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Council awards $22.5M contract

Friday, June 15, 2001 by

To SA firm for emergency center

Discussions center on minority subs

Controversial Rainbow Materials is listed as subcontractor

The City Council voted unanimously Thursday, with the Mayor absent, to approve a $22.57 million contract with Bartlett Cocke, L.P., a general contractor from San Antonio, to build a Combined Emergency Communications and Transportation Management Center.

The city’s actual contribution to the project, a three-story office building to be shared with other governmental entities, is $14.2 million. The remaining $8.3 million will be split among Travis County, Texas Department of Transportation and Capital Metro.

Council discussion on the proposal centered on minority-owned and women-owned businesses to be subcontracted for the project. Bartlett Cocke was the lowest bidder for the contract, as mandated by law, but not the contractor with the highest percentage of minority- and women-owned businesses proposed as subcontractors.

Council Member Raul Alvarez, who made the motion for approval, said even though Bartlett Cocke didn’t rate as high with minority subcontractors, the company had significantly improved its ratio of minority contractors.

Minority advocate and former City Council aide Bobbie Enriquez said the law requires the city to select the lowest bidder; but, she pointed out, there is a clause in the law providing the condition that it be “in the best interest of the city.”

“We’re at a point where this Council is going to have to make a choice,” she said, to decide if it’s in the best interest of the city. Enriquez said she supported approval of the contract. “What we have here is an interest by this Council to send a message to minority contractors” offering support, she said.

The Council approved the contract despite the fact that Rainbow Materials, L.P., was listed as one of the subcontractors. Rainbow Materials is slated to provide $400,000 worth of concrete work for the project.

Later in the day, after the Mayor returned, the Council postponed approval of a 12-month supply agreement between Rainbow and Austin Energy. That contract is for a 12-month supply of structural concrete for $240,000, with three 12-month extension options, for a possible total of $960,000.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman made the motion to postpone because of questions about the company’s environmental record. Council Members have received email that includes a photo of what purports to be a dumpsite used by the company. The site is reportedly on or near the banks of the Colorado River. The Council unanimously approved the postponement, with the Mayor noting that the utility can purchase concrete on a month-to-month basis.

Film studio at Mueller

Brings big bucks to Austin

Austin film studio has created national buzz

“Today, film is big business in Austin,” said Gary Bond, director of film marketing with the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau, as he briefed the City Council Thursday on the current status of the industry here.

“Filming has increased exponentially,” he said, noting that there is a “$1,288 return on every dollar spent by the film office.” Last year, said Bond, film liaison for the City of Austin from 1985 to 1995, more than $125 million was spent on film productions in Austin.

According to the Texas Film Commission, production costs for movies made in Austin totaled $127.3 million last year on features such as “Spy Kids” and “Miss Congeniality.” The Commission estimates that 50 percent of a project’s production budget is spent locally, which would mean about $224 million has flowed into the Austin economy from film projects over the last seven years.

“On-location film production is a low-impact, non-polluting industry that brings a great deal of money to its host communities, while using very few public-supported services, such as schools, health care, etc. And its economic benefit reaches far beyond the people that are hired directly by the production company. Filmmakers working on location depend upon a wide array of suppliers and services, including hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, rental car agencies, fabric stores, dry cleaners, office supply stores, furniture rental . . .” according to the Commission.

That’s why City Manager Jesus Garza sent out a memo in March to all city department directors requesting them to, “Please make sure that employees of each department are aware that filmmaking is a designated economic development priority of the City Council and this administration. It is our policy to assist filmmakers, to expedite requests for services and to be a public partner in this growing industry . . . I appreciate the efforts of all employees in helping to develop this clean and creative industry in our city, and look forward to more Austin filmmaking in the year ahead.”

Suzanne Quinn, studio director at Austin Studios, the new facility on 20 acres at the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA), told the Council that $41.5 million has already come into the local economy from productions there. The facility, which was created through a partnership between the Austin Film Society and the City of Austin, opened only seven months ago (however, “Miss Congeniality,” as well as some other projects, began production at the site last summer).

Quinn said the facility has accommodated projects totaling $83.1 million in production budgets, 75 percent of which goes to local hiring. That translates into 682 local jobs created, she said.

One production spent $1 million locally on lumber alone, she said, while another spent $200,000 on fuel. The studios, with 79,000 square feet of production space and an 8,000 square foot production office, have garnered much attention nationally, including a significant write up in the Directors Guild of America magazine, which is “incredibly high profile,” she said.

Council Member Will Wynn said many local, small companies benefit from the film industry. He recalled “a few days downtown that I called, ‘the Perfect Storm,’” when two separate film productions were being shot simultaneously on Congress Avenue.

“The Austin Film Society is an integral part and support mechanism for the local industry,” Wynn said, calling the Austin Studios “a tremendous success.” He noted that the studios fit very well into the RMMA Master Plan. “Clearly the Master Plan calls for civic-industrial use of that land,” something that jibes well with the film studios, he said.

Mayor Pro-tem Jackie Goodman said, “I’m very glad you all are here; it’s very exciting.”

