Tuesday, August 29, 2000 by

AMLI Residential and Bonner Carrington faced another obstacle last night in their quest to put a seven-story residential/retail midrise on the revitalized Second Street corridor in downtown Austin. The Historic Landmark Commission voted 5-2, with Commission Chair Lauretta Dowd absent, to delay AMLI’s request to demolish the Tips Warehouse, which currently sits on the site in the 200 Block of West Second Street.

Along with the city's lease of the Poleyard property to Post Properties, the AMLI-Bonner Carrington project has been promoted as a significant catalyst for the return of residential living to Austin's core. AMLI-Bonner Carrington has proposed six stories of apartments with street-level retail space, all on top of a two-level underground garage. The project would be across the street from the new City Hall.

Both the Design Commission and the Downtown Commission have given AMLI-Bonner Carrington the green light for the project, but convincing the Historic Landmark Commission may prove somewhat harder. Commissioners Teresa O'Connell and Julia Bunton expressed serious reservations about the demolition, which had been scheduled to begin today.

This is not the first delay for the project. Austin City Council asked the partnership to scrap original plans for a block of downtown that would eventually go to the massive Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) development. AMLI drew up other plans and waited while CSC negotiations moved forward. Stuart Shaw of Bonner Carrington estimated that the developers have spent almost $750,000 without ever breaking ground on the projects they have proposed.

At last night's meeting O'Connell was especially concerned about the existing Tips Warehouse, saying it was a building that still carried structural, and possibly historic, integrity. That has not been the case with other buildings the commission approved for demolition, O'Connell told the developers. She questioned the developers closely about the possible reuse of the existing building. In the end, their answers failed to satisfy her.

"I've seen some adaptive reuse of this type of building in other Texas cities," said O'Connell, who referred to a warehouse project on Broadway Street in San Antonio. "I know that it can be done. I'm also very hesitant to let go of this building and not acknowledge it as the last best example of its kind (of architecture) remaining in Austin." The warehouse was built in 1927.

In the city's historical survey of buildings, the Tips Warehouse was ranked as a top priority for preservation. But Shaw argued to the commission that the warehouse was "functionally obsolete." The 10-foot ceilings in the building are too low to add ductwork for ventilation, Shaw said. Removing a floor might compromise the structural soundness of the current columns. And expensive ADA ramp accommodations would be necessary to bridge the gap between the sidewalk level and the building's interior.

"I just want to emphatically state we could not make the numbers work," said Shaw, who later added, "We love that building. I know a lot of people who had offices there. We want to celebrate that building and the people who were in it, but we just can't make it work."

Bunton, whose father worked for Tips for 24 years, said she would prefer that the commission take a proactive stance, rather than reactive, when it comes to saving significant historic buildings. She pointed to Congress Avenue as an opportunity lost, saying historic buildings along the corridor, as well as in certain other Austin neighborhoods, are "slowly being picked away."

While Commissioner Jim Fowler stated he could find no objection to the building's demolition, Bunton told her colleagues she would not support demolition. Bunton said she could not believe that even the smallest aspect of the building might not be saved, even if it was a retaining wall that could be included in the new structure.

In the end, the commission had more questions than answers and asked both city staff and the developers to bring back additional documentation. That additional documentation is expected to outline the structural soundness of the building and how AMLI-Bonner Carrington came to the conclusion the building had no viable future use. The commission also asked to see sketches of the proposed building.

"We're not trying to ram this down any commissioner's throat," Shaw told the commission. "We'd like for you to have the time to review it. We'd rather you have the information, rather you see what the building's going to look like."

Greg Peters, CEO and President of Vignette, told members of the Save Barton Creek Association Monday night “We’ve already set aside a million dollars to help relieve any problems associated with (the company) moving downtown.” Vignette has options on four pieces of property, all close to the Austin Convention Center. Peters said currently the company has employees scattered amongst six Austin buildings.

He said the company wants to consolidate facilities and provide for growth. He said that the soonest Vignette could move downtown is about two and a half years from now. “One of the things that’s near and dear to my heart is music.” The downtown music scene is one reason Peters is set on making the move. If downtown is not the music center that it now is when Vignette finally gets there, he said, “we’ve made a huge mistake. So we’re very interested in helping promote music downtown. If CSC, Intel and GSD&M will do similar things, I think that will make (Vignette’s contribution) meaningful. We can’t do it alone. We need help.”

One of the properties that Vignette has optioned is directly adjacent to a senior citizen center run by the Austin Housing Authority. Peters said the company is not trying to take housing away from the residents. However, he said, “For obvious reasons, if anything else does happen there, I want to be there—not someone else.”

Robin Rather, who introduced herself as a “freelance environmentalist,” said she and Save Our Springs Alliance cohort Bill Bunch had to beg companies like Computer Sciences Corp. and Intel not to locate over the Edwards aquifer. But with Peters, she said, “Greg came to that conclusion on his own.” Rather has been helping Vignette find a suitable location for a workforce that may swell to 2,000 by the time the new company headquarters is built.

Rather tells environmentalists major

Employer is "huge bargaining chip"

Environmentalist Robin Rather warned members of the Save Barton Creek Association last night that the city should not be negotiating with Gary Bradley “on a rolling basis.” Rather said that the city could call further negotiation “the first assessment period” of a series of assessments. She said she was not advising for or against negotiating with Bradley. “I don’t like him. I think he’s done more harm to the aquifer than any other living human. But I think the critical question tonight is—is this a safe time to be talking to Bradley, so soon after the deal’s been cut.”

Bradley has offered to purchase either the Bradfield tract, at the intersection of MoPac and Loop 360 or give other conservation land to the city in return for a waiver of the prohibition against placing a major employer on his land in far south Travis County. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 15, Aug 16, 2000) (For a map, click on circlecmap.jpg )

Rather said she felt that it was important not to have a major employer over the aquifer. “What was important to me was the magnet effect,” of companies such as Dell Computer and Vignette, which attract other similar companies to nearby locations. She characterized the major employer prohibition as “a huge bargaining chip.”

Casey Dobson of Scott Douglass & McConnico, outside counsel to the city in dealing with Bradley, said that Rather and other environmentalists pushed to get the major employer prohibition into the contract. He said Bradley fought that idea “tooth and nail. I am not at all surprised that Bradley is back.” He said he thought the city should be doing “internal quality control” to make sure that Bradley is living up to the current contract. However, he said, “amending the agreement is not rewriting the Old Testament.”

Craig Smith, president of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board, told the gathering that he and fellow Board Member Jim Camp met with Bradley last Friday. Bradley told the two that Prentiss Properties, which holds an option on the Bradfield tract, wants to develop Bradley’s office tract. Smith said Bradley told them it is Prentiss who is insisting on release from the major employer prohibition. However, even if the city decides to take another piece of property from Bradley–which would take Prentiss out of the deal–Bradley still wants to renegotiate that part of the agreement.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Downtown housing… The Downtown Commission voted unanimously Monday to support a zoning change that would allow development of up to 120 apartment or condominium units at 9th and Red River, across the street from Stubb’s Bar-b-q. The current zoning on the tract, which backs up to Waller Creek, is CS-1 and MF-4. The developer is Mack Pike Jr. of Sutton Co. The matter is on the Planning Commission’s agenda tonight…. The Downtown Austin Alliance will begin its free fall concert series next week. Joe King Carrasco will provide music at Regents Plaza, 6th and Colorado on September 5, the day after Labor Day..

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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