Axios Austin

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It's Friday!

🌥 Today's weather: A 30% chance of thunderstorms and a high of 85 — with a similar forecast for Saturday and Sunday.

😲 Sounds like: "The Finger Breaker," as performed by Dick Hyman.

🎂 Happy birthday to our Axios Austin member Kristin Wear!

Today's newsletter is 898 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Downtown's recovery

Change in downtown visitor activity levels from March 2023 to February 2024
Data: University of Toronto; Note: Downtown defined as the central location with the highest concentration of employment in each metro area; Chart: Alice Feng/Axios

Austin's downtown saw a bump in activity between March 2023 and February 2024, per new University of Toronto data examining U.S. and Canadian cities.

Why it matters: The updated figures are one way to understand which cities are recovering and which are still struggling after the worst of the pandemic.

By the numbers: Austin's downtown visitor activity level was up nearly 8% over the time period examined, according to the researchers.

  • In 2023, average downtown visitor traffic was at 86% of 2019 levels, per an end-of-year report by the Downtown Austin Alliance.

The big picture: By and large, downtowns nationally are recovering nicely — if slowly, per the researchers' latest update.

Zoom in: Even as several office buildings have struggled to find tenants, restaurants and clubs, conventions and bachelor(ette) parties continue to draw visitors to central Austin.

  • Underpinning the downtown economy is a residential high-rise boom that translates into diners and shoppers all day and week.
  • The 41-story Vesper condo tower, for example, is newly complete in the Rainey Street District and is 67% sold, per Austin Towers. Four other residential towers are under construction in that neighborhood.

Yes, but: San Antonio (-17.5%) and Fort Worth (-9.4%) are among the cities that fell below their March 2023 figures — a sign of "stagnating recovery," according to the researchers.

What we're watching: Whether Austin's downtown is resilient enough to endure those commercial office vacancies.

A rendering of an office building.
A rendering of The Republic office building. Image: Neoscape
  • Even as tech companies are backing out of leases, financial and legal services continue to work downtown — two law firms and Austin-based private equity firm Vista Equity Partners — have signed leases in The Republic, an office tower under construction by Republic Square.
  • The building, scheduled to open next year, is nearly 50% leased, according to building developers.

The methodology

2. Majority of Texans don't want school vouchers

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A majority of Texans likely to vote in the November election disapprove of using public dollars to subsidize private school tuition, according to a new survey.

Why it matters: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott continues to support school vouchers despite fractured opinions within his own party and the Legislature's inability to pass a bill after two special sessions on the topic last year.

Driving the news: The findings come from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation, which surveyed 1,600 people this month on contested issues like vouchers, abortion and the border.

  • The foundation released its findings Wednesday.

The intrigue: 57% of respondents said they disapproved of using tax dollars to provide school vouchers to all Texas parents. Only 36% signaled support.

  • 77% of Democrats, 56% of independents and 43% of Republicans surveyed opposed the idea.

Fun fact: The largest consensus was supporting Texas teacher pay raises, which 90% of participants supported; 7% of respondents opposed the measure.

Go deeper

3. 🤠 The Roundup: Wrangling the news

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🎹 An Austin-based professional concert pianist had to sit out performing for a couple of months following a triple fracture in his right pinky due to a pickleball accident. (Austin American-Statesman)

💸 Valentina's BBQ employees say they went unpaid and its original owners face millions of dollars in debts. (Austin Business Journal 🔒)

💧 Hays County's Jacob's Well swimming hole is suspending its 2024 summer swimming season because of below-average spring flows. (KXAN)

4. Friday news quiz

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Answer these three questions correctly and we might give you a shoutout in our Monday newsletter — which would officially make you a famous person.

  • Just hit reply to this email.
  1. Which U.S. senator from Texas pulled in $5.6 million in the first three months of the year for Republican candidates?
  2. Did more or fewer than 500 members of the University of Texas faculty sign a letter of no confidence in university president Jay Hartzell?
  3. Name one of the headliners in October's Formula One concerts in Austin.
Sponsored event listings

Stay booked and busy

The Austin Symposium at Crum Auditorium in Rowling Hall on UT Austin's Campus on May 8: Hosted by the Civitas Institute, the Austin Symposium will present new ideas and research to help policymakers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists and investors understand how to combat stagnation and boost dynamism in America.

Hosting an event? Email [email protected].

5. Emily Curl: What to expect at iHeartCountry Festival

Maren Morris and Keith Urban perform at the 2018 iHeartCountry Festival in Austin. Photo: C Flanigan/FilmMagic via Getty Images

iHeartCountry Festival, in its 11th year in Austin, kicks off Saturday with free daytime performances before the main event at the Moody Center.

Driving the news: The daytime performances run from 12:30-4:30pm, and the main ticketed show begins at 7pm, featuring big names like Jason Aldean, Keith Urban, Jelly Roll, Riley Green and Ashley McBryde.

Dig in: We spoke with Emily Curl, iHeart's digital and social host, ahead of the event as she prepares for her fourth iHeartCountry Festival in Austin.

  • Curl, also a new E! News correspondent, will interview artists as they come and go backstage.

Here's what you can expect from the show, according to Curl.

💃 No downtime: iHeart festivals have a rotating stage so that artists can play their set while the next one gets ready.

  • "It's just a constant party," Curl said. "You're always left wanting more and then the next artist comes in."

🎉 Surprises: There are often surprise guests and special moments that fans don't expect, like Kane Brown bringing out his wife for a duet and a surprise appearance by Brothers Osborne last year.

  • "You get these really, really special moments," Curl said. "They feel really authentic."

🎤 Backstage interviews: "I see them all the time, and so I think that it creates this friendship where you actually get to catch up on their lives," she said of preparing for the interviews, which will be live across iHeart digital channels.

📍 If you go: Tickets to the main stage are still available online, and performances for the free Daytime Village will be held at the Dell Technologies Plaza at the Moody Center.

  • The event will be streamed on Hulu, and iHeartCountry radio stations will broadcast it through local markets.

Thanks to Chloe Gonzales for editing and Kate Sommers-Dawes and Anjelica Tan for copy editing this newsletter.

🥏 Asher is eager to watch the Austin Sol, a professional ultimate frisbee team, kick off its 2024 season in a match tonight against the Houston Havoc.

  • Game time is 7pm at The Pitch in northeast Austin.

🌮 Nicole loved the latest Axios Texas Instagram video with Texas Monthly's taco editor.