Top 10 (plus three) things to do this summer in Round Rock

Special thanks to Round Rock ISD extern Caitlin Osborne for contributing this blog post!

Whether the forecast calls for high temps or rainy days, we have you covered with the top ten (plus three!) things to do this summer in Round Rock.

  1. Walk along Brushy Creek’s shaded path in Memorial Park and follow the trail to view our famous rock.
  2. Join in on free, fun activities and reading challenges for all ages with Round Rock Public Library’s Summer Reading Program, or learn a new skill by attending a class or workshop.
  3. Listen to live music on Round Rock’s first downtown rooftop lounge at Urban.
  4. Watch nearly a half-million Mexican free-tailed bats take flight at dusk from the McNeil bridge along I-35. Free parking in the NAPA Auto Parts parking lot, 601 S. I-35.
  5. Bring the kids to the Play for All Park to experience the newest features, including all-new playground equipment, a zip line and a “speedway” for bikes and scooters.
  6. Encounter Shakespeare under the stars during the final week of Summer Theater in the Park.
  7. Splash around in one of Rock’N River Water Park’s newest attractions. Twilight admission is half off from 5 to 7 p.m.
  8. Take yourself out to the ballgame and watch Round Rock’s favorite home team, the Express. Don’t miss upcoming promotions such as Stranger Things Night, Friday Fireworks and Superhero Night.
  9. Experience Latin vibes with free salsa classes at Rockey’s Piano Bar, every Sunday at 7:30 p.m. through July 30.
  10. Adults age 50 and over can explore various locations within a three-hour radius by taking a day trip with the Allen R. Baca Center.
  11. Get your om on in Downtown Round Rock with a free, beginner-friendly yoga class presented by The Yoga Room. Dates are Aug. 11 and Sept. 8.
  12. While you’re on Main Street, cool off and splash around in the Prete Plaza Fountain.
  13. Compete in a co-ed kickball league. Learn more about leagues for all ages at roundrockrecreation.com.

Mayor: City’s history of economic development success continues with Kalahari 

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


What does the word “growth” bring to mind for you? If comments on the City of Round Rock’s social media pages and citizen surveys are any indication, your answer is probably traffic. 

You would be hard-pressed to find a city in our area that is not experiencing some level of growth. From July 2016 to July 2017, Austin-Round Rock was the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the state, adding 55,269 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  

If we choose to sit back and hope that inevitable expansion will not occur, we risk making the exact things we fear about growth a reality. Through wise planning, we can ensure our growth serves the public by improving quality of life, creating new jobs and maintaining our City’s financial health so we can afford to carry out our strategic plans. We also look for ways to mitigate the potential negative impacts, such as traffic, that new development can create. 

The question we find ourselves asking is this: How can we make growth less burdensome on residents? How do we ensure that development has the least amount of impact possible on our daily commutes and creates a true economic benefit to our residents? 

These questions came to mind as we considered the future of a 351-acre tract of land along U.S. 79 across from the Dell Diamond and Old Settlers Park – the future site of Kalahari Resorts and Convention Center, which breaks ground May 15. The developers plan to employ a minimum of 700 people and invest $550 million in the project, which includes a 975-room resort, 200,000-square-foot indoor/outdoor water park and a more than 150,000-square-foot convention center.

There were two possible development scenarios for this piece of land, with the first being single-family residential. If that entire tract of land was developed as housing, it could have resulted in the construction of up to 1,404 homes. That means 1,404 families with commutes between home and work in the morning and evening, adding to congestion on U.S. 79. 

Another option was to follow the pre-existing zoning of the land. This would allow for a 15-story hotel, 50,000 square feet of retail, 350,000 square feet of offices, a 47-acre business park development, 400 townhome units, 8 acres of retail development, in addition to light industrial development with buildings up to five stories tall. Although this was the better of the two scenarios, it still created additional traffic concerns around the 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. rush hours along U.S. 79. 

