There is a large research facility in northwest Austin that is part of the University of Texas System called the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, and the site is nine miles north of the main U.T. campus just north of the Domain. This facility is on the cutting edge of new technology but not very well-known to most residents of Austin. The site of the PRC was originally a magnesium plant during World War II and was owned by the U.S. government until two U.T. professors sought to lease and eventually buy the site for the University. An agreement was reached in 1946 and research projects began at that time.
Later, in 1949, the University purchased the site with the help of then-Congressman Lyndon Johnson from the federal government and in 1953 it was named the Balcones Research Center, named for the Balcones
Escarpment which runs through northwest Austin. The original site was 402 acres and the western boundary was U.S. 183, with other borders being Burnet Road and Braker Lane to the east and north, respectively. The southern edge of the facility was bordered by the land that was later developed and named the Domain, and is now a huge shopping and entertainment complex.
The MoPac railroad tracks and Loop 1 run directly through the campus, and U.T. shuttle buses transport students and faculty to and from the center and the main campus, but for the most part, the center is not open to the public. In 1971, the University received full title to the facility and in 1974, expanded the site to its current size of 475 acres, after purchasing more land. The facility continued its research into the areas of defense, nuclear physics and space flight, all areas to which the facility has brought important contributions by its research and development.
In 1994, the center was renamed the J.J. Pickle Research Center after then Congressman J.J. “Jake” Pickle, who died in 2005, and the facility continued to flourish. The Campus has over 100 buildings today, but no dormitories and very few classrooms; it is primarily a closed research campus due to the sensitivity of some of the areas being researched.
In 2003, the U.T. System Board of Regents made an agreement with the Simon Property Group for around $ 130 million to lease unused portions of the campus for retail development, and construction on the Domain began at that time, and an Arbor Walk was begun in 2005, with retail stores opening in the fall of 2006. Much of the campus is still undeveloped, and the site is very scenic with its proliferation of wildflowers, especially bluebonnets, which dot the fields and meadows surrounding the facility.
The campus has also been utilized for industrial research, and Texas Nuclear, the Radian Corporation, and Tracor have all been instrumental in expanding the private sector’s use of the campus in the areas of nuclear physics, chemistry, paleontology, zoology, botany, and atmospheric science, among other disciplines. The center has been home to over seventy different laboratories over the years, and encourages chemists, physicists, and engineers to conduct interdisciplinary research as well as having been a training site for these disciplines, among others.
In addition to the above mentioned facilities, the campus is home to the Commons Conference Center, which is a full service conference facility managed by the PRC. The Commons Cafe is the centerpiece, with gourmet meals prepared and served in dining rooms and private conference rooms, to the delight of visiting academics and faculty members alike. Many governmental agencies use the facilities along with educational agencies and conferences, with first rate facilities and technology in very discreet and private, yet elegant, surroundings.
The Pickle Research Campus is just one more outstanding facility in Austin’s educational and business environment, so if you ever have the opportunity to visit the campus or the Commons Center, it is definitely worth your time, and you just might enjoy fine cuisine while appreciating all that the campus has to offer!
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