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Green decommissioning outlined

Friday, October 20, 2006 by

Numerous developers asking about availability of land

Historic, dilapidated, outmoded and slated for demolition. If it were an old home in West Austin, neighbors might be fighting for its preservation, but the 82-year-old Green Water Treatment Plant at the intersection of Shoal Creek and Town Lake is more valuable as a site for future downtown development, so its fate is sealed.

City staff presented a timeline Thursday to the City Council on the decommissioning and demolition of the GWTP, which—assuming passage of Proposition 6 on the November 7 ballot—will likely be the home of the new Central Library and some private development by 2010.

In response to a question from Council Member Sheryl Cole about prospects for private development, City Manager Toby Futrell said, “Over the last year-and-a-half . . . I bet I’ve had a dozen different developers talk about it. I think you're going to see enormous interest in this property. In fact I’ve had two within the past two weeks that have come ‘just asking’ about time lines, giving their credentials, talking about what they've done.”

The GWTP and its intake facility across Cesar Chavez on Town Lake have served the central part of the city. Its rated capacity is 50 million gallons per day, but because of obsolete equipment and maintenance problems, has only been able to produce a fraction of that in recent years. A move to replace it on the east end of Town Lake failed last year when several citizens’ groups protested plans to locate it on land in Guerrero Park.

Assistant City Manager Laura Huffman led a team of staff members who briefed the Council on the plans, which call for the relocation of a 72-inch water main and the selection of a decommissioning design consultant. The consultant, to be chosen next month, will develop a plan to remove the facility, dispose of the materials, relocate utilities, and handle cost estimates and permitting. The decommissioning and demolition is scheduled to be complete by Nov. 2008 at an estimated cost of $26.5 million.

In addition, the west side of the property along Shoal Creek will be stabilized, as much of the creek bank through that area has become unstable and collapsed. According to Mike Kelley with Watershed Protection and Development Review, about 400 feet of retaining wall will be removed and replaced with a new retaining wall. He estimates the cost of that project at $1 million.

One of the first changes to be made to the property after the GWTP is removed will be the extension of the downtown street grid through the area. Sondra Creighton, director of the Public Works Department said Nueces Street would be extended south from Third Street to Cesar Chavez. In addition, she said Third Street will be extended west from San Antonio Street to Shoal Creek, and with the possible building of a bridge, further west to the Seaholm Project.

Creighton said the streets would be constructed with sidewalks built to Great Streets Standards, with trees, wide sidewalks and proper lighting. There are also tentative plans, she said, for the extension of Capital Metro rail alignments along Third or Fourth Street, extending east into the downtown area.

Sue Edwards director of the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Department said redevelopment of the six-acre site is still in the planning stages, but that a number of potential developers have contacted the city. Current plans are to sell the four square blocks to developers to recover the decommissioning, deconstruction of the GWTP and addition of infrastructure in the area.

Pending the outcome of the Nov. 7 bond election, a new Central Library is planned for one portion of the area. Staff is looking at either a freestanding public building or a mixed use building with additional commercial space to house the library facility.

Council Member Brewster McCracken said he has a “strong interest” in getting the maximum amount of property tax out of the site, indicating a preference for placing the library in a mixed-use facility.

Council members also stressed that one of the redevelopment goals is to hire a consultant and developer using a request for Proposal to evaluate ideas, to have a 40 percent mix of affordable housing in the redevelopment, and to set aside areas for small businesses to operate in the area.

Huffman said the contract for a decommissioning consultant will be let next month, with that project being completed by Nov. 2008. Street extension and the overall redevelopment plan will be completed in 2007, with the final project to be finished some time in early 2010.

Consultant urges city to clean up 6th Street

Austin’s efforts to diversify the businesses on 6th Street may be running into an unexpected hurdle: the conditions on the street itself. A consultant brought in to develop a retail strategy for East and West 6th Street told the City Council on Thursday the trash and debris generated by late-night partiers is frequently not cleaned up in a timely fashion, and the resulting mess makes the area unattractive for any development other than bars.

“Quite frankly, we were appalled as we walked down 6th Street during the daytime,” said Midge McCauley of Economic Retail Associates. “A lot of the building and business owners are not reinvesting in their businesses and their storefronts. The streets do not get power-washed. The sidewalk is very filthy, it is gum-laden. We found residue from the night before…of people throwing up on the street. We went back two months later and found the same residue on the street.”

McCauley said that while business owners should be cleaning up the sidewalk in front of their property, "it’s not happening.” She relayed to the Council that some business owners had been ticketed for attempting to wash the sidewalks, but staff could not provide verification of that claim.

