AUSTIN (KXAN) — Right off Interstate 35 and East 31st Street sits a bustling Austin icon: Stars Cafe.
“We’ve always had like a great time here. Great service, great… laughter, great memories,” said customer Paige Hite.
She frequents the spot once or twice a week with colleagues, after working at St. David’s HealthCare across the way.
“Just kind of chill after a stressful 12-hour shift,” she said. “It’s very important to me for my sanity.”
As Austin has grown and the number of cars has multiplied, the colorful little 24-hour diner has remained in its spot since 1966.
“This is definitely very Austin,” Hite said.
But each order and connection may now be numbered. Its growing neighbor, I-35, may push Stars out.
“A plan like this would put us out of business and make us have to move…. We have to figure that next step out,” said manager Jetara Robertson.
Stars is one of more than 100 businesses and homes in I-35’s displacement path, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s impact report, called the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
The current plan on the table, TxDOT’s preferred alternative plan, would widen an eight-mile stretch of the highway in downtown Austin, adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes and removing I-35’s upper decks.
According to TxDOT, the purpose of the project is to mitigate congestion and improve mobility and safety.
Robertson hopes the agency can still route the expansion around their building or help them move it.
“As somebody who grew up here in Austin, you know, you hate to see the things that have been here for a while starting to go away,” she said.
It’s not just the eclectic Austin culture at risk, though.
TxDOT identified eight commercial properties in its I-35 redesign proposal that caters to specific populations that are non-white, Spanish speaking and/or serve lower-income populations or children:
- CommUnityCare: David Powell Health Center: specializes in the treatment of HIV and AIDs, providing services to lower-income populations or people who are uninsured
- CommUnityCare: Hancock Walk-In Care: provides medical services to the general public, lower-income populations or those without medical insurance
- Pediatric Healthcare: children-centered medical care, located in the Austin Medical Building
- Dr. Emilio Torres: obstetrician and gynecologist serving children
- Escuelita del Alma: Spanish immersion preschool comprising two commercial parcels
- Jimmy’s Barbershop: barber services for Black and African American community members
- Hector’s Barbershop: Spanish-speaking barbershop
- The BL Barbershop: barber services for Black and African American community members
“It will be somewhat disruptive to our patients, we fully recognize that, when Interstate 35 is under construction,” said CommUnityCare CEO Jaeson Fournier.
He also recognizes there may be “a sense of loss” among patients.
“If you’ve been a patient at that clinic since it opened and/or have been going to the same clinic for 15, 20 years,” he explained.
But Fournier said patients don’t have to worry about an impact on their health care.
They plan to combine both Hancock and Powell into one new facility in the same area.
Fournier said their data shows patients are generally concentrated along the I-35 corridor, with pockets north and in the eastern crescent.
The new facility would be just a couple hundred feet from the current Hancock clinic and less than half a mile from Powell.
“Working with our partners at Central Health to ensure that these services are not only continue to be available but are proximal to where they’ve been for a long time,” Fournier said.
Their data also shows in 2021, 85% of their patients belonged to a minority population.
Ninety-six percent of their patients had incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, and almost 40% of patients preferred a language other than English.
Fournier said while there are other clinics in the area that can serve the same population, CommUnityCare is the largest and has some unique services, like HIV-related care.
He said while they don’t yet know their possible displacement timeline, CommUnityCare plans to transition its two clinics into the new facility by 2025.
“We have other clinical assets… that can be brought to bear to help with this if need be,” Fournier said. “Ideally, we wouldn’t displace our patients twice, though, right, we would only relocate them to one location.”
Displaced, again, by a growing Austin
For some businesses, this wouldn’t be the first time they’d be forced to relocate due to a growing city.
In 2006, the owner of Escuelita del Alma’s property on the 200 block of S. Congress Ave. decided to sell, and according to the daycare’s website, the building was set to be demolished in 2008.
So owner and founder Dina Flores moved Escuelita to its current building at 32nd Street and I-35. At that time, she had more than 150 families and a three-year waiting list, according to the business’ website.
Escuelita is also located in a subsidized childcare desert, according to a state map.
The Glass Coffin: Vampire Parlour, another business along the possible displacement path, had just moved in in 2021 after having to close up its original location on South First Street in 2020.
According to a company Facebook post, the small, minority-owned business was pushed out “due to Covid and also being asked to vacate the premises in which the Coffin resided because the Landlord had sold the property.”
The shop shifted to online only until the owner started a GoFundMe campaign to re-launch a brick-and-mortar shop.
KXAN mapped out all these locations that would be impacted here.
TxDOT officials said in the draft plan approximately 625 jobs could be lost due to the displacement impacts on commercial properties.
The agency told KXAN on Thursday it’s contacted all business property owners that may be displaced by the project.
Share your opinion
TxDOT will host a meeting Thursday night to discuss the I-35 Capital Express Central Project.
It will be held from 5-7 p.m. at Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in east Austin.
Neighbors can also review documents and leave feedback on the proposed changes through March 7.
TxDot told KXAN a finalized decision on project design and scope will come in August, with construction starting as early as mid-2024. The $4.5 billion expansion plan could be completed in 2033.