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Artist, new financial arrangement

Friday, May 4, 2001 by

Approved for Long Arts Center

Council votes to follow Arts Commission recommendation

By Doug McLeod

The arts in Austin occupied the City Council’s attention Thursday morning. The Council spent the first half of the morning in a lively discussion on the controversy-ridden subject of selecting art for public places. During the latter half the Council carefully decided how to amend the city’s lease agreement for the Long Performing Arts Center by approving new financial structuring.

After a lengthy discussion on the city’s selection process for an artist to adorn the plaza of the new City Hall, the Council voted to go with the Arts Commission’s recommendation of Nobuho Nagasawa. Voting 5-2, with Council Members Will Wynn and Danny Thomas dissenting, the Council approved funding of up to $150,000 to have Nagasawa, based in Santa Cruz, CA, proceed with the project. The Artwork Commission Agreement states the artist can receive up to $127,500.

The process of choosing the artist was embroiled in controversy as two sides lobbied the Council for separate artists. In an unusual move, the Arts Commission overturned a recommendation by the Art in Public Places Panel (AIPP). AIPP, an advisory panel of pedigreed artists established to make recommendations to city staff and the Arts Commission, chose local artist Mel Ziegler.

Disappointed by the Council’s decision, UT art professor John Yancey, a member of the AIPP panel, told In Fact Daily, “It’s demoralizing to the arts community.”

Before the vote he urged the Council to “hold back any recommendation on this,” to get a clearer picture. “Generally, the process works very well,” said Yancey, a former chair of the AIPP. But a complication arose this time, he said, with the result that it “injures our image as a city.” The Arts Commission does not have the expertise in art to override the process, he said. “This expertise should be respected,” he added.

He said it hurts the city because the process was part of a national search, which can elevate Austin by attracting artists from around the country. But when the expertise of a panel such as AIPP is disregarded, it sends out the wrong message, he concluded.

Bruce Willenzik, a member of the Arts Commission, said, “the idea is to have a City Hall that people love.” Council Member Daryl Slusher asked Willenzik to work specifically on this project as part of the Austin Nature & Character group.

“It’s very important that we have an artist that can work well with the design team,” Willenzik told the Council. “We felt that she (Nagasawa) was truly a peer of Antoine Predock . . . I urge you to support the recommendation of the Arts Commission.”

He said “having an artist who is eager and excited about Austin” was what his group was looking for and Nagasawa was that artist. Willenzik told In Fact Daily his group determined that Ziegler, on staff with the UT Art Department along with Yancey, was not interested in Austin’s unique character. However, Nagasawa “is fabulous, right on the mark, wonderful. We were all very impressed with what she had to say,” he said. “We wanted someone with a strong interest in the nature and character of Austin and someone who would work well with the design team.”

Slusher said the fact that this was one of the few times the Arts Commission voted to overturn the AIPP bothered him. “I’m always reluctant to get involved in art selection,” he said, but the reversal on this issue warranted serious consideration.

Wynn stressed the high level of responsibility involved in the process. “We have a very important role because we are spending taxpayers’ dollars on art,” he said, noting that anybody could be appointed to the Arts Commission, including his close friend, Lowell Lebermann, if he so chose to appoint him. “Since we’re spending taxpayer money on art, and art is subjective, we have a very specific process,” he said. “But because we’re spending taxpayer dollars . . . we have highly regarded, professionally trained artists on that panel,” he added.

“We in Austin are blessed with a staggering amount of artists,” Wynn said, and the five people selected to serve on the AIPP panel were “very specific, highly regarded folks to make this decision.” He said he recognized that “one person’s art is another person’s junk,” and in light of that he made a substitute motion, which failed, for the Council to accept the AIPP choice.

Council Member Raul Alvarez said three finalists were selected out of a preliminary field of 63 artists. “Any of those would be in the best interest of the public and that’s where I’m coming from,” he said.

Willenzik said it’s important to keep things in context. “Who is the client? The citizens of Austin,” he said. Officials are elected to represent the citizens and “our job is to see a larger picture. I’m really glad the City Council supported that,” he said.