Her conclusion was that the poor sanitation conditions made the area un-pleasant for visitors. “I would have a difficult time bringing a retailer down to East 6th Street and say ‘you should open here’ when they would take a look at those conditions,” she said. “Those streets are filthy dirty, and they need some intensive, intensive power-washing and a regular maintenance standard.”

Along East 6th Street, there are 57 bars and only 14 retailers, a tenant mix that McCauley described as unwise. Her report described bars as being “over-served” in the area, and the number of restaurants as being at the “saturation point”. Her analysis showed that the East 6th Street area had lower real estate values than other parts of downtown, and that “the proliferation of just bars is threatening real estate values and East 6th Street’s reputation.”

Along with changing the tenant mix in that area, which has been a priority of the city’s and Mayor Will Wynn’s for the past few years, McCauley said there were several steps that could and should be taken almost immediately to improve the situation on East 6th Street. Those include : power-washing the sidewalks, have building owners repair or replace broken windows and other fixtures, have business owners clean the outside of their buildings by 7am each day, and increase the frequency of litter pick-up on the street. She also urged the building and business owners and the Downtown Austin Alliance to form a task force to address the situation.

While the 6th Street entertainment district may be world-famous, McCauley warned that without those steps, its reputation may diminish. “We looked at several other successful urban entertainment districts,” she said, “and they are busy during the day. They have a more balanced merchandise mix. Successful urban entertainment districts routinely clean their streets, at least weekly, and that means power-washing. There’s continuous litter removal. The buildings are well-maintained.”

City Manager Toby Futrell will review the recommendations of the consultant and return in 90 days with a report on steps taken to improve the situation on East 6th Street. Some of those steps, such as street washing and trash pickup, could require additional funding. Others, such as changing APD’s crowd-control strategies, increasing permit fees for mobile vendors, and imposing new regulations on outdoor automatic teller machines (ATMs) may be even more problematic.

McCauley spoke with several downtown and 6th Street business owners as part of her research and heard some long-running complaints regarding the barricades APD deploys on East 6th Street on Friday and Saturday evenings. She said those gave the appearance of a “police state”, and suggested APD consider other measures to control the crowd.

But Futrell warned that any changes to that strategy would have to pass the public safety test. Since the barricades are set up to prevent cars from traveling down the street during peak pedestrian hours, Futrell said, “we have very, very strong disagreement between our police department and the group of business owners that we have met with regarding barricading. There’s great concern from the police department side on the discussions we’ve had. They are very uncomfortable with some of the proposals to change how they set up and work with the crowds downtown.”

McCauley’s other key recommendation was to ban out-door ATMs on East 6th Street that are not attached to a bank or other financial institution. Of the 19 free-standing ATMs in the entertainment district, she said most served as trash receptacles, were in disrepair, and the operators charged up to $5.75 per transaction, which is nearly triple the usual ATM fee. However, she did not provide any examples of other cities that have found ways to regulate the placement of ATMs using local ordinances.

“We’re all very disappointed,” said Mayor Will Wynn. “I would like some enhanced staff analysis on the code-compliance part of this. Let’s understand how we can enhance code-compliance violation notices…and, from a regulatory standpoint, how we can control some of the store-front issues.”

High-tech manufacturing firm to open in Kyle

During the past several years, Kyle has struggled to move beyond its image as a bedroom community, trying without luck to attract larger businesses than the retail that dots its interstate frontage.

That luck has finally turned for the city, as it announced on Thursday a new partnership with Response-Service-Innovation (RSI), Inc., a technology company based in Austin. RSI will construct a 40,000-square-foot facility in Kyle, beginning construction in March 2007. Kyle public information officer Jerry Hendrix said the facility will cost between $3 million and $4 million dollars, with an additional $500,000 investment in equipment.

City officials have not yet named a completion date for the plant or a date when the plant will start operating.

The company will bring its two divisions to Kyle, creating as many as 200 new jobs over the next five years, Hendrix said. The divisions, the Value Added Manufacturing Component Distribution Division and CRI (Computer Ruggedization and Integration), produce high tech products for use in military, aerospace and medical fields.

As part of the agreement between RSI and Kyle officials, the city will reimburse RSI for their land purchase based on the number of jobs created and retained. The reimbursement is doubled if employees live in Kyle, Hendrix said.

RSI was founded in 1983, but added its CRI division in 1994. Its products include computer technology like servers and storage systems that are meant to withstand harsh field conditions. The company’s largest customers come from military and aerospace fields, making up 55 percent of its customer base.

“RSI looks forward to being part of the business community in Kyle and supports the enhancement of the manufacturing infrastructure and the dynamic growth envisioned in Central Texas,” said Harish Malkani, president of RSI, Inc.

