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Planning Commission splits on saving Athletic Club

Thursday, June 1, 2006 by

The dilapidated condition of the Austin Athletic Club facility – and the limitations on its possible restoration — were enough to split the Planning Commission on its recommendation of historic zoning on the structure, meaning that the commission will send the city-owned building on to Council with no landmark recommendation.

The Historic Landmark Commission had no problem putting a historic recommendation forward for the city’s athletic club, despite the fact the building is located in a floodplain and was heavily damaged by the flooding of Shoal Creek. To preserve the building would mean spending between $3 million and $4 million and then either putting the structure up on stilts or moving it to a new site away from its Shoal Creek location.

The city, however, has already applied for a demolition permit on the circa-1924 property, which sits on a piece of downtown land next to the newer Austin Recreation Center. The three-story wooden structure has been closed for 19 years, heavily damaged by floods. The city considered the choices either preservation on site, preservation elsewhere or demolition and settled on demolition, given the high cost of preserving the building.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the Planning Commission it is not unprecedented to move a historic building to a new location. The Susana Dickinson House was moved to make way for the new downtown Hilton Hotel. The Roy Thomas House and O Henry House also were moved to new locations to make way for development.

That argument did not win over Chair Chris Riley, who said he could not support the measure for historic zoning, but only with the greatest regret. This building, Riley said, would not be moved up the street, like the Dickinson House. It would have to be moved far from its present location. Relocating it would not preserve the same historic character. Nor did the building retain sufficient integrity in its materials or design to give the structure the proper label of "historic," no matter what role it played in the city.

Commissioner Mandy Dealey made the motion for historic zoning, a motion that was seconded by David Sullivan. Dealey said she loved the Austin Athletic Club, and it broke her heart to see it decay. The building’s historic significance to the city was clear. Sullivan agreed, say the city should pursue the use of ACC parking fees – the college uses the parking lot for college parking – as a source of revenue for restoration. Even if the building is demolished, a historic marker should be pursued on the site, Sullivan said. Commissioners Jay Reddy and Perla Cavazos joined the two in their vote.

On the other side, Commissioner Cid Galindo said he, in good conscience, could not recommend preservation of a building at such a high cost, given the priorities of the city parks department. The discussion on whether to preserve the building, Galindo said, should have happened 30, or even 20, years ago. Commissioner Matt Moore agreed, saying that building was not historic in terms of its contextual setting. Riley and Commissioner Keith Jackson joined Galindo and Moore in their vote against historic zoning.

Riley also called for a full accounting of historic properties owned by various city departments, saying it was important to make sure the city was preserving the historic assets that it owned. The sad neglect of the Austin Athletic Club should not be repeated in other city-owned buildings, Riley said. Commissioner Gary Stegeman did not participate.

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

Lobby news . . . Carol McGarah and Rusty Kelley, who are with Public Strategies, Inc. and normally haunt the halls of the Texas Capitol, have registered as city lobbyists for NBC. According to Kelley’s registration form, they are seeking to bring a "new series to Texas" . . . Celia Israel, who also normally works in other venues, has registered to lobby for Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc.( LAN), a local civil engineering firm. The firm is providing staffing and technical support for Capital Metro’s All Systems Go projects, including the planning, design and construction contracts for the implementation of commuter rail between downtown Austin and Leander . . . Renewal . . . Trey Salinas of Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, has added some new clients to his official lobby list at the city. Those include Sustainable Water Resources LLC, which plans to build a $250 million pipeline to serve communities along the SH130 corridor. The group, which will be pumping groundwater from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, would like to sell some of that water to the City of Austin to replace the Green Water Treatment Plant. Partners in the company include Winstead Consulting Group and Bury+Partners Inc . . . Out of town . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken’s office was dark yesterday after McCracken and his two aides headed to Providence, RI, where they will attend the annual meeting of the Congress of New Urbanism . . . Mayor Will Wynn will be attending the US Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Las Vegas. While there, Wynn will accept a City Livability Award on behalf of Austin Energy, which is being recognized for its Green Choice and energy efficiency programs . . . Saldaña purchases Adelánte . . . Paul Saldaña has purchased 100 percent of the stock of Adelánte Solutions, Inc., effective today and has assumed full ownership of the firm. Originally formed by Trey Salinas, Paul Saldaña and Don Martin in 2003 as an offshoot from Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, Adelánte was created to provide public affairs representation tailored to the culture and values of the of growing Hispanic market in Central Texas. According to a press release from the firm, Adelánte Solutions will now become an entirely separate and independent company but will continue to work with Martin & Salinas together on future projects. The two firms share a number of clients, including AOL Time Warner, AMD, Cencor Urban and Constellation Property Group. Saldaña is the incoming Chair of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for 2006-2007 . . . CTRMA meeting briefs . . . Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein predicted that members of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s board of directors would be pleased with the final report from the independent Charles River Associates on mobility alternatives for Phase II of the regional toll road plan. Heiligenstein said a draft of the independent report is due to members of CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board at the end of this summer, with a vote on any changes to the Phase II toll road program by year’s end. . . . Chair Bob Tesch told the audience at yesterday’s CTRMA meeting that a group from the mobility authority had met with the City of Leander to talk about how the main lanes of US 183A can be tied into the city’s transit-oriented development project. Both commuter rail and the US 183A toll road will pass through Leander. Tesch said the negotiations, still in the early stages, have the potential of producing good results and setting an example for how regional mobility authorities work with local communities . . . Public Art workshops . . . The Austin Art in Public Places Program plans a series of monthly artists’ workshops beginning in June and running through September. Noted artists and arts professionals will lead each of the four workshops, which will provide a comprehensive overview of the public art making process. June and July workshops will be held at Play! Theatre, 1204 Cedar at East 12th St. August and September workshops will be held at the Carver Library, 1165 Angelina St. All workshops will be on Saturdays from 11 am – 1 pm. All are open to the public and are free of charge. For information, go to http://www.cityofaustin.org/aipp . . . Adopt a kitty cat . . . The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services’ Town Lake Animal Center and the ASPCA celebrate Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month. Central Texans are invited to Town Lake Animal Center in Austin, where cats of all sizes, breeds, ages, and personalities are available. The adoption fee includes tests, vaccinations, spay or neutering, registration, a microchip, and a collar with tags. Through July 3, the fee for all cats will be just $35, reduced from the regular fee of $75. Town Lake Animal Center is located between MoPac and Lamar Blvd, on the north shore of Town Lake. The shelter is open Monday – Friday 11:30am – 7pm and Saturday and Sunday 11:30am – 5pm. For more information, call 972-6088 or go to dorinda.pulliam@ci.austin.tx.us . . . Drive-throughs big in Austin . . . According to a survey by the Scarborough Group, Austin ranks among the highest cities for the number of drive through meals at fast food restaurants. The average adult visits a quick service restaurant such as McDonald's or Subway 5.2 times in a given month. Birmingham, AL, residents, however, visit a quick service restaurant 6.5 times in the average month. Louisville, Ky., 6.4 visits and Austin, 6.3 visits. Guess Austinites are burning off the Big Macs on the Town Lake Trail .

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