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How the pandemic is impacting construction projects in Downtown Austin

Construction projects that haven't started yet are in question.

AUSTIN, Texas — When driving around Downtown Austin, it's pretty typical to hear the sound of construction in many spots, even during a pandemic. 

The Downtown Austin Alliance conducted a study that looked at the COVID-19 impact on Downtown Austin's office market and tenants, using interviews with 11 people representing 10 companies who either manage, develop and/or lease office space in the area. 

The study shows that when it comes to construction downtown, the people interviewed anticipate new development projects currently under construction will be completed, while the projects that are still in the planning phase will potentially be delayed until there is greater confidence in the market. 

"All interviewees indicated strong optimism and assert the development pipeline will resume in the long term, as Austin will remain an attractive market for corporate relocation and expansion," the study reads.

A senior vice president with JE Dunn, Christopher Szeliga said the company's construction projects underway downtown, which there are currently seven, haven't been impacted by the virus, but the planning phase for other projects have slowed.

RELATED: Some Downtown Austin offices remain closed, causing turmoil for surrounding businesses

"What we’re seeing is that developers are slowing down the work that many would have started at this point, and a lot of them are reanalyzing their program. If it was going to be an office space, a lot of businesses themselves are reanalyzing whether they’re going to send employees back to the office when this COVID-19 subsides," Szeliga said. "So developers are trying to figure out what the future is going to look like, and because of that some of them have slowed the start of future projects."

Credit: Luis de Leon
A construction site in April at Bowie High School in Austin.

JE Dunn has reported COVID-19 cases at some of its construction sites in Central Texas, but it also had safety measures implemented for months. 

Austinites appear to be keeping an eye on construction sites. According to the City of Austin, there were 95 calls made to 311 regarding construction sites in April. That number dropped to 32 in May, and 21 in June. The call rate is starting to climb back up, with 30 calls made in July so far. 

Construction has come into question multiple times since the stay-home orders started back in March, specifically when the City of Austin only allowed essential construction to continue. A statewide order by Gov. Greg Abbott in April considered all construction essential. 

Recently, the City of Austin released new health authority rules, which include revised guidelines for construction sites. 

According to those rules, a person in control of a construction site must:

  • Institute staggered shifts for sites with more than 10 active workers and post at these sites, in languages understood by all persons working there, a notice showing the sizes and types of shift crews working there and directions on how the person in control is limiting crew sizes and rotating shifts; 
  • Ensure handwashing station and restroom(s) are spaced 6 feet apart or more from each other;
  • Prohibit the use of community water coolers;
  • Provide individual water bottles or instruct workers to bring their own;
  • Designate a COVID-19 safety monitor who is always on-site; 
  • Ensure that each worker who enters a job site has signed in, and keep a list of and contact information for each worker that enters the job site every day, for the purpose of identifying and notifying workers if they have shared a job site with someone who has been confirmed to have COVID-19.

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