Mueller redevelopment project is Austin success story

Redevelopment of the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport in East Austin is shaping up as one of this city's great success stories.

After Austin-Bergstrom International Airport opened in May 1999, the city pulled together local residents and project manager Catellus to create a new urban neighborhood. Mueller is still a project in the making, though the Dell Children's Medical Center is complete and a retail core is open for business. You can tell because there already is a Starbucks on site.

The heart of Mueller, however, will be the homes and the open spaces among them. Eventually, there will be 10,000 residents and 10,000 jobs, the city says.

Groundbreaking was last week on the residential section's first phase, which will have 348 single-family homes.

When complete, this urban village should be a showcase, much like Denver's Stapleton Airport redevelopment project. Stapleton is the nation's largest infill project, a new urbanist dream on 4,700 acres at the site of Denver's old airport.

Like Mueller, Stapleton was the result of local residents and the city working together to create a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, mass transit-oriented neighborhood. The award-winning Stapleton redevelopment includes hundreds of acres of parks and green space.

Stapleton is so large that it will take three decades to completely build out. Mueller, at a much smaller 711 acres, will be finished before Stapleton, which closed as an airport in 1995.

Already half a dozen of Mueller's streets are open to the public. The first homes should be occupied by the end of this year. Construction on a second residential phase, with 360 homes, will begin next year. Public interest in the Mueller homes has been so high that the developer had to hold a lottery for those wanting to buy homes in the first phase.

Given Austin's penchant for process and the often contrarian nature of its many interest groups, there was some doubt that Mueller would ever evolve as a mixed-use neighborhood. But the city and residents got behind the project, got it right and are making it work.

Now that the first spade of dirt has been turned for the homes that will soon occupy a landscape that once held airport runways, there's no going back. Mueller should be a success story Austin can point to with pride.