RSI has purchased five acres of land in Kyle, but will initially only build on three, leaving room for a possible future expansion.

For city residents and leaders, the announcement comes at a time when Kyle’s horizons are growing quickly. For nearly three years, delays in the HEB currently under construction brought complaints from residents that the city didn’t provide enough of a commercial tax base.

“The benefits for the City of Kyle having a company like RSI move into our city are huge,” said Diana Blank, City of Kyle director of economic development. “Not only do we expand our employment and property tax base, but we also put in place a generator for future economic development to bring in other business that support RSI’s manufacturing requirements.”

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

Er….Umm . . Sue Edwards, director of the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Department, was speechless Thursday when Council Member Lee Leffingwell asked her what the city had planned if the public rejected $90 million in bonds for a new Central Library, currently planned for the site where the Green Water Treatment Plant now sits. Seeing her dismay, Leffingwell withdrew his question, but City Manager Toby Futrell said, “At the point at which we have a different sense of direction, after the bond election, if something were to change, that is when we would come back for a policy discussion with Council.” Mayor Will Wynn chimed in, “As we’ve learned from this presentation, the site likely could have one and a half to two million square feet of total development, so it would be up to us as a policy directive to decide what components would comprise that one and a half to two million square feet, library or no”. . . Also seeking Plan B . . . Council Member Mike Martinez said yesterday he would be talking to the owners of Las Manitas Restaurant today with an eye toward coming up with a solution to their lease problem. The Perez sisters, who own the café, are also concerned about the fate of the daycare next door to them and Martinez said he had been trying to resolve that question also before their lease ends on Dec. 31. Property owner Tim Finley is working on sale of the property to White Lodging for construction of a new Marriott on Congress Ave . . . City Hall West? . . . Four Austin City Council members—M ayor Will Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, and C ouncil Members Sheryl Cole and Jennifer Kim and City Manager Toby Futrell will jet off to Portland Sunday morning for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Intercity Leadership visit. They’ll be joining about 105 other local leaders and business types, including representatives of Seton Healthcare Network, Carollo Engineers, Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, AMD, Compass Bank, Fulbright & Jaworski, Winstead Sechrest and Minick, the Austin Police Association, Capital Metro, Austin Community College, PBS&J, URS, Moreland Properties, Brown McCarroll, Catellus, and numerous others. Lest anyone think they are going on a junket, think again. Virtually every minute, except for a few hours on Monday morning, is scheduled with speeches, streetcar demonstrations and discussions with local officials. The chamber is charging each participant $1,950, a price tag that includes air fare, hotel and meals. Council Members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell just returned from their road trip to Portland on behalf of Capital Metro and the Downtown Austin Alliance. In that case, however, the DAA paid for the trip so that Capital Metro board members could see how well Portland's rail and streetcar systems are working. The chamber group will return to Austin late Tuesday. . . First peek at toll road . . . While there is still opposition, toll roads will soon become a fact of life here in Central Texas. And the Texas Department of Transportation is giving a sneak peek from 7:30am to 2pm this Sunday at the Loop 1 toll plaza. Activities include competitive and fun runs, the TxTagBikeTour for all ages, moonwalks, rock wall climbing, car displays and musical entertainment. There will also be a chance to pick up a free TxTag. For more information contact Gabriela Garcia, Public Information Officer, TxDOT at 475-2134 . . . Early Voting begins Monday . . . Voters will have their choice of 83 voting locations beginning Monday as Early Voting gets underway in Travis County and throughout Texas. "Early Voting provides the chance to vote where and when the voter finds it most convenient," said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. "Voters may vote at any Early Voting site-regardless of their registered precinct." Travis County Early Voting locations are found most frequently in grocery stores and shopping malls. Other locations include educational facilities, libraries, senior and community centers. The Early Voting period for the Nov. 7 election extends from Oct. 23 – Nov. 3 (12 days, including one weekend). During the Early Voting period, 21 sites will maintain the same location each day, while a minimum of four additional "mobile" sites will offer locations and hours that vary daily. A complete list of Early Voting locations is available on the County Clerk's web site at www.traviscountyelections.org. Additional

information is available by calling 238-VOTE or 854-4996 . . . Rally to honor Ann Richards. . . Supporters of Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell will march down Congress Avenue Sunday Afternoon in honor of former Gov. Ann Richards. The march will begin at 12:30pm at Riverside Drive and Congress Avenue. The march will kick off the 1st Annual Ann Richards Memorial Action Day to “energize Democrats and educate voters on where, when, and how to vote early.” The march will end with a rally at the gates of the State Capital, where Chris Bell will speak. For more information, go to http://www.whatwouldanndo.com/awr.php .

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