With these two options on the table, Kalahari’s interest in the land was a game changer. The traffic to this resort destination will not peak at a particular time of day, unlike mixed-use developments and residential neighborhoods that draw residents and employees to and from during rush hour. 

Additionally, we knew the project would bring significant convention and hotel space to our community and help diversify our economy, not to mention the potential of creating a new revenue stream to provide essential City services while demanding fewer of those services. 

In the first 10 years, the development is expected to bring a net revenue of $4.7 million to the City’s budget per year. To put into perspective just how meaningful that is, consider this: to raise $5 million in property taxes from residents would require a 10 percent increase in the tax rate, meaning we are essentially able to maintain and improve our services at a discount to homeowners. Kalahari’s $350 million investment in the project will create significant property tax revenue to the City, Williamson County and Round Rock ISD. This is the largest impact a single project has ever had on the City’s property tax base. Thanks to the efforts of State Rep. Larry Gonzales, we are able to utilize a state law to keep State tax revenues, including the hotel occupancy tax, sales tax and mixed beverage tax revenues, generated by the resort in the community to help pay for the project’s public debt and revenue sharing. 

The great part about these agreements is that all incentive payments are being funded by the revenue brought in by the development. 

By planning ahead, the City Council is following in the steps of our predecessors who worked to make Round Rock as successful as it is today. The City has used incentives in the past to attract other highly desirable companies to Round Rock and has a proven track record of providing performance-based incentives to businesses that expand employment opportunities and the tax base. After seeing a surge in commercial and industrial activity in the 80s and early-90s, our City’s forefathers successfully recruited the headquarters of a little company you may have heard of – Dell – from Austin to Round Rock in 1994. That increase in the City’s tax base resulted in a series of public works projects and additional public amenities. 

In 2006, City Council saw the need to diversify our sales tax base and made an economic development agreement with Round Rock Premium Outlets. IKEA opened in 2007, becoming the largest single retail store in Central Texas. Emerson Process Management relocated its international headquarters and technology center to Round Rock in 2012 and Bass Pro Shops opened a 104,0000-square-foot store just north of the Outlets. The Round Rock Chamber is instrumental in retaining and recruiting several other businesses that are helping our community thrive. 

It’s easy to see Dell’s direct economic impact in the form of jobs and contribution to the City’s financial well-being after all these years – it’s why we enjoy one of the lowest property tax rates in the state of Texas. It’s also easy to become overly dependent on its success, which is why we continue to look for new opportunities to grow our economy along with the inevitable population growth. Economic development wins are an important part of Round Rock’s success story, and we are excited to see how these projects continue to benefit our community. 

Mayor: Program marks 5 years of empowering neighborhoods

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


For a generation that has the entire world at our fingertips, we don’t always do a great job of connecting with those around us. Many of us can remember a time when our neighborhoods defined who we were — our friends, the schools we attended and our overall sense of safety and stability.

More recently, you’d be hard-pressed to find communities across the United States where residents even know their neighbors’ names.

At our 2012 City Council retreat, we found ourselves talking about some of the usual topics: water, transportation and economic development. But we constantly returned to the subject of our neighborhoods. As we continued to grow at an exponential rate, how could we ensure that we were not only maintaining — but also improving — Round Rock neighborhoods?

We committed to making neighborhood revitalization and protection a top priority in 2013 by hiring Community Development Administrator Joe Brehm. Known by many in our community as “the Neighborhood Guy,” Joe has implemented innovative ways to connect with neighborhood association leaders, church leaders and volunteer groups to help maintain property value, enhance curb appeal and maintain a sense of community in our neighborhoods.

Joe’s office, which also includes our Neighborhood Services Coordinator Katy Price, provides a one-stop shop for all residents to inquire about quality-of-life issues in their neighborhood while maintaining a 24-hour response rate to residents’ emails and calls. These two work daily to explain the “why” and “how” behind our decisions and work together to affect positive results for the community.

This simple mindset has established a foundation of reciprocity and openness with our residents in a time when government distrust is high. One neighborhood leader came to our most recent City Council meeting to thank our staff simply for being responsive and available to our residents, saying that “the ability to answer emails and phone calls has been lost in today’s society.”

