Friday, September 15, 2000 by

Jack Speer: The Billion Bubba March

Jack Speer hatched the South Austin Culture Club early this year after hearing that City Council Members were weary of neighborhood activists. Council Members saw the same faces every meeting saying the same things. "And you're boring," the report came back.

"Being boring, to me, was the most serious complaint," Speer says over ice water at his picket-fenced house in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood just south of downtown. "If they say you're boring, then you know they're going to dismiss you."

Speer, encouraged by neighbors and his wife, Carol Kallendorf, dreamed up the culture club, which held a boisterous potluck luncheon in May. State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin and Council Member Jackie Goodman joined 100 others. (See In Fact Daily, May 23, 2000).

They also heard Speer joke about leading a Billion Bubba March to showcase the richness of South Austin. Austin American-Statesman columnist John Kelso took Speer's joke seriously. When is the march? Kelso asked.

Sure enough, South Austin residents and all like-minded citizenry are invited to march for the South Austin way of life on Saturday, October 14. The march will run three blocks or so to the Broken Spoke on South Lamar Boulevard, with rest stops if necessary.

Speer keeps a twinkle in his eye, but the march, like the culture club, has a serious purpose, signaled by a friendly competition among South Austin neighborhood groups to bolster voter turnout in the November general election.

"We're marchin’ for a whole lot more folks to get out and vote than the wimpy 8 to 12 percent of couch potatoes in the past," says the culture club's Web site http://www.southaustinculture.org. "We gotta' do better than that to save South Austin's famous history and culture for those who live here and those who come to visit."

Speer, 55, and Kallendorf moved to the Bouldin Creek neighborhood from College Station in 1990. The West Texas native had long wanted to live in Austin for its history, its funky culture and "an environment where a person would have a better shot at being themselves."

Together the couple relocated their corporate research business, The Delta Associates, http://www.delta-associates.com, and came to terms with city living by forming a crime watch group for their block. In the past two years, they have organized a children's Easter Egg hunt at a nearby housing project. Speer dons a bunny outfit for the occasion.

Speer calls himself an "urban environmentalist," favoring concrete, sidewalks, buildings and urbanism over the rural life. The last time Speer went camping was as a Boy Scout.

In general, he says: "We don't think about protecting the urban environment."

Speer calls managing exponential growth the city's biggest challenge, to be solved by choosing elected and community leaders capable of hearing many points of view.

But he says Austin is not there yet.

"We (Austinites) immediately go from discussing an issue to personal characterizations," Speer says. "We're not there and we're not close because we still try to stay entrenched in our positions. We have a tendency not to hear all sides. And if we have power, we tend to hide the (decision-making) process and do what we feel is best for Austin."

From his front porch, Speer sees the 16 square miles comprising South Central Austin-–bounded by Town Lake and Ben White Boulevard, Interstate Highway 35 and MoPac–as a unique treasure for the state and nation.

The Billion Bubba March is one way of sharing, and enhancing, that vision.

"I'd like to see South Austin develop a constituency well beyond the people who are here," Speer says. "As we build a constituency, a lot of people are going to carry the freight for us."

Post Properties is one step closer to developing a residential/retail complex, with a 200-foot tower, along Shoal Creek at the corner of West Fifth St. and West Ave. The Downtown Commission voted Wednesday night to recommend zoning changes and flood-plain variances to the City Council on West Avenue Lofts II, Post Properties’ second phase of development in the area.

Kent Collins, representing Post Properties, said phase one was finished ahead of deadline and people began moving in on August 31. He expressed similar enthusiasm for phase two. “We think it’s an anchor…for other projects,” he said, noting how retailers were flocking to the project in numbers far beyond expectations. “It’s becoming more retail than we thought it would be.”

Post Properties is scheduled to go before the City Council on Sept. 28 to request the flood plane variance and a zoning change at 805 W. 5th St. The Planning Commission approved changing the zoning from DMU (Downtown Mixed Use) to CBD (Central Business District) for the property, which currently houses the Strait Music Company. Plans for the project include 304 residential units and 426 parking spaces, all within fairly compact boundaries along the creek. Post has agreed with the city to maintain the continuity of the hike and bike trail along the creek. In fact, the plan calls for the trail to be well integrated into the property, creating an open, public area along Shoal Creek.

If built as planned, the profile of the building will rise up in three tiered stages, with one section standing four stories tall, another reaching eight stories and the tower stretching to approximately 200 feet high, or sixteen stories.

Vignette Corporation opened up a lively discussion when representatives presented a proposal for their 1.1 million square foot, downtown headquarters to the Downtown Commission. It’s still early in the game and Vignette has options on various properties along Cesar Chavez Blvd. near Waller Creek. “We’ve been on a mission to solicit input,” said Don Bosse, president of Bosse Compton & Turner, representing Vignette. But they want to move fast. Bosse said they would like to have the first phase completed in the fall of 2003. Plans call for a center that may include buildings as tall as 25 to 27 stories and space to house as many as 2,000 employees. Those buildings are likely to include retail, Bosse said, and maybe even residential units, with Waller Creek featured prominently in the overall layout.

Bosse said Vignette has a real need for space and they want to be downtown. “Waller Creek becomes a big amenity in this project,” he said, “but as you can see, it needs some work.” The condition of the creek in that area is problematic, he said. The challenge is to design a master plan that incorporates buildings, parking and the natural beauty of the creek. “In terms of planning, this is almost a Rubik’s cube,” he said. A key theme Bosse expressed was to create a “public realm” with buildings, the creek and open space. He also emphasized Vignette’s desire to honor and bolster, if not incorporate, live music venues in the area.

Milo Burdette, vice-president of development at Barshop & Oles, told In Fact Daily on Thursday that no decisions have been made on exactly how many buildings or how much space would be built during phase 1. Currently he said, Vignette’s representatives and Bosse are making courtesy calls on neighborhood associations and other city groups that might have an interest in the future of the property. Barshop & Oles owns one of the four properties Vignette has optioned. Robert Knight and Perry Lorenz own the other three. Knight, who chairs the Downtown Commission, did not take part in the Vignette discussion at the meeting. Lorenz was absent..

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

Preparedness exercise… The City of Austin has scheduled an exercise simulating a terrorist attack with chemical weapons for Saturday morning at Camp Mabry. Observers and media are invited to attend a briefing at 8:30AM in Building 8 in the classroom adjacent to the auditorium. The exercise, which starts at 9AM and ends around noon, will also involve the National Guard directing traffic in the area… Earth Share celebration… Mike Thompson of Patagonia, Inc. will be the featured speaker at the Earth Share of Texas kick-off reception Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30PM at One World Theater, 7701 FM2244 ( Bee Cave Road). The location is a few miles west of Loop 360. The invitation erroneously states that One World Theater is on FM2222. For more information call 328-9446…Thanks, Austin Chronicle… In Fact Daily appreciates the Critics Pick Award for Best Morning Update of Local Issues (Internet).

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

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