Most Popular Stories
- Transit leaders preparing new Project Connect scenarios for March open house
- New forecast modeling puts Austin homeless population near 4,600
- Google Fiber to expand presence in Travis County
- Texas Legislature could derail Austin’s transit expansion
- Austin Public Health offers $50 gift cards for COVID vaccinations and boosters
Discover News By District
Travis County Commissioners Court was unanimous yesterday in selecting its appointees to the Travis-Williamson County Regional Mobility Authority.
Commissioners chose from among 19 applicants for its three seats on the board. The final choices were businessman Lowell Lebermann, transportation expert and small business owner Johanna Zmud and attorney Henry Gilmore. County commissioners chose to interview eight of the 19 candidates last week.Williamson County Commissioners Court will name its three appointees next week. The Governor will appoint the chair and is expected to make his selection late this month or in early January. Travis County’s list of candidates included a broad choice among seasoned veterans in law, finance and real estate. Before the final vote, Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told her colleagues that all of the finalists interviewed by the court “were very thoughtful,” and it was her hope some of the ideas presented by the candidates would be pursued by the appointees. Attorney Gilmore was a partner with both Locke Liddell & Sapp and Jenkins & Gilchrist before he left to start his solo law practice in 2000. His credentials include a stint on the city’s Planning Commission and the state’s General Services Commission. He was also a member of the city’s Smart Growth Task Force and House Bill 1704 focus group. He has been a board member of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Real Estate Council of Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber task force on light rail. Gilmore said he has been involved in roadway issues through his representation of developers and during his service on the light rail task force. “I’m honored I got chosen,” Gilmore said. “This really is the wave of the future, not only in this area but other areas of the state.” Gilmore said a lot of areas of responsibility “still need to be fleshed out,” predicting a number of bills at the next legislative session will do just that. Rep. Mike Krussee (R-Round Rock) has already filed legislation to give RMAs condemnation and bond authority. As a City Hall lobbyist, Gilmore prided himself on keeping a low profile. He has managed, in the course of his work on behalf of developers, to get approval of the majority of those developments he represents without prolonged or ugly battles with neighborhoods. Almost anybody would say he is a quintessential “nice guy.” Zmud is the president of NuStats Partners, an Austin-based social policy research firm that specializes in issues such as transportation, the environment, health care and education. She was reached as she was boarding a plane last night, returning from a trip to Yakima, Washington, where she is working on two large-scale surveys to update travel demand forecast models for the local transportation authority. Most of Zmud’s work is for local government and federal agencies; little of it is in the Austin area. NuStats has a staff of 80 people in both Austin and Washington D.C. Zmud said she was “really, really pleased by the honor,” although she had yet to be contacted officially by county officials. Her credentials include membership on the Transportation Research Board, the International Association of Travel Behavior Researchers and the American Association of Public Opinion Research. She has also served on a national committee to review U.S. Bureau of Transportation statistical surveys. She describes her work as that of statistician and she said two areas of her current research led to her interest in the Travis-Williamson RMA. The first was a statistical model on “value pricing” for the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. The model was intended to predict travel patterns if the bridge toll were increased. She has also measured the interaction of HOV lanes and toll roads in Southern California. A second area of Zmud’s research, based in Atlanta, was the technology of real-time information capture on toll roads. Both areas of research could be applied to the projects in Central Texas, said Zmud, who added that she hoped to “give back to the community” with her service on the board. Lebermann, chairman of Centex Beverage, Inc, was in Houston last night on business and could not be reached. He is currently serving as vice chair of the joint city-county hospital district task force. His other credentials include service on the executive committee of the Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council and as a regent of the University of Texas system for much of the 1990s. Lebermann also was an Austin City Council member during the early ‘70s and the chairman of the State Capitol Restoration Committee in the mid-‘80s. He was a supporter of light rail during the last election and is a member of the Real Estate Council of Austin. He is currently a partner in the Hill Country Galleria project. The Commissioners Court did not select any of the four candidates supported by the Real Estate Council of Austin, including former commissioner Margaret Moore. Once the RMA board of directors is in place, it will hire staff, an executive director and legal counsel for the authority. A pillar in Austin’s general contracting and construction community, Faulkner Construction, is merging with the Landmark Organization, which has extensive experience and nationwide contracts to develop public/private ventures, like the Hilton Austin and Fifth Street Tower residences. The new firm will be known as FaulknerUSA. Royce Faulkner, 72, who founded his company 40 years ago, will be chairman emeritus of the new company. Mark Schultz, co-founder of Landmark, will be CEO and Curtis Cline, who left Faulkner recently to join