Joe and Katy also coordinate essential program services like the neighborhood cleanup program, the Tool Lending Center, our curb painting kit, and, most recently, UniverCity — our citizen education and leadership program.

The Tool Lending Center is deployed to organized projects such as neighborhood cleanups, and was the first of its kind in Texas. Housed in a 22-foot by 8-foot trailer, the center includes shovels, wheelbarrows and minor home repair tools that residents can borrow at no cost. Home Depot donated $6,250 worth of tools toward the project.

Eight other cities — including four outside of Texas — have already reached out to us with interest to replicate the program. We are currently looking into ways that residents can check out the equipment outside of organized clean-ups in the future.

In April 2014, the Tool Lending Center made its first deployment at a downtown Round Rock neighborhood clean-up. Since then, the trailer and neighborhood clean-up program have become an integral part of city services by providing an additional means to help residents outside of weekly trash pick-up and routine home maintenance. The program has checked out 3,067 tools and engaged volunteers in our community 4,135 times since its inception.

Over time, we have found that some of our city population most in need did not have the means or the tools to upkeep their properties. Due to age, recent illness or surgery, some don’t have the resources that would empower them to take an active role in our community. This is where our local volunteers come into play.

The city combined forces with the Austin Bridge Builders Alliance to create Love the Rock in 2014. This fantastic nonprofit helped us coordinate a single day of service in Round Rock with 40 churches and 1,200 volunteers, 300 of whom focused solely on neighborhood cleanups. The program was a hit, and the 300 who participated with the cleanup reported the highest level of satisfaction in the work they performed in our community.

In 2016, all 1,200 volunteers participated in a neighborhood cleanup in 20 different neighborhoods. Together, they touched and improved more than 200 homes — many of which had active code enforcement tickets open at the time of the event. These amazing volunteers removed 555 tons of bulk trash and 98 tons of brush in just one day.

This program is doing more than just enhancing curb appeal and creating compliance with codes — it is strengthening the fabric of our neighborhoods. Since the creation of our Neighborhood Services program, six neighborhoods have voted to form their own associations.

This program does not include handouts from the city. Rather, it empowers residents and volunteers to connect and take active leadership in building up their own neighborhoods.

To our volunteers from the many churches and organizations across our area, I want to thank you for lifting us up and helping us to take direct action in addressing the concerns of our city. Your efforts truly make our community a more united and better place to live.

You would be hard-pressed to find another program that has such a huge return on the funding it receives. Some of the returns can be measured in tons or volunteer hours — others are in the smiles or the tears of those who regain their dignity and are empowered by this program.

We are building communities here in Round Rock, and I can’t wait to see how this program continues to grow and transform our city.

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Mayor: Round Rock’s strategic plan sets path for success

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


It’s no secret why Round Rock continues to gain national attention and accolades, with an increasing number of residents moving here to enjoy our beautiful parks, community events, recreational activities, economic opportunities, safe neighborhoods and local retail. Despite our fast growth, we’ve been able to maintain a family-friendly community that is distinctive by design.

As much as I and the rest of City Council would like to take credit for these great successes, many are the result of seeds that were planted in the past. As we harvest the fruits of our predecessor’s labors, we must continue the process that will set up Round Rock’s future generations and leadership for even more success.

In February, City Council held our annual two-day retreat, which allows us time to update and reprioritize our Strategic Plan, the foundation for all long-term City initiatives. We gathered at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex, a 60-acre, $27-million facility that was added to Old Settlers Park just this past year. Looking out at the well-kept fields and facilities, I couldn’t help but think about the seeds that were planted almost 15 years ago to make this project, and others like it, a reality in our community.

In 2004, the City of Round Rock launched the Sports Capital of Texas tourism program that has since led us to host an array of youth, amateur and recreational sporting events and build tournament-class facilities. Not only did the Council at the time understand the economic potential of this endeavor, but following Councils carried the torch to ensure its ongoing success. Just this past January, we recognized former Mayor Alan McGraw’s political courage and vision by dedicating the Round Rock Sports Center Complex in his honor.

