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City Parks Board won't recommend

Thursday, August 10, 2000 by

Board sends long list of concerns to City Council

The Austin Parks and Recreation Board decided not to make a recommendation on whether the City Council should put an item on the November ballot concerning lease of parkland for a golf course and resort at Decker Lake. Board member Mary Ruth Holder attempted to pass a resolution urging the City Council not to put the item on the ballot Tuesday night. But her motion failed on a 3-2 vote, with Chair Rosemary Castleberry abstaining. Holder and board member Rocky Medrano voted for the motion. Board members Clint Small, Jeff Francel and Rhonda Taylor voted no.

Holder did convince the board to approve a lengthy resolution concerning wording of the referendum. Promoters of the Prairie Grass Golf Course have asked the city to remove the dedication of about 400 acres of land in northeast Travis County. Gagne Development Company of New York wants to build a luxury hotel, conference center and golf courses on what is now city parkland. Previously, developers have said they would build a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course.

The parks board recommended that the ballot contain “clear, plain language” concerning the terms of the lease, the cost of relocating electric lines and other infrastructure, and the amount of money the developer would be paying the city during the 99-year lease. In addition, the board wants a guarantee of public access to trails, the waterfront and the golf courses. Since an environmental impact study has not been conducted recently, the board suggested that the city conduct a new study and that development be contingent on positive results.

Attorney Jay Hailey told the board that his client could agree to 90 percent of what they were asking, but could not agree to three items: evidence that the developer has secured authorization “to develop a Jack Nicklaus signature golf course” at the site; that golf course fees be “consistent with those applied to other municipal golf courses”; and “that the amount the developer/owner of the development will pay to the City of Austin over the 99-year lease term will increase each year based upon the value of the surrounding property.” Hailey said Wednesday that he was “objecting to those things being in the ballot. There can’t be a signed deal until a lot of other things happen first. There’s clearly a relationship there, but to say that we have a signed deal with Jack Nicklaus is not true.” Gagne has developed a Nicklaus course in New York.

Howard Falkenberg of Staats Falkenberg & Partners, a spokesman for the development group, told In Fact Daily the developers cannot assure commitment from any particular golf organization or any particular hotel until they have authorization from the voters and the city to proceed with the deal.

Holder and Castleberry said they supported all the items on the lengthy list of conditions they presented to Hailey, but in the end, neither voted in favor of sending the “no recommendation” resolution to the City Council. Both said they are opposed to releasing parkland once it has been dedicated.

Klotz, Dwyer support development

Janet Klotz, who has lived in northeast Austin for 40 years, said she does favor the development. She came to the Tuesday board meeting to voice her support for the golf course. Klotz had to leave the meeting before she could speak, but left a letter with the board outlining her support. As president of the North Growth Corridor Alliance, Klotz said she has been involved in a number of high-profile projects, including Samsung, Dell and the Pioneer Crossing community. She said that the golf course and resort “will be a much-needed catalyst to attract the type of development we need east of I-35.” Pete Dwyer, developer of the Wildhorse Ranch told the board he is in favor of the project, which will be across the road from his development. (For more background on this story, see In Fact Daily, Feb. 23, 2000).

City Hall design team sets Aug. 25 for first meeting

When you consider what it takes to lure major corporations to downtown Austin, a full-fledged tunnel system is not likely to top the list. Yet that's just what the City of Austin offered CSC during heavy negotiations two years ago. The size, occupants and budget on the new $32 million City Hall were approved by City Council in June. At a meeting last night, city architect Nathan Schneider updated the Downtown Commission on the latest stop in the project's timeline: honoring of contractual obligations to CSC, which included a tunnel system that will connect CSC's three buildings.

One of CSC's biggest concerns moving downtown was security, Schneider told commission members. In fact, it was one of the first issues raised when the deal was brokered at the end of 1998. Most similar corporations are located in gated warehouse parks with high security, allowing closer protection of equipment and people, Schneider says.

The city's solution was a tunnel system, which will connect what developers fondly know as Blocks 2, 4 and 21 downtown. It won't be fancy, city planner Mike Knox told commission members: just a 9 by 10 foot concrete tube only 14 feet under the sidewalk– and five feet below the level of Town Lake. The tunnel will be used for 24-hour access by employees, a far cry from the more glamorous subterranean pedestrian grids in places like downtown Houston.

Two other issues were on the minds of Downtown Commission members: retail and design. The possibility of retail on the first floor of City Hall caused quite a squabble among council members in June, but Schneider assured the Downtown Commission that the major question was not whether there would be retail in City Hall. Instead, council members questioned whether retail should have an entrance onto Second Street or an interior entrance from inside City Hall, Schneider said.

Some, like Council Member Gus Garcia, considered any retail in City Hall to be inappropriate and undignified. Schneider admits designers and some city council members have been at cross purposes, "The very thing we wanted retail doing was what the council members didn't want, which was bringing people down to City Hall just to hang out."

Jean Mather, who represents the Planning Commission on the Downtown Commission, was not alone in urging Schneider to consider local over national retail when it came to putting retail on the first floor of City Hall. That's a strong possibility, since space for retail in the new building will be limited: just 4,000 square feet for what will likely be a sandwich shop and possibly a gift or card shop.

With the program for space in the building firmly outlined, the design team on City Hall has scheduled its first meeting on August 25, with schematic designs due between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In some candid comments, commission members said they hoped the number of people with their fingers in the design of the building's "look" would be minimized. Nothing would be worse, said Commissioner Member Stan Haas, than to see a repeat of the meltdown over plans for the Blanton Museum.

Retail in the new project will be handed over to Bonner Carrington AMLI. Schneider says construction contracts for the tunnel, landscaping (which will extend all the way out Cesar Chavez to Mopac) and excavation will be broken out separately to give smaller contractors a chance to bid on the project. That will be followed by the construction package for the City Hall and plaza area.

Want to make a deal?… Gary Bradley, one of central Texas’ greatest dealmakers, is talking up a new deal to Austin environmentalists. Elements of the proposal reportedly involve a land swap, extension of SH-45 to Austin Bergstrom International Airport, and a trip to the Legislature to get ordinance-making authority for counties surrounding major metropolitan areas. Bradley has made it known that he wants input and assistance from environmental organizations to provide protection for sensitive tracts of land so that he will be able to entice a major employer to Hays County. The deal Bradley signed with the city last spring did not allow a major company to locate on Bradley’s Hays County property… Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has been selected to attend the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles next week. She and husband, Jack Goodman of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board, will be out of the city all next week. Therefore, the BSEACD board meeting, which had been scheduled for August 16 has been tentatively rescheduled for August 24. Craig Smith, president of the board, said the group will hold an executive session and a public meeting on the evaluation of General Manager Stovy Bowlin. (See In Fact Daily August 9, 2000). Power lunch… Hays County Judge Jim Powers will host a luncheon with local area mayors today in San Marcos. The group is expected to discuss planning for transportation, water supply and development in the region..

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

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