Landmark, has been named president. According to Landmark spokesperson Terri Dusek, the deal has been in the works for “a couple of months.” She said her company landed a new convention center and hotel complex in Osceola, Florida—near Orlando—on Monday. In October, Landmark won a contract to build the Youngstown Arena & Exhibition Conference Center in Ohio. According to Hoover’s.com, “Landmark Organization has developed or master-planned several projects exceeding $2 billion. The group provides new public schools, convention centers, hotels, military housing projects, and correctional and institutional housing across the US.” Cline said the old company would continue to serve its current clients with no disruption of service. Faulkner recently completed projects including Seton Southwest Hospital, Nokonah Condominiums, the Las Cimas office complex and manufacturing facilities for Applied Materials . Landmark Organization is currently constructing the Hilton Omaha in Nebraska, the Coralville Marriott Conference Hotel in Coralville, Iowa and a courthouse and jail expansion in Williamson County, as well as 500 units of military housing for the Department of the Navy in South Texas. Dusek said Landmark Organization is well known for “getting the deals. When they say it can’t be done, Landmark can get in there and do it.” However, she said there are many companies named Landmark throughout the country, so they decided to drop the name and go with FaulknerUSA. The 2002 combined revenue of the two companies totals more than $300 million, she said. Dusek said the company is particularly proud to be announcing the merger during a time of economic gloom. The approximately 200 employees in both companies will continue in their jobs, she said, and there is also the possibility of hiring a few new employees. All titles will remain the same for now, she said. Some Faulkner personnel have already moved to the old Landmark offices at 1700 Rio Grande, which is now the headquarters of FaulknerUSA. She said Faulkner will maintain the South Lamar office to oversee current projects. Liveable City group says Borders would cost city Study says local return much greater with local merchants Supporters of locally-owned businesses Waterloo Records and BookPeople have some new ammunition in their fight to stop the proposed Sixth + Lamar development from including a Borders Books and Music store. An economic study commissioned by the group Liveable City shows that by diverting money away from the two popular stores, the development could have a negative economic effect. Economist Dan Houston with Civic Economics admits the argument that new development is bad for the economy may seem counter-intuitive, but says the study is based on the amount of money the various businesses keep in the local area after a sale. “If you go into Borders today and spend $100, by tomorrow morning there’s no more than $13 left to circulate in the local economy,” said Houston. “If you make that same $100 of purchase at either BookPeople or Waterloo, $45 will be circulating in the local economy . . . contributing to a healthier economy in the City of Austin.” The study concludes that between $11 million and $14 million would be diverted from the local economy over the next five years if a national chain store were allowed at Sixth and Lamar to compete with the two locally-owned businesses. A copy of the executive summary of the study is available at http://www.liveablecity.org . “Liveable City is in favor of redeveloping Sixth and Lamar,” said Board Member Robin Rather. “It’s a very important site. What we have trouble with is . . . it should be possible to develop the site without hurting local businesses, and without hurting the economy. What we’d really like to see from the City Council, and from the developer of the property, is a little more creativity . . . a little more thought and a little more ‘want-to.’ We really believe it’s possible to have a fantastic development here without putting the hurt to Waterloo and Book People and without putting the hurt to our local economy.” The site at Sixth and Lamar is currently vacant. Plans call for the site to include a new Whole Foods grocery store, an office tower for the company’s corporate headquarters, parking, office space and a small amount of retail. Borders would not be a tenant in that space but Schlosser Development Corporation has reportedly signed a contract with the chain to locate directly east of the Whole Foods block. Schlosser has already been approved for fee waivers as part of the city’s Smart Growth program. The Smart Growth Matrix does not include a provision for giving preference to locally-owned stores as tenants, nor does it deal with the type of economic analysis done for Liveable City. “What we’re looking at is adding to the Smart Growth Matrix by looking more carefully at the characteristics of the businesses that will be housed in the developments,” said Liveable City Board Chairman Bill Spelman. “What we’ve been focusing on until now is the size of the development, whether it’s commercial or residential, what kind of traffic impact will result,” Adding an economic impact assessment, said Spelman, would be a sensible option. “When the citizens of Austin are asked to subsidize a development, it’s only fair to hold that development to a higher standard,” he said. “We shouldn’t really be subsidizing a development which is going to shoot ourselves in the foot and hurt our economy.” A copy of the group’s study has been presented to City Manager Toby Futrell . The city awarded the project $2.1 million in development incentives, of which $710,000 has been used. BookPeople has carried on a spirited campaign to encourage customers to lobby the City Council to eliminate the remainder of the incentive package. Schlosser Development had planned to go before the Board of Adjustment for a variance on the height of the proposed office tower at the site (see In Fact Daily, August 16, 2002 ), but has since made design modifications and filed a site plan that would not require