Even today, our designation as the Sports Capital of Texas remains one of our top strategic goals. Our long-term goals haven’t changed much over the past few years, but we do revisit and reprioritize them as needed to meet the changing demands we face. Our strategic goals for the next five years remain the same from last year: Financially Sound City Providing High Value Services; City Infrastructure: Today and for Tomorrow; Great Community to Live; “The Sports Capital of Texas” for Tourism and Residents; Authentic Downtown – Exciting Community Destination; and Sustainable Neighborhoods – Old and New.

Maintaining the financial soundness of our City as well as providing infrastructure that serves the needs of our community now and in coming years remained the highest priorities. We’ve heard our residents loud and clear that we have room for improvement in the City’s road

network. In our most recent citizen survey, 77 percent of residents felt traffic flow in the City was worse compared to two years before. Although we have very little control over improvements to state roads and highways, we can do everything in our power to ensure that residents experience a safe and efficient network of City streets and have transportation options beyond personal vehicles.

Priorities that increased in importance this year were those that strive to make our city a “Great Community to Live” and maintaining an “Authentic Downtown.” We have seen so much change and success in Downtown Round Rock and want to see sustainable, responsible growth in the heart of our community.

Some might say we’re lucky to be the sort of community we are today. I would argue we’ve made our own luck over many years of long-term planning and vision casting, and must continue to do so in the coming years and decades to maintain and grow our hard-earned reputation for success.

Round Rock recognizes local third-grader for incredible service to community

You don’t have to be old to stand tall for your community! Gracie Garbade, a student at Patsy Sommer Elementary, does just that and she’s only a little more than half way through third grade.

In fact, Gracie started helping others and serving the community when she was just 5 years old. She wanted to help feed the homeless, especially homeless children.

After talking with her family, they came up with the idea of a food drive.

“I was driving with my mom and I saw homeless people and I felt bad for them,” Gracie said. “The plan was we would set up multiple different booths in our neighborhood, and we would ask family and friends, and make lots of posters.”

Her first year, she collected 100 pounds of food by setting up simple donation stands in her neighborhood and asking those she knew for help. Fast-forward to 2017 and her efforts multiplied, touching the lives of many more as she was able to collect over 1,100 pounds of food by leading the charge to create a school-wide donation drive.

She talked to classrooms and even spoke on the school announcements to get the word out.

“My goal is for everyone in the world to have enough food to eat,” she said.

According to others, Gracie has a heart of gold and is always helping others, one year even going so far as writing a letter to Santa asking him to bring gifts for all the kids in need.

Seeing this story and understanding the incredible importance of people helping people, City Council, at its Feb. 22, 2018 meeting, took time to consider a special presentation in recognition of Gracie’s service to Round Rock. Mayor Craig Morgan also had a special one-on-one meeting with the young leader and her mother.

Thank you, Gracie. Our community, state, nation, and world need more people like you.

Mayor Morgan on the City Council dais with Gracie and her brother.

 

Mayor: UniverCity program gives inside look of city

Mayor Craig Morgan pens a monthly column for the Round Rock Leader. This is a repost of his most recent feature.


Local government touches our lives every day, often in ways that we take for granted.

First responders and building inspectors keep us and our families safe. Engineers design essential infrastructure, including the roads we travel and the pipes that bring water to our homes.

Planners help envision and shape city growth while maintaining the uniqueness of Round Rock. Parks and Recreation provides ways for us to connect with each other and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Employees across several departments maintain our existing infrastructure to keep our investments in working condition. Our city managers work with stakeholders from across our City to make the goals we set on City Council a reality. In addition to these necessary services, the City of Round Rock persistently works to meet changing citizen demands, advances in technology, and new federal and state mandates.

