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Technology continues to find fertile ground northeast of Austin

John Bleasby
Technology continues to find fertile ground northeast of Austin
PROLOGIS — Skybox Datacenters and Prologis plan to build PowerCenter Austin, a massive 600-megawatt campus offering up to four million square feet of data center space.

No area in Texas has received more commercial and industrial development attention than the cities of Pflugerville, Hutto and Taylor, all situated northeast of Austin. 

Amazon and Samsung have each committed billions of dollars to the construction of factories and facilities along State Highway 130 and U.S. Route 79 towards Taylor. Tesla’s Gigafactory Texas lies just to the south, immediately east of Austin. Those headline investments have attracted to the region suppliers to these corporate giants.

More enormous new technology developments are in the planning stages.

Skybox Datacenters LLC, a developer of turnkey custom data centers across the United States, and real estate investment firm Prologis Inc., are teaming up to build the 159-acre PowerCampus Austin data center. It will be located on a huge undeveloped tract called the “megasite,” alongside U.S. Route 79 which runs east through Hutto. Data centers are facilities that house computing infrastructure, computer systems, storage systems and associated components organizations use to assemble, process, store and disseminate large amounts of data. In simple terms, one could think of them as “the cloud.”

The companies recently broke ground on a $550 million data center called SkyBox Austin 1, located on a 20-acre property in Pflugerville. However, PowerCampus Austin is much more ambitious.

The new proposal, approved by Hutto City Council on July 20, could result in a data center totalling 3.9 million square feet across six buildings, making it one of the largest developments of its type in the country.

With its adjacency to a 345 kV transmission corridor, and offering two private 300 megawatt (MW) dedicated substations, JC Witt, VP investments at Prologis, said the project’s super-sized power infrastructure will make the PowerCampus Austin “one of the most scalable data center campuses in the United States.”

Hutto City Council also unanimously approved a tax abatement incentive for the Skybox PowerCenter Austin. Under Texas Tax Code Chapter 312, the replacement for the recently-expired Chapter 313 incentive program, the project will receive an exemption of 50 per cent of the taxable value of tangible personal property at the development for 10 years.

“Skybox and Prologis continue to work closely with the City of Hutto to create a world class data center campus in the heart of Central Texas,” Rob Morris, CEO of Dallas-based Skybox, told local media in a statement. “This new 312 program with the city will further enable our project to be attractive to the very best customers globally.”

“This one is the one that single-handedly almost doubles our revenues as a city when it’s built out, even after the 50 per cent abatement,” said Mayor Mike Snyder.

Agreeing with the mayor, Councilman Randal Clark added, “The math on this one is extremely clear. It’s beneficial for the city and this is definitely the right move.”

Hutto foresees more development coming to the megasite. Last month, it approved $18 million for the construction of an east-west road spanning the property that should be completed in 2024. In addition, funding has been approved for the construction of more wastewater and water line and detention ponds.

Some of that new development is on its way. A two-million-square-foot speculative high-tech industrial space called Hutto Mega TechCenter should begin construction by year-end, according to Titan Development Ltd., with the first building delivered by the third quarter of 2024.

A little further east of Taylor, Dallas-based developer Xebec Holdings LLC has released plans to redevelop a 31,000-acre former Alcoa aluminum plant in Rockdale, transforming it into as much as 50 million square feet of industrial space. The company is calling it the Advanced Manufacturing and Logistics Campus and hopes the opening phases will be operational by 2025.

“Location and resources” was the way Randy Kendrick, CEO of Xebec, summarized the region’s attraction.  

“The property has access to all of the resources to qualify as a Mega Site,” he told local media. “Class I rail, surface water, groundwater, natural gas, industrial grade connections for electricity, fiber optic cable access and highways.”

Infrastructure built in advance of large-scale development is not always the norm. Often it comes after the fact.

However, when construction began on State Highway 130 near Hutto back in 2003, it was hoped it would not only relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 35 north of Austin but would also attract investment and construction of various types to the areas north and east of the city. Those hopes have been realized today, perhaps in size and scope never imagined at the time.

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