a variance. Commissioners hear complaints About Volente incorporation plans Decision on vote postponed until next week It will be one more week before Travis County Commissioners determine if supporters of incorporating the rural area offiled the appropriate documents to trigger an election on the issue. Members of Save Our Volente submitted signatures in support of the election, along with a map and a description of the area to be incorporated. While Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said it appeared the group had more than enough signatures, county staff members are still verifying the description and map in question. The dispute over the validity of the incorporation request didn’t prevent commissioners from holding a public hearing on the matter, during which residents spoke out on the issue that has divided their community. Save Our Volente Chairman Merry Mattie Adams told commissioners that encroaching urbanization threatened the area’s way of life. “We need to make a choice: speak up and have a say in the way this growth is handled, or sit back and allow haphazard development to destroy what we love about Volente,” she said. “I’m hopefull that this issue will finally be determined in a way that our country believes is fair: for each resident to go to the polls and privately cast their vote.” But opponents of incorporation say the pro-annexation forces have worked to exclude citizen participation from the process. “I have received no communication from Save Our Volente informing me of any of their activities . . . I have since learned that I’m not alone,” said Allison Thrash. Commissioners are set to review the materials provided by Save Our Volente again next week to determine if they meet the requirements set out by state law. If they do, an election could be held in February 2003. © 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved. Cap Metro directors to hear about Legislature . . . The board of directors of Capital Metro will attend a legislative briefing this morning at 9:30 at the offices of Hughes and Luce, 111 Congress, Suite 900. So, Council Members Daryl Slusher and Danny Thomas will probably be late for the City Council work session, which begins at 10am . . . Today’s work session . . . The Council will hear presentations on selecting the construction manager at risk for City Hall, as well as the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport master plan and final recommendations from the city’s consultant on cultural arts. The Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities is also scheduled to report on the group’s goals and accomplishments. The executive session with Austin Energy has been postponed . . . Postponed from Thursday’s agenda . . . Due to a posting error, the Council will not have a hearing this week on the proposed ordinance relating to development around pipelines. Staff has recommended that the item be heard on January 9, the first meeting of 2003. There are two competing plans for Republic Square at present—one symmetrical and one asymmetrical—with proponents on both sides. A presentation on the matter has been postponed to allow the two groups to try to reach agreement . . . Parking on San Antonio . . . The Board of Adjustment had been scheduled to hear a request this week from the Texas Hillel Foundation for a variance to eliminate 71 off-street parking spaces to enlarge its recreation center at 2105 San Antonio. The case was withdrawn, but the foundation could renew its request later. The Board of Adjustment was particularly festive this week, with homemade cookies provided by Vice Chair Betty Edgemond . . . Welcome and good night . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission welcomed new commissioner John Donisi last night in a brief meeting in which one case was approved on consent and the rest were postponed . . . Cracks on bridge explained . . . The consultant hired to investigate the cracks in the decorative covering on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge points to “restrained drying shrinkage” as the cause (see In Fact Daily, Aug. 22, 2002 ). Changes in temperature and moisture levels caused the decorative top layer of concrete, about three inches thick, to expand and contract at a different rate than the underlying bridge deck. That’s in line with a hypothesis put forth by Public Works Director Peter Rieck this summer. The report cites several other contributing factors, but notes they played only a minimal role. As for possible solutions, the firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates recommends pouring a transparent sealant called methyl methacrylate into the cracks . . . RECA to honor non-profits . . . The Real Estate Council of Austin has chosen six outstanding community organizations and will celebrate their accomplishments at the Four Seasons from 5:30 to 7pm Thursday. They are the Children’s Advocacy Center ( Sandra Martin); Literacy Austin ( Mandy Shooter); Garner Betts Arts Program ( Margaret Owens); Hill Country Conservancy ( George Cofer); Austin Community Development Corp. ( Margo Weisz); and Family Eldercare ( Joyce Haight ). The recognition will provide these organizations a venue to talk about their fundraising plans. The Children’s Advocacy Center, which provides a safe environment for abused children while cases are being investigated, is having a fundraiser on Sunday from 5-8pm at Lexus of Austin. The “ Taste of the Season” fundraiser will feature cuisine prepared by several well-known restaurants, including Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Iron Cactus and Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille . For more information, call Lee Higgins at 794-8600. © 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.
You're a community leader
And we’re honored you look to us for serious, in-depth news. You know a strong community needs local and dedicated watchdog reporting. We’re here for you and that won’t change. Now will you take the powerful next step and support our nonprofit news organization?