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Ballet block takes big bite out of street money By Kimberley Reeves

Friday, December 8, 2006 by

The city plans to devote almost half of its $1.1 million Great Streets budget this year to improve the block faces around the Ballet Austin site on Third Street.

The plans for Ballet Austin – or, more specifically, the block faces around the dance building – were presented at this week’s Downtown Commission meeting. Technically, the proposal is for the city to pick up the majority of the Great Streets costs for Ballet Austin. The item will be up for Council approval at next week’s meeting.

Fred Evins of the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services, who presented the Ballet Austin proposal to the commission, stressed that the city’s contribution would strengthen the connection from the Second Street district to the Seaholm site. The city also has an interest in protecting the properties that border the Green Treatment Plant, which is expected to be a serious contender for the city’s new downtown library. The Ballet Austin agreement was not a precedent, but a partnership between the city and a major civic arts organization, Evins said.

Under the agreement, the city would provide $453,000 of the $590,000 cost for the sidewalk and streetscape improvements. Ballet Austin agreed to pick up the balance of the cost, and any cost overruns, on the project. Other fee waivers are planned to guarantee that Ballet Austin is comfortable with a permanent home downtown.

In exchange, Ballet Austin would agree to maintain its presence in downtown Austin for at least 20 years, providing another arts anchor for a part of downtown that will soon be home to a revamped Austin Music Hall, the redeveloped Block 21 with Austin City Limits and the Austin Children’s Museum, and the new federal courthouse. Cookie Ruiz, executive director of Ballet Austin, stressed the community aspects of the Ballet Austin project, including the dance academy, classes and the use of building’s public space over the last year by three-dozen community groups.

To Commissioner Bruce Willenzik, in the throes of running this year’s Armadillo Bazaar at the Austin Music Hall, the completion of Great Streets to his end of Third Street downtown is critical, especially given the anticipated construction schedule ahead, when parking spaces will disappear and construction cranes will arrive for various projects.

“I cannot tell you how important it is for us to have some sense of connectivity at our end of Third Street,” Willenzik told his colleagues on the Downtown Commission. “It’s critical for us to have Great Streets all the way down from the Convention Center instead of a big gap with nothing but a little sidewalk, especially when there’s never going to be anything but a state parking garage before you get to us. Even if I wasn’t a tenant of the Austin Music Hall, I would say having this connectivity all the way from Lamar to the Convention Center is critical. This is the beginning to make that happen.”

Tim Finley, who represents the Downtown Austin Alliance on the commission, did present a list of concerns, specifically questioning the amount and proportion of the funding. City planner George Adams, who made the Great Streets presentation, noted that the city had negotiated a number of deals with other developers to self-fund their Great Streets improvements, allowing the city to provide the Austin Ballet funding.

One point that emerged during the discussion was that the city’s support, if Ballet Austin had simply been a Great Streets project, would have been about $100,000. Adams said the current budget for Great Streets, minus outstanding projects, was $1.1 million. When the Ballet Austin project is subtracted, that leaves about $500,000 for other projects. The city is in a fairly good position on the fund, Adams said, because the density bonuses on other projects coming online downtown were tied to the self-funded completion of great streets. Those projects included the 360 Condos, Spring and Block 21.

Commissioner Chris Riley asked whether Ballet Austin should be required to adhere more closely to the city’s Downtown Design Guidelines in terms of the placement of parking, but Evins pointed out the project was a renovation and not a replacement of the existing building. Ruiz said a replacement of the building – with the proper design fundamentals–could be somewhere in Ballet Austin’s future.

Riley, a strong supporter of downtown guidelines, also asked his standard question about the ground-floor space in the building. The ground floor will be the ticket office and four studios, which will be used for both academy and public classes for the community. The building also will have a 287-seat theater, although the Ballet’s main space will be at the Long Center. Ruiz added that she expected Ballet Austin, which will offer about 60 hours of activities a week, will bring a certain amount of “stickiness” to that end of downtown; in other words, an increase in drive-through and pedestrian traffic in the area.