Our residents have a unique opportunity to learn more about how their local government works in UniverCity, the City of Round Rock’s citizen education class. Initially implemented by Community Engagement Administrator Joseph Brehm, UniverCity allows participants to experience firsthand the work it takes to run a city department. City staff hosts presentations to discuss operations, budget and challenges, and leads the class on tours of City of Round Rock facilities such as the Police Department, fire stations, park facilities and our sign shop. City Council members also attend portions of the class for question-and-answer sessions with participants.

Our first class graduated in December and was comprised of several community leaders from diverse backgrounds and interests. UniverCity received excellent feedback, and graduates said they felt much more knowledgeable about City services. Due to the popularity of the program, staff plans to conduct the classes twice per year, with one in the spring and one in the fall. At this time, applications are based on referrals from community leaders and those who have been through the program.

Most importantly, UniverCity provides useful experience for anyone who has considered serving on a City of Round Rock commission or taking another leadership role in our community. In an era of low voter turnout, we are constantly looking at ways to better engage citizens so that our City can continue to count on having informed and engaged leaders to continue Round Rock’s successes in the future.

Even after serving on City Council for almost seven years, I can tell you that there is always something new to learn about the way our City government functions and plans for the future. It is my hope that our graduates leave feeling as inspired as I do every day by all that our public servants do to make our community a great place to live.

To inquire about the nomination process for upcoming classes or other questions about UniverCity, please email Neighborhood Services Coordinator Katy Price at kprice@roundrocktexas.gov.

 

Round Rock set to host one of the largest cake shows in the nation

That Takes the Cake Sugar Art Show & Cake Competition is one of the largest cake shows in the U.S., and much to our sugary satisfaction, it’s back in Round Rock again in 2018.

The show is set to take place at the Round Rock Sports Center Feb. 23-25. It will feature competitions with more than 300 works of sugar art, informal demonstrations, full in-person classes taught by sugar artists from around the country, speciality vendors and more.

More information on the event can be found online at: https://www.thattakesthecake.org


 

City leaders attend summit to talk growth, economic development opportunity in Round Rock

  • December 15, 2017

  • By Austin Ellington

  • Posted In: The Quarry

Game-changer! Touchdown! Big win!

Sure, these phrases are synonymous with football, but here in Round Rock, they’re also heard on a pretty regular basis when folks get to talking about our economic development strategy. And at Austin Business Journal’s recent Williamson County Growth Summit, that’s just the topic that had attendees buzzing.

Mayor Craig Morgan, along with Round Rock’s City Manager Laurie Hadley and Councilmembers Writ Baese, Frank Leffingwell and Rene Flores, joined other leaders from across the region in attending a sold-out event focused on the incredible economic growth opportunities being seen across Round Rock and Williamson County as a whole.

Two of the seven panelists were connected to dynamic, new projects recently unveiled as huge economic development successes for the Round Rock community:

Kalahari Resorts & Convention Center
Bill Otto, Executive Vice President at Kalahari Resorts & Conventions

 

Kalahari Resorts has chosen Round Rock as the location of its fourth family resort and convention center. Its proximity to Old Settlers Park and Dell Diamond – two well-established venues that together draw more than a million visitors annually – bodes well for a successful, tourism-oriented development. This is essentially a new industry for Round Rock that will provide substantial property tax revenues and diversify available employment opportunities.

A family-owned business, Kalahari Resorts delivers a “world-away” waterpark resort and conference experience beyond expectations. The authentically African-themed Kalahari Resorts feature well-appointed guest rooms, full-service amenities, fully equipped fitness centers, on-site restaurants, unique retail shops and state-of-the-art conference centers.

The District
Paul Marshall Cate, CEO and President of Mark IV Capital

 

Mark IV oversaw development of Round Rock’s first Class-A office building, The Summit at La Frontera, in 2015, and now has plans to further expand its footprint in Round Rock with a $200 million, 1 million-square-foot mixed-use development. The District is planned for 65 acres east of the Round Rock Crossing shopping center at Texas 45 and North Greenlawn Boulevard.

With projects like these queued up for Round Rock, that not only diversify our tax base (and keep residential property tax rate among the lowest in the state) but also positively impact the quality of life for residents, we’re feeling pretty darn good about the future.

