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Post 9/11 losses force airport to draw down reserve funds

Monday, August 9, 2004 by

Passengers on flights to Dallas, Houston still lower than pre-911

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is turning to its reserve funds to make ends meet in the 2004-05 budget. While passenger traffic is up at the airport, air travel has not fully recovered from the decline following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. That decline still affects the number of passengers flying into and out of Austin, which in turn impacts revenue for the city's Aviation Department.

While overall passenger traffic at ABIA has been up this year by about 6 percent ( http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/news/2004/abia_april_stats.htm), certain routes that previously accounted for a large number of passengers are not keeping pace with that recovery. "A very large portion of our traffic before 9/11 was between Dallas and Houston," Aviation Department Director Jim Smith explained to the City Council last week. "That traffic dropped 30 percent after 9/11 and never came back. People are driving to Dallas and Houston now. While overall some things are doing well, there are other things that aren't working as well as they were prior to 9/11," Smith said.

The amount of air cargo passing through ABIA has also been down slightly this year, with a 44 percent drop in the amount of international air cargo when compared to 2003. The number of flights by smaller, private aircraft (dubbed "general aviation") has also suffered a small decrease. Another factor affecting the airport's revenue stream has been the opening of off-site parking facilities. The airport has countered by running specials on parking within the airport garage and long-term surface lots. "You add all those things up and we've gone from making approximately a $10 million profit in 2002 to this year just barely breaking even," Smith said.

To help the airport break even, the Aviation Department plans to draw upon $2.7 million in reserve funds for the FY 2004-05 budget. "On a cash-flow basis, we will be spending $2.7 million more than we will be taking in in revenue," Smith explained. Without turning to those funds for a one-time infusion, Smith said, the airport would be forced to drastically change the way it operates. Costs for design and construction, security and facilities maintenance are all going up. Dipping into the revenue fund again for the FY 2005-06 budget may not be necessary. The city's forecast for the revenue departments made in the spring of 2003 projected a 3-percent increase in the number of passengers each year, returning the airport to its pre-9/11 traffic levels in 2006.

Proposal would move some Rainey St. homes

Urban planners want mixed-use projects in old historic district

Last week, the Design Commission got its first look at city staff recommendations on the Rainey Street Waterfront Overlay District, an outgrowth of the Downtown Commission's recent effort to move the dilapidated downtown neighborhood out of limbo.

The 33-page draft, produced by the Austin Urban Design Office, is the work of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation and Neighborhood Planning. It stays true to the Downtown Commission's recommendation to intensify development in the neighborhood, with an emphasis on pedestrian-oriented mixed-use projects.

The most controversial recommendation is a proposal to move the historic homes on Rainey Street and relocate them in a historic enclave on Rainey Street or on River Street near the Mexican-American Cultural Center. The Rainey Street neighborhood, which developed before the turn of the last century, was designated a National Register Historic District in 1985.

According to the city report, a dozen houses along or near Rainey Street would easily qualify for the city's historic landmark designation. Knowing this and knowing that it is almost impossible to "undo" a National Register District designation, the city has tried to come up with a compromise on the issue. That is why staff is recommending the houses be moved.

Urban Design Officer Jana McCann freely admitted that the enclave concept was not considered Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky's "highest and best" method to preserve the historic homes in the neighborhood. Nor is the enclave concept the best and highest use of the existing property in the neighborhood, given that most of the homeowners are not interested in conserving the district, McCann said.

"Our goal, in initiating this rezoning, is to come up with urban design standards so that redevelopment can happen in a graceful way," McCann said. "This is very much a compromise. We're trying to preserve the best of the historic homes and group them in a cluster that would make sense."

Planner George Adams presented the overview of recommendations, which will be presented to a number of commissions before they arrive at the Council in October. Among the recommendations made regarding the Rainey Street overlay:

Properties that are not currently zoned Central Business District (CBD) or Downtown Mixed-Use(DMU) would be rezoned Commercial Services (CS).

Urban design standards would be set by amending the current Waterfront Overlay District, with the intention of creating context sensitive urban design with proper setbacks and stepbacks for projects in the district. Other overlay amendments would include prohibition of surface parking lots along Rainey and River streets, accessible mid-block pedestrian passages, preservation of alley access and requirements for the replacement of many of the trees in the area.

CBD does not set height limitations. Under the Waterfront Overlay District, any building taller than 120 feet would have to be limited on its width in order to keep the building in proportion to the district. McCann said the guidelines are based on urban design guidelines used in Vancouver.

Developers who met certain design standards would be entitled to development bonuses, according to the report. The Downtown Commission talked extensively about possible incentives for properties that complied with design standards. Incentives mentioned by Adams included upzoning of property, Great Streets program funds, city capital improvements, Smart housing incentives and economic development policy incentives that are currently under development at the city.

Other recommendations include connecting the trail system across the neighborhood, establishing a Park Impact Fee for all projects not under the parkland dedication ordinance and extending Red River to improve access to the neighborhood.

The Design Commission will meet as a committee of the whole to consider its recommendations for the proposal and plans to generate its own recommendations by August 16. The proposal will also be presented to the Planning Commission and Downtown Commission this month. It will then be presented to the Historic Landmark Commission, which has been the strongest opponent to redevelopment of the Rainey Street neighborhood.

Doggett, other officials address to discuss health issues . . . Congressman Lloyd Doggett, members of the new hospital district board, Travis County legislators, members of the Commissioners Court, the City Council and City Manager Toby Futrell will gather with East Austin residents tonight to discuss Community Health. The meeting, to be held at the Rosewood-Zaragosa Community Health Center, 2802 Webberville Road, will begin at 6:00pm. Given the current relationship between the county and the city, the meeting could be quite interesting . . . Tonight’s other meetings . . . The Board of Adjustment and Sign Review Board will meet at 5:30pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. Among the requests they will consider is a variance for St. David’s Health Care Center on I-35 to build to 175 feet in a general office zoning district, which allows buildings to stand only 60 feet in height . . . The Electric Utility Commission, meeting at 6pm in the Assembly Room of Town Lake Center, will hear a presentation on Austin Energy’s budget plans for the coming year . . . The Library Commission will meet at the Austin History Center at 7pm.

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