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AMN could team up with ACTV

Thursday, May 27, 2004 by

Staff to proceed on private, public options simultaneously

The latest plan for preserving the Austin Music Network as a public entity involves combining the network with the public access channels managed by the Austin Community Access Center, also known as Austin Community Television (ACTV). AMN General Manager Louis Meyers made his pitch for preserving the network during Wednesday’s meeting of the City Council Committee for Telecommunications Infrastructure. The committee includes Council Members Jackie Goodman, Raul Alvarez and Betty Dunkerley.

The committee was posted to consider a resolution directing staff to move ahead with a process for negotiating with the Austin Music Partners, a privately funded group that has offered to take over the network and run it as a for-profit enterprise.

Chief Financial Officer John Stephens, told Council members that their projections were not optimistic that AMN could become self-sustaining by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1. “It is very likely that AMN cannot exist next year under its current format,” he said. The network’s revenue stream was not adequate, and Stephens said there would probably not be any money in the city budget for the network.

Since a Request for Proposals last year for outside groups to run the network yielded only two responses, neither of which were satisfactory, Stephens said it was the staff’s recommendation that the city entertain the offer from Austin Music Partners while it was still on the table. He reminded committee members that Constance Wodlinger with Austin Music Partners had pressed the city for a quick response to their proposal. “This opportunity . . . right now, appears to be the only opportunity we have to continue with the operation of Channel 15 for the next fiscal year,” Stephens said. “We’d like to bring the term sheet forward for Council’s examination and determination as soon as possible,” he concluded.

Current AMN General Manager Louis Meyers took exception to Stephens’ characterization of the network’s finances. He said that sponsorships had been dropping off because of the constant rumors and uncertainty about the network’s future, which were driven primarily by the proposal from Austin Music Partners. “It’s impossible for us to move forward while fending off constant attacks from the Austin Music Partners and their proposed Texas Music Network,” he said. Meyers offered an alternative scenario in which AMN would be combined in some fashion with ACTV.

“AMN and the Board of Directors of ACTV have made it extremely clear to city staff that they would like to see AMN become part of the future of ACTV. We encourage the city to move forward on this possibility. The only way to ensure the Austin Music Network stays part of the local community is to move in with ACTV in some shape or form.” Such an arrangement would allow the network to lower expenses by sharing space and facilities with ACTV. It would also require changing some provisions of the city’s franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable to allow AMN to continue selling sponsorships.

Former AMN General Manager Woody Roberts also endorsed the idea. He pointed out that ACTV had several hours of unused time each day on its three channels. He suggested combining the programming currently spread out on Channels 10, 11, and 16, into just two channels, reserving the third channel for AMN. Other options discussed during the meeting included running AMN programming during part of the day on an existing ACTV channel, or even negotiating with Time Warner Cable to keep AMN on Channel 15.

Meyers and Roberts concluded, along with several other supporters of AMN who attended the meeting, that AMN would not have to disappear in order for the Austin Music Partners to launch their own private service. Several speakers pointed to channels held by Time Warner that were unused or under-used which could be licensed to the for-profit group. “One could be the more professional channel that plays all the major artists,” said Roberts. “The other could be this outreach and local channel that Louis is now focusing on, this sort of access channel.”

Preserving AMN as a public entity found favor among Council members on the committee. “There seems to be a way to do this without starting a war or continuing one,” said Goodman. The possibility of two separate music networks also intrigued Dunkerley. “I think there’s a win-win,” she said. “I think we really can probably have both . . . and by having both we can expand the economic development role of the music industry here in Austin and we could also nurture the up and coming artists and the cultural aspects of our community that are currently on AMN.”

The committee asked staff to bring information back to the Council on the possibility of a partnership between AMN and ACTV while at the same time continuing discussions with Austin Music Partners. The Council could receive a briefing on the two different options at its June 10 meeting. In the meantime, the committee endorsed a measure directing the City Manager to find a way to maintain wastewater service at AMN’s current facilities. Construction work at the old Robert Mueller Airport site related to the new Children’s Hospital will cause the existing wastewater line to be severed next month, but AMN is scheduled to be on the air until the start of the new fiscal year on October 1st.

Rosy picture projected for toll road revenues

A coordinated toll road system has given the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) a better-than-expected projection of toll revenues for US 183A. Analyst Bill Ilho of Vollmer Associates, who was already under contract with the Texas Department of Transportation(TxDOT), provided the CTRMA with an updated traffic and revenue projection for the 11.6 mile toll road. The figures update a January 2002 estimate provided to TxDOT when US 183A was part of the Central Texas Toll Road Project.

