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Council gives Mexicarte Museum

Friday, October 6, 2000 by

Green light for building on Congress

City to receive 25 years of museum services

The City Council Thursday gave the city manager the go ahead to negotiate a contract with the Mexicarte Museum—one which could result in a waiver of up to $1.1 million in development and capitol recovery fees for the Block 42 Congress Partners, which owns the museum property and most of the rest of the block. Tracy Watson, director of special projects, told the Council that the new office tower the Block 42 group is building will likely qualify for SMART growth fee waivers.

Watson said Block 42 partners will be requesting a variance for a setback from the street—from the standard 60 feet to 40 feet—as well as a waiver on the floor-to-area ratio. Watson said he has already determined that there are no historic buildings in the path of the proposed new office building.

Joe Canales, chief of staff, explained that the city has an option to purchase the Congress Avenue property but no decision has been made as to whether the city or the Mexicarte will actually own the land. However, the city will provide $740,000, which is already in the city budget for the purchase. Either way, the city will receive 25 years of museum services, according to Watson. If the museum were the owner and reneged on its promise, the land would revert to city ownership.

Council Member Raul Alvarez said the Block 42 Partners had done a wonderful job in bringing the project forward. After 16 years of service to the community, he said, Mexicarte is finally going to have a permanent home. The museum has been on Congress Avenue for 11 years already. He said Congress is an especially appropriate place for the museum because the avenue has been a part of the Latino community for many years.

Council sees new proposal

For Congress bridge condos

Design tracks many of ROMA's guidelines

Mirabeau, formerly known as Gotham, has undergone a number of changes since the City Council last saw the project. Development consultant Sarah Crocker presented a new Planned Development Agreement (PDA) yesterday for the proposed condominium project on the southwest corner of the Congress Avenue Bridge. Many of those changes seem to have been inspired by the ROMA Design Group’ s report on the Town Lake Corridor.

Crocker said primary access to the property would be through the Hyatt Hotel parking lot. If the agreement between the Hyatt and Mirabeau is not recorded in deed records before release of the site plan, the zoning will automatically revert to LI (Limited Industrial), according to the agreement. Crocker presented the new PDA to the council, but requested no action until next Thursday.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman pointed out that next week’s meeting will end before 5:30 p.m. so that Councilmembers can attend a dinner at the Fortune 500 Forum. Therefore, all controversial items are being postponed until October 26. There is no council meeting on October 19.

Crocker was not happy about the delay, but Council Member Beverly Griffith said several neighborhood groups had requested that the item be postponed to a time certain on October 26. She suggested 6 p.m. Goodman, however, said the item would have no public hearing on this third and final reading of the requested zoning change. Mayor Kirk Watson said that since all public hearings are posted for 6 p.m., that time cannot be considered a time certain. He suggested 3:30 p.m. and Griffith acquiesced.

Crocker told the Council that Mirabeau’s architect went to San Francisco to meet with Jim Adams of the ROMA, the principal designer for the new Town Lake proposals. Crocker presented a side by side comparison of ROMA’s Town Lake Corridor Report and the new PDA. The ROMA report advises that no more than 30% of a building’s footprint should be above a 60-foot base height. The ROMA report says buildings taller than 45 feet should be stepped back from Congress. The new building design indicates that Mirabeau will be stepped back accordingly. The maximum height of the building is still 108 feet above existing grade, or 87 feet above Congress Avenue. However, the agreement promises that “no more than 30 percent of the building footprint shall be above 60 feet in height from the average grade of the (adjacent) Congress Avenue sidewalk.”

The Design Commission is scheduled to review the new PDA next week. Crocker said she has met with a number of neighborhood representatives and many of them have been pleased with the new design.

Police seek to allay fears through

Central Booking presentation

Council still has questions about alternatives

The Austin Police Department sought to allay City Council worries about neighborhood safety and taxpayer expense Thursday in a presentation on the proposed Central Booking Facility. Police Chief Stan Knee and Assistant Chief of Police Michael McDonald told the Council that it would benefit the city in numerous ways.

