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City Council approves $15 million

Friday, June 30, 2000 by

Investment for Convention Center Hotel

Fate of historic home still unresolved

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday to fund the city’s Convention Center Hotel to the tune of $15 million, citing the need for the hotel and the fact that it will be a good investment for the city. After two members of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas asked the Council to save the home of Alamo survivor Susanna Dickinson, the project’s architect, Juan Cotera of Cotera Kolar Negrete & Reed said, “We’re looking at the whole range of what can be done…It needs some imagination.” The site of the hotel, 501 E. 5th Street, is the current home of the Pit Barbeque, which is built around the Dickinson House. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who made the motion, said, “The opportunity at this time…make it a fairly nominal investment for the payback we can get…Can we track with the architectural firm the historic element that we’re going to incorporate, just so that everybody knows we’re going to keep an eye on it.” On Monday, an archaeologist for the developers told the Historic Landmark Commission the hotel project has “so far proceeded under the assumption that the structure would be destroyed.” (See In Fact Daily, June 27, 2000) Council Member Raul Alvarez said, “I do hope we can address the historical issue in a meaningful way.” However, for Alvarez, the main point of investing in the venture was bringing blue collar jobs downtown. He said, “I do see this as more of an investment, not so much a subsidy, because we’ll get our money back with interest—a lot of interest if all goes well…We’ve been providing a lot of incentives for high tech jobs downtown…This will create some more blue collar jobs in our community.” Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “Another thing we’re going to be able to do with this, and especially once the hotel comes into the city’s hands (in 2030), and I doubt that any of us will still be on the council at that point” At that time, Council Member Will Wynn seemed to object, and Mayor Kirk Watson said, “I think Council Member Wynn just announced for re-election.” Slusher said, “For 10 times…One thing we get is more money for the General Fund and the basic needs of the city. Just a few years ago, the city was in crisis and the city was having trouble just meeting the basic services, and this will be of benefit long after we’re gone to the General Fund.” .

Council gives ROMA Design thumbs up

For Town Lake Corridor recommendations

Land Development Code must change next

By Nancy Love

The Austin City Council on Thursday reacted favorably to ROMA Design Group' s development standards for Austin's Town Lake Corridor. The recommendations for the base and redevelopment zones of the South Shore Central/Travis Heights area are intended to guide the city in the creation of binding standards to be place within the Land Development Code. (See In Fact Daily June 29, 2000) Council Member Beverly Griffith, who recommended ROMA for this project, remarked, "This is a design group in which I have enormous confidence. One of the big challenges of doing the South Shore project is going to be in getting so many different kinds of people to see things the same way and to reach agreement. My experience with the ROMA Design Group has been that they not only design lovely streets and buildings but t hey are also very, very good on the 'human' side." Jim Adams of ROMA told the Council that the development standards are designed to encourage redevelopment, but within a carefully controlled regulatory framework. One aspect of corridor growth addressed by the development standards is public and vehicular access to the proposed Gotham condominium project. There is concern about the potential for traffic hazards and congestion if the Gotham project's primary access route is only 60 feet from South Congress. Adams said, "One of the criteria for intensifying this block is that we consolidate access along the Hyatt Regency driveway so that any development that occurs there would get its access from [the Hyatt] roadway rather than having curb cuts and driveways closer to that intersection" Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman responded that this would be one area in which incentives might be beneficial in encouraging cooperation among the parties involved. ROMA's standards also suggest that the Austin American-Statesman's plan to construct an underground parking facility adjacent to Town Lake would not be technically feasible. Adams said that the development standards include incentives to encourage the Statesman to reconsider that plan. The proposed alternative would be the creation of a shared parking facility to be constructed south of the original location, which could be utilized by both the Statesman and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Goodman later told In Fact Daily, "Some people are concerned about all of the industrial-zoned property around the lakefront, and I know I certainly am. I would rather [see that] land oriented toward a more waterfront use…The incentives offer a way– when redevelopment opportunities occur– to actually come in with a 'win-win' situation." Adams told the Council that the property owners in the area have been very receptive to most of the ideas in the development plan. He reported that representatives of Byron Properties, the company managing the TxDOT building, told him that it is going to be extremely important that the city moves assertively to facilitate, streamline, and expedite the redevelopment process. Council member Will Wynn commented, "I like the whole concept of incentive zoning and bonuses for doing some things which help the overall vision and plan for a better area, particularly for 'fixing' some 80's-era design concepts." Griffith said that now the Planning Commission will become involved, zoning issues will be considered and the Waterfront Overlay Zone will need to be revisited..