Bond said Austin got into the film business in 1976 with “Outlaw Blues.” Now Austin is a location chosen more and more frequently by major production companies, many of whom return to work on subsequent projects. “The question is, do filmmakers come here because the crews are so good, or are the crews so good because filmmakers come here? The answer is both,” he said.

“We have faired well for many reasons,” he added, citing the location, with its variation in terrain, the climate, the quaint, old-fashioned small towns nearby, and the easy ambiance of Austin. The presence of high profile Austinites in the industry, such as Sandra Bullock, Richard Linklater, and Mike Judge has helped, he said, but the City Council is responsible for the recent “quantum leap” in the success of the industry. “I can tell you, the Robert Mueller (Austin) Studios have created a huge buzz in the industry,” Bond said.

Council postpones neighborhood

Plans for Hyde Park and Baptist church

Four Planning Commissioners want to reconsider their vote

Consideration of two neighborhood plans, one for the Hyde Park neighborhood and one for the Hyde Park Baptist Church, was postponed because four members of the Planning Commission requested a chance to reconsider them. In a letter to Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, Chair Betty Baker, and Commissioners Sterling Lands, Silver Garza and Ray Vrudhula said that “information from staff was confusing, especially as it related to the church’s 1990 NCCD” (Neighborhood Conservation Combining District).

The church has been acquiring property in a “growth corridor” to the south and west as outlined in a 1990 agreement, and had wanted that new land included in its own zoning overlay. The commission approved Baker’s motion to allow the church to add land to its NCCD, but also decided to include the church’s NCCD as a sub-district within the overall Hyde Park NCCD—with a condition. Baker and those who joined her in the letter, believed that their vote was to allow the zoning regulations in place on the church’s property to remain the same as they were in the church’s 1990 NCCD.

The confusion was apparent a day after the vote when Commissioner Robin Cravey said that the Hyde Park NCCD would affect development on the church’s property, but Baker said it would not. (See In Fact Daily, May 23 and May 24, 2001)

The Council postponed the case to July 19, the only meeting date next month. However, Principal Planner Greg Guernsey said six members of the commission must vote affirmatively to reconsider a matter. Since Commissioner Ben Heimsath lives in Hyde Park, he has recused himself, leaving eight commission members to deal with this matter. It seems unlikely that two commissioners who thought they were approving plans to allow the neighborhood plan to dictate development on church property will vote to reconsider, said Commissioner Jean Mather.

That means the same hot potato will come back to the City Council next month, with a muddled Planning Commission recommendation.

Susan Moffat and Karen McGraw, neighborhood activists who participated in the planning process expressed disappointment over the postponement, blaming the church for the delay. The church’s attorney, Richard Suttle, was not present at yesterday’s Council meeting.

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

Land cleared . . . Environmental Board member Tim Jones reports that the Bradfield tract, at the southeast corner of MoPac and Loop 360, has been clear-cut by the new owner, Prentiss Properties. The company plans to build two office buildings on the site. The property has been the subject of a number of lawsuits, including one still pending— Save Barton Creek Association vs. Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. . . City Council turns down high-rise on Town Lake . . . The Council last night rejected plans for an apartment tower on Riverside Drive, just east of I-35. Developer John Cathey asked for MF-6 zoning, which would allow a 90-foot tall building, but the Council said MF-4, with a 60-foot height limit, would be tall enough. Neighbors and lake enthusiasts came out to speak against the tower—though not against the apartment complex itself. Jim Bennett, representing the applicant, told In Fact Daily after the vote that it would be difficult to build the high quality complex his client wants at 60 feet, given the other constraints of the Town Lake Overlay. He said they would have to explore options before a second reading of the zoning ordinance . . . Martin honored . . . City Attorney Andy Martin received the city’s Distinguished Service Award Thursday. He’s resigning, effective June 30th, to pursue opportunities in the private sector. “As a City Attorney, your job is more than just knowing the law,” said Mayor Kirk Watson in making the presentation. “Your job ends up being a counselor, a psychologist, a baby sitter . . . Andy has been somebody who’s been an asset to the city, and somebody we’ve come to rely on in all of those capacities—also in the capacity of a friend.” For his part, Martin offered thanks to Watson, City Manager Jesus Garza, Council members, and several city staffers. “This is the best job I’ve ever had,” Martin said. “I’ll always remember and enjoy that” . . . They haven’t forgotten . . . Buda real estate broker John Sanford reminded the Austin City Council that residents of Northern Hays County haven’t forgotten about Austin’s ETJ. Mayor Kirk Watson has been working with Buda Mayor Billy Gray and other members of that town’s City Council on a plan to release the land in the ETJ to Buda’s control (See In Fact Daily, May 31, 2001) but apparently have not reached an agreement. There had been indications from Buda council members that a deal could be considered by that body sometime this month, but Sanford said Buda Council Member Byron Warren announced at the group’s meeting earlier this week that the deal wouldn’t be ready before late July. “This announcement at the Buda City Council meeting was a disappointment, to say the least,” Sanford said.

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