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Artists upset with changes in park design

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 by

Artists dissatisfied with the progress and plans for Town Lake Park found a sympathetic ear at the Arts Commission Monday, although it’s still uncertain whether the intervention of commissioners will make any difference in construction at the park.

The question is what belonged to the original artists of the park design and what belongs to the city’s new team on the scaled-back project, currently under construction. The Arts Commission, particularly Commissioner Sue Graze, are concerned that local artists were given short shrift and little notice of the changes to the project, which artist Beverly Penn has told commissioners contain many of her original infrastructure elements.

“The artists were quite concerned about how the project had progressed, on a lot of levels,” Graze said last night, summarizing the discussions of at least two prior meetings. “The Parks Department has bid out the project and essentially eliminated any of the above-ground features that were designed by the artists except for the infrastructure.”

The infrastructure includes the concept of the spiral garden, which was intended to hold future art objects as fund-raising produced more park elements. Even as the construction moves forward, the artists are questioning the ownership of the park’s concept, a point that is likely to be hashed out between legal teams if the issue cannot be resolved.

As might be expected, the problem comes down to money. The city – flush with the passage of the 1998 bond issue and a promise of a $1 million grant from the Junior League—gave carte blanche to local artist Donald Lipski to design an interactive fountain on the site of the old Coliseum and a team led by Penn to create an elaborate spiral children’s garden on Riverside Drive underwritten by the Junior League.

It was creative, beautiful and expensive. Early money paid for the initial design of the park but little else. Three years ago, with the downturn in the city budget, the artistic aspects of the park – the fountain and the children’s garden – were postponed in favor of building the Palmer Events Center and preparing the way for the Long Center. The elaborate plans for the park were put off, and the Junior League pulled its funding.

Fast forward to 2006: the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is finally ready to pour the concrete on its scaled back version of Town Lake Park south of Riverside Drive. TBG Inc. has taken over the scaled-back design, creating the baseline park that could eventually be expanded with private fund-raising by the city.

“PARD appreciates the disappointment of the artistic team that the full plan is not being built, but the City must respond to funding constraints,” Assistant Director Stuart Strong wrote in an e-mail yesterday to Chair Gloria Mata Pennington. “The final construction plans are sealed by TBG, Inc., and the artist’s names will not appear in the park as sub-consultants. The Children’s Garden has been an ambitious, well-intentioned effort to create a delightful creation in the park with funds in excess of the AIPP allocation. The effort is worth repeating.”

The Arts Commission understood the budget limitations. Art budgets come and they go, noted Commissioner Mel Ziegler. Two other issues, however, raised a red flag with commissioners: the concern of local artists that their input and concerns were marginalized as the process moved forward and the exclusion of Arts Commission input as the project continued to move forward on its scaled-back budget.

Megan Weiler, Art in Public Places coordinator, noted her own discomfort at being placed between the commission and other city departments, especially on legal issues. Commissioners assured her the real issue of concern was process, not legalities. Commissioners agreed that the process was neither easy nor pleasant, even as Cultural Arts Program Manager Vincent Kitch cautioned commissioners against overstepping their bounds into an arena that might be better handled by lawyers.

“I have a much bigger concern,” Graze told him. “My question is, ‘Has the Parks Department operated in good faith all the way along this process?’”

If commissioners could have, they would have called for a halt for construction on the Town Lake site, which Strong noted in his email, was well on its way to completion. Lacking the ability to resolve the problem, Pennington asked Graze and Ziegler to contact the artists about continuing concerns and schedule a meeting with PARD officials.

Ziegler said the park is known as the gem of the city with a design that could easily win national awards. For the Arts Commission to walk away would be wrong, he said. Better to see grass planted on the site until a real design could be reached than complete a project that many will seen as done with a concrete spiral staircase. To consider that enough would be to give up the work so many people worked so long to achieve, he said.

Graze agreed, saying she feared that once the staircase is completed the city would abandon further efforts to complete the master plan as originally envisioned.

Cesar Chavez redesign causes concerns

Engineering work is continuing on the redesign of Cesar Chavez Street into a two-way divided parkway between San Antonio Street and I-35, but members of the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee have sent city staff back to the drawing board on one troublesome intersection.

Plans for the $3.9 million project to convert the roadway won Council approval last September, but the city’s Public Works Department was asked in May to answer several questions posed by subcommittee members. At that time, members wanted to know if a reversible lane would improve traffic flow, which pedestrian crosswalks would have refuge islands and how eastbound traffic would turn into the parking garage at 100 Congress and another planned for 101 Colorado.

At last week’s LUT meeting, staff said that WHM Transportation consultants concluded that there was no difference in the traffic volumes going in each direction, so a reversible lane was not recommended. Staff also said that three of the 10 crossing locations planned for redesigned roadway would have raised median islands with four-foot wide refuges.

But the issue of how to handle traffic going into the parking garage was a bit stickier. Council Member Brewster McCracken had concerns that traffic would back up while cars tried to make a left turn into a driveway connected to the parking garages mid-block between Congress and Colorado. McCracken also wanted staff to consider eliminating one of the two planned left-turn lanes on eastbound Cesar Chavez onto Congress to avoid making the roadway any wider at that point.