Under the 2002 estimates, the toll road from the San Gabriel River to Avery Ranch Road would generate an average of 27,105 daily transactions totaling $8.341 million in revenue in its first year of operation in 2008. That would eventually hit 92,193 daily transactions in 2030 for a total of $56.355 million.

Revenue projections in 2004 are slightly better than two years ago. Ilho credits that situation to a number of factors: an integrated toll road system, an accelerated schedule for SH 130 and an improving economy with more growth in Williamson County. The toll road also includes an additional section, north of RM 620.

According to the figures, transactions would escalate rapidly, growth that would ultimately stabilize. in 2008, the first year of operation,57,391 transactions per day would be expected to generate a revenue of $15.793 million. The revenue level would reach $56.519 million by 2021, going from there to 163,512 daily transactions in 2030 for a total of $89.416 million. Calculations are made on an average estimated for 300 days per year, according to consulting engineer Richard Ridings.

“New numbers are showing much more traffic being generated than prior years,” Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein told the board, pointing out that transactions in the Avery Ranch area alone bumped up the number by 20 percent.

The toll for the 11-mile stretch would be $2. That would be roughly 15 cents a mile, which Ilho said is comparable to most start-up toll road projects.

Commissioner Bob Bennett admitted he found it hard to believe that the toll road would generate as many as 27,000 transactions in the first year. As a point of comparison, Ilho noted that US 183 in the vicinity of SH 45/RM 620 carries between 60,000 and 80,000 vehicles a day. The bridge at I-35 at the Colorado River carries 200,000 vehicles per day.

Vollmer will conduct further sensitivity analysis with the numbers, testing the figures against variables such as a depressed economy or slower-than-expected construction, Ilho told the board. The additional work will also take an east-west cross-section of the available roadways, predicting which north-south corridors will be chosen. The sensitivity study should be completed by the end of June.

Along with US 183 and US 183A, the analysis will consider the improvement of Parmer Lane as a possible alternative. Parmer will soon be extended. Ridings, however, does not expect the improved Parmer, extended up to SH 29, to divert significant traffic off US 183A because most of the roadway will have traffic signals. The toll road alternative would turn a 30-minute trip into an 11-minute trip.

After the meeting, Ridings said he could not yet predict whether the toll revenues would cover the cost of US 183A. That will be clearer when a firm number on the highway’s cost is presented to the CTRMA in October. The authority must make sure revenue covers debt service and operations, plus a 25 percent margin.

Currently the CTRMA projects awarding a contract and selling bonds in October, Ridings said, and at this point, he sees nothing that would delay that schedule.

Ilho did not predict that commuter rail, if approved by Austin voters, would have a major impact on the numbers. Chair Bob Tesch pressed Ilho on the topic, asking him if commuter rail numbers were “insignificant for our purposes.” Ilho said he would not go that far, and then added that commuter rail riders would likely be “a small number.”

The only speaker at the meeting on the revenue projections was Roger Baker. Baker wanted the forecast to incorporate more dire impacts of higher gasoline prices and the possible impact of “radical changes in travel modes.”

Today’s City Council meeting . . . It could be a short day for the Council and city staff as well as Council watchers. A contentious item relating to a conditional-use permit scheduled for a 6pm hearing will likely be postponed. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will be in charge of the meeting since Mayor Will Wynn is out of town . . . Hitting the road . . . Mayor Will Wynn has been invited to speak by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) meeting in Bonn, Germany next week. In addition, while in Bonn, the mayor will attend the International Conference for Renewable Energies. He has been attending the World Congress on Information Technology in Athens, Greece. Austin Energy Vice President Roger Duncan will also be in Bonn, attending the renewable energy conference. The World Wildlife Fund will be holding a press event during the conference to highlight the organization’s Power Switch Program, with Duncan as the featured speaker. He will outline Austin Energy’s Green Choice and Green Building programs. Austin Energy Senior Management Analyst Ester Matthews will also talk about the utility’s innovative programs at the ICLEI meeting. In Fact Daily editor Jo Clifton will attend the conference as a media representative. There will only be four issues of In Fact Daily next week—Tuesday through Friday. Our staff will put the web site up and the editor will return the following week . . . Environmental Board subcommittee met at 9am . . . Due to a posting error, In Fact Daily reported there would be a special meeting of the Environmental Board at 6pm Wednesday. The subcommittee studying the proposed Barton Springs mitigation plan met yesterday morning and will have another meeting June 9 at 9am. The regular board meeting will be next Wednesday at 6pm in the usual location. The full board will hear a briefing on the proposal on June 16, according to Chair Lee Leffingwell. Leffingwell said, “The subcommittee is trying to determine what the need is for (the policy). We’re kind of afraid that once guidelines are established, the ones who are currently operating under SOS rules will jump in. I’m keeping an open mind right now.”

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