The Council’s vote to ratify an amended lease agreement for the Long Performing Arts Center came close to being delayed for a week by a motion from Council Member Beverly Griffith. Slusher supported the delay, saying he wasn’t comfortable approving a 50-year contract so quickly. “The contract language needs to be clarified,” he said. But when the motion failed, he jumped in to hasten approval. He suggested the Council allow the interested parties to take a little time to hash out new wording in a small section of the document, but Mayor Kirk Watson said he already had new language ready. Off the cuff, on the dais, the mayor had rewritten the section. He read his draft, secured agreement from all parties, and the motion passed unanimously.

The amended lease changes only the financial structure of the agreement. Instead of only a $10 million fund paying interest income, the agreement now allows borrowed money to boost the interest-bearing fund to $90 or $100 million. In addition, the new agreement allows the center to borrow up to 100 percent of its construction costs instead of a maximum of 30 percent.

Construction estimates for the center have been revised from $40 million to $89 million, spurring incentive to amend financing for the project. Under the new terms, construction can begin when financing for 70 percent of the construction costs is available. The previous agreement stated construction could begin only when donations equal to 70 percent of the construction costs had been received.

Gentrification debate takes

Twists into Robert's Rules

Watson trumpts Thomas' attempt to table

After a lengthy parliamentary battle, the City Council voted Thursday to ask city staff and members of two commissions to study gentrification and bring back some recommendations by June 14. Mayor Kirk Watson got to show off his parliamentary skills, at the same time angering Council Member Danny Thomas as Thomas attempted to table a motion by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman.

Thomas and Council Member Raul Alvarez sponsored a resolution creating a new city task force on gentrification. Several members of the Council expressed concerns over creation of yet another task force to deal with the difficult problem. Both Daryl Slusher and Watson took exception to the statement that nothing had been done about it since the March 2000 staff report on the subject was filed.

Goodman then made a motion to ask the Planning Commission to work on the gentrification issue, and for both the commission and city staff to report back to the Council on June 14, updating the report of March ’00. She was clearly giving the commission a signal that they had better start taking care of their planning responsibilities, instead of postponing them to deal with urgent zoning requests.

Council Member Beverly Griffith chimed in, “Certainly involving the Planning Commission and involving staff is a good thing. I suggest that the report be presented in public to the community at the task force meetings. The critical thing right now is to get a citizen group in place with a mandate from the City Council to bring back recommendations to us with staff support, commissions, anybody who wants to be involved.”

Goodman responded, “The Planning Commission is already a citizens group.”

Alvarez said he was a little uncertain of how to proceed, but agreed that taking 18 months—the timeline for the task force—was certainly not ideal. He then recommended that the Community Development Commission also study the matter. A few minutes later, he suggested that the two commissions form a joint committee to handle the matter. Goodman and Watson, who had provided her second, agreed to the amendment as friendly.

Slusher said, “I have my own definition of gentrification, which is when rising property values make it impossible for longterm residents to continue to live in the area. I think it is incorrect to say that nothing is being done . . . We frequently have split votes up here on affordable housing projects and the best way to combat (gentrification) is to provide more affordable housing stock.”

He also pointed out that the Council would be hearing arguments over zoning of the Bennett tract later in the day, “and property values in that area have been depressed and if we approve what’s on the table, property values are going to rise and we’re going to have gentrification pressures . . . A lot of people want the values in the area to go up. That’s a good goal . . . but it will create pressure on folks that already live in the area.”

Slusher said the Council should consider the idea of looking at TIFs(tax increment financing) for certain areas that may be suffering gentrification. He said he felt the task force proposal was premature because “I didn’t think we were going into it with a solid enough definition, solid enough goals.”

Thomas, seeing his proposal being changed significantly, asked to table the whole thing. He said he still wanted to create a separate task force. He asked for a parliamentary ruling.

Watson said, consulting his Robert’s Rules of Order, said a motion to table was only appropriate if the Council was simply putting an item aside because it had to deal with more urgent business. He said that what Thomas was really doing was making a motion to postpone, but needed a time certain.Watson said the Rules pointed out that motions to table are frequently misused.

Thomas said he just wanted to pull the whole thing off the agenda, since it was his item to begin with.