"My concern is that it is a seven-lane wide intersection, and that cars turning left will back up traffic," said McCracken. He cited staff’s own traffic projections, which showed very high traffic demand from both east and west for the two garages.

Despite that, Public Works staff said that based on modeled traffic volumes, there would be sufficient gaps in westbound traffic for vehicles to turn left. However, McCracken felt that there needed to be better options for cars to get into the garages, even if they were not what the engineers felt were the most efficient.

"I’d like to see us come back with a couple of different options on routing traffic through that area," he said, suggesting that staff consider routing traffic via Second Street, or converting the stretch of Colorado between Cesar Chavez and Second Street to two-way.

Staff also expressed concern that another trip back to the drawing board could add time and expense to the project. With construction scheduled to begin in January, any new design elements could affect the timetable.

Council Member Lee Leffingwell said that he thought the project could move forward while staff studied the traffic flow in and out of the garages, and made possible changes in the plan.

"There may be an additional cost incurred for carrying forward any design changes, but it will cost less than not getting it right in the first place," he said.

At least two people who have offices at 100 Congress were critical of the plans to reroute traffic in the area.

"It’s a bad idea," said attorney Richard Suttle of Armbrust & Brown. "Look at the traffic problems we already have on Second Street. If we route more traffic through there, the problems will only increase."

Public Works staff plan to restudy traffic flow through the area, and return to the LUT next month with several options for the members to consider, as well as estimates of how making changes at this point in the project will affect both schedule and the cost .

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

More on water plant plans. . . Thursday’s City Council agenda includes two items relating to the city’s plans for meeting future water needs. As noted last week, there is not currently a Council majority in favor of moving forward with the Green Water Treatment Plant at this time. But thee Council members— Brewster McCracken, Betty Dunkerley and Lee Leffingwell—have placed an item on the agenda directing the manager to "move forward on the design, engineering, and construction of a new water treatment plant." In Fact Daily has heard that the new plant would be able to draw water from Lake Travis, but not draw protests from the Environmental Board as did the previous location within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. We reported in January that Austin Water Utility Director Chris Lippe had told members of the Water and Wastewater Commission that he was "ready to talk about alternate sites for the Water Treatment Plant #4, planned near RR 620 and RM 2222 . . ." (See In Fact Daily Jan. 12, 2006.) The Environmental Board started the search for other sites more than a year ago. (See In Fact Daily, April 22, 2005 and July 25, 2005) . . . As a corollary to his sponsorship of the direction to return to WTP #4, Leffingwell has put an item on the agenda directing staff to begin "immediate implementation of aggressive water conservation measures." . . . Car, what car? . . Someone managed to drive a large vehicle into the lowest portion of the City Hall parking garage around 3:30am Sunday, breaking a chain designed to keep out the unwary and wedging the vehicle between the floor and a sprinkler in the ceiling. The sprinkler head broke off, water came rushing into the garage and the driver fled the scene. City Building Services Officer Jill Maness said the broken sprinkler head alerted the Fire Department, which came to see what was happening. Maness had the vehicle towed away. Although she said she knows the name of the vehicle’s owner, Maness wants to view tapes from the garage’s security cameras before making a positive identification of the driver. As of Monday afternoon, there was still some water on the floor of lowest section of the garage. She said the city uses a small sump pump for such emergencies because of the possible environmental hazards associated with wastewater from a garage being put into the city’s storm sewers . . . Another chapter begins . . Council Member-elect Sheryl Cole and her staff moved into their new office Monday. Council Member-elect Mike Martinez was sitting in a conference room but may be in his new office this morning. They, along with Mayor Will Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken will be sworn in beginning at 6pm tonight at the Palmer Events Center. They are not using the Council chambers because the Zoning and Platting Commission will be meeting there . . . Other meetings . . The ZAP meets at 6pm tonight, with a full agenda and officer election scheduled. The site plan for Bouldin Meadows is scheduled to for consideration once again . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at Commission Chambers at 314 w. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioner Court meets at 9:30am at the County Annex on Inner Loop Drive in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in room 301 of the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos . . . County records go offline . . . Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said Monday that her office will temporarily halt publishing public records on the Internet. DeBeauvoir said her commitment to protecting individual personal data outweighs the convenience of accessing records online. DeBeauvoir stressed the public records will remain available in the offices of the County Clerk. The County Clerk's office has been working to redact personal information included in public records since the state Legislature in 2005 gave County Clerks the authority to remove Social Security numbers of living persons filing current documents. DeBeauvoir said initially her staff thought they could continue business as usual while working to delete personal information. However, the public library of documents is large and will take more time to edit. Documents will be restored online as the process is completed. Anyone concerned about information filed with the County Clerk's office can contact her office at 854-9188. The County Clerk's office at 5501 Airport Boulevard also can provide personal assistance to individuals on a walk-in basis.

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