Light rail debate begins:

Gerald Daugherty v. Ross Garber

Commercial realtors hear lively debate

By Charles Ponzio

A group of commercial realtors got an earful this week, as rail advocate Ross Garber, and longtime Capital Metro foe Gerald Daugherty debated the question of whether light rail should be part of Austin’s short-term future. Moderator Norman Gelfand playfully warned his audience of commercial realtors that the light rail debate between Daugherty, representing Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars (ROAD), and Garber, representing Get Around Austin, might require a first aid kit, as he placed one on the table. Each man argued strongly for his position but refrained from personally attacking the other– until the luncheon was over– when a heated exchange between the two took place. In what could be a precursor to how the light rail debate might heat up as the November bond election draws near, Daugherty took issue with Garber having earlier implied that Daugherty is a "conspiracy nut." Garber on the other hand, didn't take kindly to Daugherty attacking him for his wealth (Garber co-founded Vignette and retired last year). Nor did Garber appreciate Daugherty saying that the only reason he was advocating for light rail was because he had been told to do so by Lee Walker, who is the chair of Capital Metro's board. After airing out their differences, both men shook hands and agreed not to let future debates get personal. During Daugherty's presentation, he questioned the need for light rail, saying it would only serve five percent of the Austin population. He expressed concern that the long, invasive construction of the system would ruin many local businesses. Associates held up three enlarged photos of the Dallas Light Rail system (DART) when it was under construction to illustrate his point. Daugherty said that, contrary to popular belief, DART serves only a small percentage of the Dallas population and has only removed 8,000 cars a day from its freeways. Attacking Capital Metro—his favorite pastime—Daugherty also questioned the logic of light rail gobbling up two lanes of traffic from Guadalupe, North Lamar and South Congress. Daugherty also maintained that there is no correlation between increased economic development and light rail, and that a city like Austin, had no areas in need of increased economic development. Daugherty told the 60 members in attendance that, "ROAD supports an outer loop around the city and a centrally located East-West freeway. Let's spend the next 10 years developing a road system that Austinites can adequately get around in, then I'll look at light rail. And if we end up going to rail, then let's go with hard rail, either elevated or below the surface, but we shouldn't have it articulating with traffic." Garber's slide presentation opened with some sobering statistics. Between 1990-1998, there was a 54 percent increase in registered vehicle owners in Travis County. Registered vehicles increased from 650,000 to one million and within the next decade, they will surpass two million. In addition, traffic in the Arboretum area has nearly doubled (83 percent) in the past five years, while increasing by 50 percent along I-35 and U.S. 183. Warning that the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to designate Austin as a non-attainment city for failure to improve air quality, Garber said light rail is the only answer to cleaning up our air. Garber maintained that light rail by itself is only part of a "multi-modal" system of transportation being promoted by Mayor Kirk Watson. Most of what Watson is proposing– the construction of SH-130 and SH-45, upgrading U.S. 290, Mopac, and U.S. 183, and installing a demand management system–ROAD also supports. The difference, Garber pointed out, was that with Get Around Austin's plan, "results begin to impact the traffic situation within two years. Furthermore, it will cost billions to build an outer loop, and every mile of new construction will take out 150 houses as opposed to only one home for light rail. ROAD's comprehensive road system can't be completed in a decade." Garber said that the route goals of light rail would be focused on downtown and east Austin. "Light rail will be the spine funneling people in and out of those areas. Capital Metro's Park and Ride bus system will serve as the branches to service the outer areas." One of biggest advantages to the multi-modal system, he said, is that it would be fully paid for without new taxes. He added that that because Capital Metro's ridership currently consists of 47percent Anglos, 22 percent Hispanics, 9 percent African-Americans, and eight percent Asians, the light rail ridership would be racially balanced. In response to Daugherty's charge that light rail will only serve five percent of Austin's population, Garber suggested that light rail was part of a solution that would deal with city's future needs. "Downtown will create over 100,000 new jobs within the decade. With light rail we create an alternative to 100,000 more vehicles being driven in and out of downtown." He added, "If we are going to erase the digital divide that currently exists for everything east of I- 35, then light rail is the vehicle to get that done." Garber finished by saying that there are now no more new employees to be found west of I-35, with its 1.5 percent unemployment rate. Meanwhile, East Austin's 15 to 20 percent unemployment is the key to adding people to the workforce, he said..

Water study news…The Lower Colorado River Authority is in discussions with two companies— Bio/West of Utah, and SAIC of California–to provide an Environmental Impact Statement for its water line down U.S. 290 to Hays County. LCRA officials expect the contract to be finalized within the next two weeks… Serving the city… The City Council made a raft of appointments Thursday, since most appointments expire on June 30. Among those being re-appointed were Tim Jones and Lee Leffingwell to the Evironmental Board and Shudde Fath, Neal Kocurek, and Barry Sarma to the Electric Utility Commission. Council Member Danny Thomas appointed Dr. Sterling Lands to the Planning Commission. Council Member Beverly Griffith appointed Paul Saldana, former executive assistant to Gus Garcia, to the Ethics Commission and Thomas appointed Mark McCray… Transmission upgrade approved… Council voted 5-2 Thursday to award a contract to Great Southwestern Construction Company, Inc, of Castle Rock, Colorado for the CKT 3120 reconductor project. Dissenting on the vote were Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas. The transmission upgrade is intended to avoid the potential for overload conditions, using 2001 summer peak scenarios. GSCC's bid was $548,530 lower than the next lowest bid. The city has a contractual obligation to complete Phase 1 of the project by December..

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