Knee and McDonald said the new interlocal agreement would save the city about 19 percent over the current agreement. And building a new facility would be significantly cheaper than renovating the current one.

Council Member Darryl Slusher asked how the city budget would be impacted if the Council voted down this proposal. McDonald said there would be “tremendous overtime expenses” and decreased safety overall in order to implement a $7 million emergency plan to maintain services in the current facility. Some of that money has been allocated, he said, but $21million would be needed. “We’d have to pull more officers off the street,” he said.

The estimated cost of the new Criminal Justice Center is just over $8 million, of which the city would pay $4.1 million, or 51 percent, according to the new interlocal agreement. The estimated cost of fully renovating the existing facility, part of which is approximately 43 years old, is almost $9 million. The proposal for a scaled back, minimal renovation is $7.2 million.

The proposal projects a $9.3 million savings to the city over five-years.

Historically, the city’s cost of shared jail operations has been 70 percent. With the new agreement the city would split the cost almost fifty-fifty with the county.

Slusher expressed concern that the neighborhood around the new location could end up like E. 7th and I-35, where the current facility is. Neighborhood degradation is a major concern for residents living near the Criminal Justice Center between 10th and 11th Streets on Nueces.

Knee said there would definitely be more officers on site as well as more officers on patrol when the neighborhood school lets out. They would also have the capability of puting more foot patrols in the area if needed. “We can get in on the front end of any problem that might develop,” he said.

Shifting his focus, Slusher said moving the facility creates an opening for a detox, or “sobriety center,” something Council Member Beverly Griffith said has “enormous potential.”

Griffith said she hoped the city could get more information on actual costs and “look at what the whole community is interested in, which is the sobriety center.” There is even some talk, she told In Fact Daily, of creating a shared, county/city facility combining a sobriety center with a misdemeanor bookings center. It would not be in a residential neighborhood, of course, and it would not require the high level of security necessary for felony bookings. She said the neighborhood group has suggested that the city wait until the new Central Booking facility has been open for several months, observe how things work out, and then make decisions about moving the city’s prisoners.

McDonald outlined other benefits of the new interlocal agreement, such as greater flexibility in booking prisoners. City and county officials will share more booking duties, including paperwork and fingerprinting. The new facility would also offer expanded hours of magistration, he said. In addition, he suggested that the city and county share a community liaison, cutting costs for both.

McDonald said the police department would be able to focus more on law enforcement than corrections. He cited other advantages as well, including a reduction in liability for the city, limits in annual cost increases for bookings, and elimination of costs for duplicate services.

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

Planning Commission election…Next Tuesday the Planning Commission is scheduled to elect new officers. Betty Baker, the vice chair, has been acting chair since the retirement of Art Navarro this summer. Baker, of course, was chair before Navarro. The commission is also scheduled to hear a report on possible plans for restructuring the panel and giving some duties to another commission. . . Noteworthy fun. . . You can expect every kind of spoofing in this year's Gridiron show, from Pat Forgione in "As the Board Talks" to George Dubya in "Bushin' USA." Director Robert Faires and Producer Claudia Langford lead a cast that promises to skewer everyone of note on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Austin Music Hall. Proceeds benefit scholarships from the Austin chapter for the Society of Professional Journalists. . . Talking water. . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and the Texas Association of Groundwater Districts jointly hosted about 100 conferees Thursday for a discussion of local control of groundwater regulation. Senator Buster Brown was the keynote speaker. Other legislators in attendance included Senator Teel Bivins and State Representatives Gary Walker, Robert Puente and Robbie Cook. . . Hold onto your wallets. . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has announced its new rate structure. Managing partner memberships (aka gold) will cost 50 percent more than standard dues up to a maximum of $2,000. For more information, call Sylvia Salazar at 322-5689 or check the web site at

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

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