling that stuff to people and that's a lot of people," said Siegel.
Siegel says he hopes people will continue to patronize bars like Banger’s, even though construction is making it more difficult to get around the area for the time being.
As for the new substation, it’s set to go online in January, and Austin Energy says that will allow for upgrades to be done on other equipment across the city.