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MACC board impatient to break ground

Thursday, September 22, 2005 by

Panel wants groundbreaking in November

Members of the Mexican American Cultural Center Advisory Board, frustrated by repeated delays in getting the project under way, may hold groundbreaking ceremonies for the project in mid-November—even if the City Council has not let a contract by then.

In a divided vote Tuesday night, board members approved a motion to write a letter to Council members informing them that the organization intends to celebrate the future of the MACC with a “symbolic” groundbreaking on November 16 in the hope that the Council will have directed appropriate resources to the project by that time.

Some on the board pushed for a groundbreaking on October 12 to coincide with the United East Austin Coalition’s Dia de la Raza celebration, but Project Manager Paul Medrano said that, logistically, the Council could not act in time for that date to be viable.

Board Member Stephen Parks, who made the motion for the November date, said it sent the proper message.

“It demonstrates a cooperative spirit on our part, but it also shows that we are definitely going to move forward with the project,” he said.

Medrano told the board that city staff is ready to go to the Council with a bid recommendation on Phase 1 of the project, but that an increase in construction costs means that it may have to be cut back or delayed. Phase 1 currently includes a main building with classrooms and administration space, and a multi-purpose area with a performance stage. Medrano said that without additional funding, the multi-purpose area might have to be moved to Phase 2.

“There are a couple of sources of extra funding we are looking at,” he said. “The first is a $1.5 million federal grant that would help finish all of Phase 1. The second source is getting the project on the 2006 bond election ballot.”

Medrano said the grant, which would come from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, won’t be confirmed until mid-October after the federal government’s new fiscal year begins. He said the Council would most likely wait to hear if that grant were available before it approved staff’s recommendation from the sealed bid process.

Board members were also encouraged to attend the city Bond Election Advisory Committee’s public hearings that begin tonight to try and get the MACC on the ballot.

Board Member Martha Cotera, who opposed delaying the groundbreaking until November, said she wasn’t content to wait.

“I think we need to tell them that we have been waiting too long for this,” she said. “Some of us have waiting 30 years for this. The original bond money was approved in 1998, but we still can’t get a commitment. You know, 34 percent of the taxpayers in this town are Latinos. We ought to be able to get this built.”

She said if the staff is ready to bring bids to the Council, they should move ahead with whatever portion of the project the bids will cover, and take care of the rest whenever the grant or bond funds become available.

“I think it is a matter that they (the Council) don’t see the Latino community as a group that is going to fight for something,” Cotera said. “Our feelings on this should be heard as soon a possible.”

Board Chair Donato Rodriguez said he would draft the letter, which would include the wording of the motion approved by the board, and other reasons why the board felt it should go ahead with a groundbreaking. After circulating it among other board members, Rodriguez said he would deliver it to Council members by the end of the week.

Austin could host 50,000 fleeing from hurricane

Austin will once again be called upon to provide shelter for thousands of people forced to evacuate their homes along the Gulf Coast in the next few days. This time, most of the visitors will be from Texas, as Hurricane Rita is predicted to make landfall somewhere along the middle Texas coast late Friday or early Saturday.

The City of Austin, with cooperation from the Austin Independent School District, opened the first emergency shelter at the Delco Center Wednesday afternoon. The city’s emergency plan calls for several smaller shelters at different locations, rather than one single facility like the Austin Convention Center, which is still in use as a shelter for Hurricane Katrina evacuees from Louisiana.

While that setup was necessary to meet the medical needs of the people brought in by airplane from New Orleans, city officials predict that most of the evacuees from Corpus Christi, Houston or Galveston will not need that level of medical assistance or social services.

“These families will be mobile. They’re coming in their own personal vehicles, and they’ve had time to plan. They’ll come with their own resources,” said Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza. “We expect that these families, in many cases will have an overnight stay. We don’t expect this to be a long, draw-out process like what we just experienced.”

State officials have advised Central Texas officials to prepare for up to 50,000 people coming in from coastal Texas towns. As of Wednesday night, only a few dozen had sought out shelter at the Delco Center. That could change today as more areas are ordered to evacuate. “The hotels right now in the Austin area are full, if not 100 percent full,” said Bruce Mills, Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management. “If they’re looking for hotels, they’ll need to go farther north.”