Watson told Thomas that Goodman’s motion “relates to the item on the agenda and is germane to the posted item and meets the legal requirements of a proper motion.” So Thomas could not pull it off the agenda just because he didn’t like Goodman’s motion.

Goodman, apparently misunderstanding Thomas’ intent, provided his second and said, “On the 14th we’ll decide if we need it ,”referring to the task force.

Watson pointed out to her that if Thomas’ motion was approved, “You lose what you just set up. Voting to postpone this means we’re not doing this item.”

Alvarez said he would not vote to postpone, because he saw no reason to wait, adding that he wanted to hear comments from the two commissions.

Slusher said, “When we come back on the 14th, the first thing we’re going to ask is that staff go out and gather this information, so I can’t figure out why we would put off.”

Goodman said, “This is becoming parliamentarily Byzantine.”

Watson explained the motion to table again, insisting that what Thomas was doing was really a motion to postpone. The vote on that motion was 2-5, with Thomas and Griffith voting yes. The vote on Goodman’s motion was 5-0-2, with Thomas and Griffith abstaining.

Zoning Changes for Bennett

Tract approved on first reading

Slusher, Griffith, not satisfied with compromise

The City Council voted reluctantly last night to approve new zoning for the East Austin land known as the Bennett Tract. Council Members Daryl Slusher and Beverly Griffith voted against the motion, while Council Members Will Wynn and Jackie Goodman expressed concerns. The vote—on first reading only—does not bode well for the plan, which will need six votes for final approval, since there are several valid petitions against various zoning changes.

The Council also extended the life of the interim development controls on the East Austin tract, but postponed action indefinitely on waiver of development fees and more importantly—negotiation of a development agreement for future economic grant payments of up to $13,171,804. Charles Heimsath of Capitol Market Research performed an economic impact analysis of the staff recommendation for the tract. In a memo to Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, he concluded, “I do not believe that a developer can build this project as specific without a substantial subsidy from the city, which, of course, must be taken into consideration when evaluating the potential benefits.”

Members of the neighborhood, developer Matt Mathias, city staff and the Planning Commission have all worked on an attempt to reach a consensus on the shape of development at E. 11th Street and I-35. The area extends to San Marcos Street on the East and to the alley between 7th and 8th Streets on the South. Planning Commission Chair Betty Baker told the Council Thursday that she had been working on the case longer than certain members of the audience had been alive. At least 77 speakers signed up to weigh in on the proposal. Both Rev. Marvin Griffin of Ebenezer Baptist Church and Father Bill Elliott of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church—who support opposite sides in the development controversy—urged the speakers to remember that they are not enemies. Some spoke passionately, but there was little bickering or impolite rhetoric.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Rumors make the (political) world go ‘round . . . Folks who are concerned about HB 3641 (see In Fact Daily, Tuesday, May 1) have been asking questions about whether the city’s 1985 settlement agreement with Dripping Springs would not have precluded that city from making an agreement with Cypress Realty covering 2700 acres in its ETJ without consulting first with the City of Austin. So, it seems only natural that a rumor would arise based on that scenario. Throw in the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which is also in negotiations with Cypress over what the developer can do to prevent further degradation of the environment and harm to the Barton Springs salamander. The rumor is that David Frederick, field supervisor for FWS’ Austin office, has written a letter to City Attorney Andy Martin pointing out the violation of the agreement by Dripping Springs. Martin said Thursday he had not heard the rumor. However, he said he thought it unlikely for two reasons. For one, he said, the developer did not have to get permission from Drippin’ to seek the legislation for a water control and improvement district. Second, he said, neither Austin nor Dripping Springs has lived up to the agreement . . . Eligible bachelor leaving the ranks . . . Joe Canales, chief of staff to City Manager Jesus Garza, is getting married on Saturday. His bride, Velma Zamora, works for Austin Energy. Best wishes to both of them . . . Water repairs coming . . . Chris Lippe, Director of the City of Austin’s Water and Wastewater Utility, tells the Water and Wastewater Commission that repairs on the Ullrich Water Main are expected to begin in mid-May. Crews will be focusing their efforts on two high-priority sections of the 72-inch pipe. The line was installed last October to help deliver water to north Austin, but crews quickly discovered two leaks in it.

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