Interested in learning more about the strategy behind some of these projects? Check out the Chamber of Commerce website – the City partners with this organization to find, recruit and help make economic development touchdowns a reality for Round Rock: https://roundrockchamber.org/economic-development/

Round Rock Police, community volunteers help those in need decorate homes for the holidays

  • December 15, 2017

  • By Austin Ellington

  • Posted In: The Quarry

The holiday season is all about giving, and here in Round Rock, we take that sentiment to heart!

This week, community volunteers joined forces with the Round Rock Police Department, Meals on Wheels, and Home Depot to help decorate the homes of local residents. All together, more than 1,800 lights were installed.

During the event, one resident noted that she had never had Christmas lights before. Her son had promised to hang some for her, but unfortunately never had the opportunity before he passed away in 2010. The resident was incredibly grateful to have so many people come to her home and decorate it for the very first time.

“It was amazing to see Round Rock come together to brighten the holidays for these folks. This is what community is all about,” said Joe Brehm, Community Development Administrator for the City of Round Rock.

Considered such a success in its first year, plans are already being made to expand and improve it for next year. Thank you to Home Depot, Meals on Wheels and the Round Rock Police Department for making it possible for us to help bring a little ho-ho-hometown holiday spirit to the lives of a few local residents!

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Round Rock first responders honored by “Good Morning America,” country superstar Dierks Bentley

Hometown heroes. They are the men and women who risk their lives day-in and day-out to keep our local communities safe. And when disaster strikes hundreds of miles away? They again stand tall in the face of adversity, proud to serve their neighbors in need.

As Hurricane Harvey pummeled the Texas coast, Round Rock first responders quickly came together to answer calls for assistance. They said goodbye to their own families and worked to help save the lives of others, reconnect loved ones and began the long road of working to rebuild communities devastated by the storm. They, like they do all so often, put the lives of others before their own, without hesitation.

Often lost in the shuffle of the next big story, the effort of these men and women is many times overlooked. But not today.

This morning, country superstar Dierks Bentley and the folks from “Good Morning America” invited local first responders, including those from Round Rock who were part of the Hurricane Harvey response team, to a surprise block party where they received a very special “thank you.”

So how did our local first responders help during Harvey rescue and relief? Here’s a quick rundown:

Round Rock Police Department

  • We had three police officers respond personally in the first day or two using their own or friend’s boats
  • Our police department and Police Officers Association collected $4,600 in cash and filled up a trailer full of baby wipes, beef jerky, bug spray, hand sanitizer, Gatorade, and numerous other non-perishables to provide to first responders in Sugar Land as well as their families during this difficult time
  • At the request of the State Operations Center, we sent five officers to assist the Houston Police Department for seven days, pulling 14-16 hour shifts, to cover neighborhood checkpoints and conduct criminal apprehension patrols
  • We also sent five officers to Vidor, to assist with crime suppression and apprehension. These officers worked 14 days straight, pulling 14-16 hour shifts

Round Rock Fire Department

  • An Engine Company of five firefighters deployed to Bacliff to fight fires and perform low water rescues
  • A boat team with five firefighters deployed to Montgomery County, and performed many water rescues
  • A second boat team with five firefighters deployed to the Port Arthur area, and performed many water rescues
  • A tanker crew with two firefighters responded to Beaumont to assist with firefighting capabilities
  • Two elite personnel who serve on Texas Task Force One deployed to Rockport and later to Rosenberg, conducting search and rescue operations
  • Four command staff served 12-hour shifts at the State Operations Center in Austin to fill emergency management positions
  • Two logistics staff assisted at a state warehouse in San Antonio to assist statewide operations
  • One firefighter was part of the Texas Task Force One crew that was among the first search and rescue teams to deploy to Puerto Rico

To say we are extremely proud of our public safety team would be an absolute understatement.

To each and every member of those teams: You are truly deserving of the word hero. Thank you for keeping our hometown safe and thank you for making Texas, the United States, and our world a better place to call home.