Although hurricanes are difficult to forecast, one possible route for Rita would place the storm over Central Texas by mid-afternoon on Saturday. That could mean a busy weekend for Austin Energy crews dealing with downed lines because of high winds. “We do know there will be a weather impact to the City of Austin,” said Garza. “We expect we’ll see some rain. We could see winds between 30 and 60 miles per hour. All of our resources are prepared. Our troops are ready.” Crews from the Lower Colorado River Authority could be busy too.

LCRA meteorologist Bob Rose said, “At this point, computer models show the storm coming ashore near Matagorda Bay. It's still early and the path could change, but now it looks more and more likely that the Texas coast is about to be hit.”

South Texas Nuclear Plant officials in Bay City say both of that facility’s reactors will be shut down during the storm as a safety measure. The plant, located 12 miles inland from Matagorda Bay, is owned by a group of power companies. Austin Energy owns 16 percent of STNP.

Visitors for the Austin City Limits Music Festival in town already booked hotel rooms across Central Texas. According to the festival’s web site, the show will go on as long as the weather allows. “We do expect some rain on Saturday, so be sure to bring an umbrella and wear your rain gear,” organizers tell ticket-holders at http://www.austincitylimits.com. “If weather conditions appear to present any kind of danger to fans, musicians or crews, we are prepared to make the necessary adjustments to maintain safety. Until then, the festival is on, rain or shine.” (See Whispers, below.)

Local hospitals are also playing a role in the city’s efforts to assist Gulf Coast residents. The University of Texas-Medical Branch in Galveston has evacuated approximately 200 patients to Seton Healthcare Network facilities in Austin. “We’re coordinating with the St. David’s Partnership and the Heart Hospital of Austin,” said Matt Dick, Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Management for the Seton Healthcare Network. “We’re coordinating with our specialty hospitals. We’re coordinating with nursing homes.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Taking precautions . . . In Fact Daily will shut down for the approach of whatever remains of Hurricane Rita so that we can move electronic equipment away from windows. We will also be taking Monday off, but we will publish on Friday . . . Don’t tell it to City Hall . . . Some callers to the City of Austin have suggested that the city give up on the Austin City Limits Music Festival and refund ticket money. Presumably these are people who do not understand that while the city loves ACL, it is a privately-run operation and the managers make their own decisions—so far that decision is to move forward, rain or shine. Organizers of the Old Pecan Street Fall Arts Festival also plan to host their event, notwithstanding bad weather predictions. Other callers have tried to talk those in charge into displacing hotel guests with reservations for Texas Gulf Coast evacuees—also a highly unlikely scenario . . . No City Council meeting today . . . The Council will return next week and face, among other things, a giant list of zoning cases, according to those in the know . . . Bond hearing tonight . . .The Bond Election Advisory Committee will hold a public hearing from 7-9pm tonight at the St. James Episcopal Church, 3701 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. . . Aquifer board to meet . . . The board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District meets at 6pm at district headquarters at 1124 Regal Row in Manchaca. . . New Hilton management . . . Hilton Hotels Corporation has announced a management reorganization at the Hilton Austin. Andy Slater, who has served dual roles as Area Vice President of Operations as well as General Manager of the Hilton Austin, has been given oversight responsibility over an expanded list of Hilton properties. Slater’s expanded role has opened the position of General Manager, to which Hilton has appointed Douglas K. Gehret, who previously served as hotel manager since the downtown Hilton’s opening in January 2004 . . . . Getting it straight . . . In all the excitement over yesterday’s announcement that Sheryl Crow, along with fiancé Lance Armstrong, was planning a free concert in Zilker Park on October 2, we accidentally misspelled her first name with a “C.” We certainly hope this doesn’t hurt our chances of getting a wedding invitation . . . New commissioner . . . Joe Moreno Jr. made his first meeting of the Downtown Commission on Wednesday night, representing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Moreno, a native Austinite, works in regulatory affairs at SBC.

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