Comments from the commissioners toward the project were supportive. Richard Halpin talked about the cultural elements. Stan Haas said he appreciated the ballet’s commitment to downtown. Andrew Clements suggested one way to resolve parking issues would be to share structured parking between the ballet and the future downtown library. When the vote came, the commissioners present supported the proposal, except for Finley, who abstained because the DAA had taken no position on the project.

Commissioners visit Cortaña tract

Getting a first-hand look at possible sites for the Water Treatment Plan 4 this week was highly educational, according by some members of the Environmental Board and Water and Wastewater Commission who took the trip. Whether that trip will ultimately have any impact on the siting of the plant—on Bull Creek as currently planned, or at the city’s preferred location on Cortaña—remains to be seen. While some on the tour visited Bull Creek, the focus of the trip was Cortaña, a part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.

Despite the city’s “final” decision to build the WTP 4 on the Bull Creek site near Lake Travis, the possibility exists that the Cortaña site could be back in play. (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 7, 2006) On the tour, led by Wildlands Conservation Division Manager Willy Conrad, were Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Mike Martinez, Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, Environmental Board members Dave Anderson, Mary Gay Maxwell, Julie Jenkins, and Bill Curra, as well as Leslie Pool from the Water and Wastewater Commission. Paul Taylor with Carollo Engineering was also there.

The tour was designed to give the Council and board members a point of reference on the two tracts of land the city considers the best candidates for the treatment plant, which is scheduled to go online in 2013 with a 50-million-gallons-per-day capacity. The plant will eventually be built out to a 300 MDG capacity by 2030.

Those who took the tour say it was very enlightening.

“I thought it was great…we had people that were interested in really evaluating if it (Cortaña) was the right place to put a plant,” said Anderson, the Environmental Board chair. After seeing the sites in person, “I felt more comfortable than I did throughout the confusing process of the presentation that we got (the first time). I did feel more comfortable with that potential (of Cortaña) versus the Bull Creek option.”

The Bull Creek site in 102 acres located at the north end of River Place Boulevard, and out one-half mile east of RM 620. It is a called the Bull Creek site because it is in the headwaters of Bull Creek. The Upper Cortaña site is 50-acres taken from a larger site about a mile south of RM 2222 on RM 620. It is currently part of the BCP that is jointly operated by the city and Travis County.

Pool was impressed with the natural beauty and fragility of the areas.

“That property out there at Bull Creek is absolutely gorgeous, and needs to be protected,” she said. “It probably would have been part of the Balcones Preserve had it not already been set aside back in 1984 when the city purchased it. If there’s any way we can get it into the preserve, I think that would be a huge win for the Austin community.”

Curra said there were no surprises for him. ”No, I'm very familiar with the real estate out there as a result of studying it for the last year and half,” he said. “I was chair of the Environmental Board subcommittee that examined the site. (Former Board Chair) Mary Ruth Holder made a motion to slow down and we studied this under a microscope.”

Jenkins said the tour was an education in how the BCP is managed.

“It was very interesting. I got a good look at what they have to do on a continuing basis to keep the preserve in the condition it’s in,” she said

Those taking the tour said that, for the most part, nothing has been done to either site in the way of building the treatment plant. At the Bull Creek site there was a new a gate, sign that noted the WTP4 project was there, some gravel added to the trail leading into the site, and small trailer for a project office.

Seeing the tracts in person didn’t appear to change the minds of those on the boards about building the plant on the Bull Creek site.

“That can't happen, (it) shouldn’t happen,” said Anderson. “There’s just too much at stake. I’ve said all along that the timeline that we’re operating under is a flexible timeline in my opinion. I don’t have the luxury of knowing whether there’s another site out there or not, but we shouldn’t rush into this decision.”

Pool agreed. “The closer they can put the plant to 620, the better,” she said “If it has to be out there, Cortaña’s the better site.”

Curra said after seeing the tracts firsthand, the answer to where to build it was obvious.

“The Cortaña tract is more desirable because its less impactful to the environment to put the plant there and it is less desirable from an engineering standpoint,” he said “If I were a gambling man I’d say this one is going to end up at Cortaña. I think reasonable minds are going to prevail.”

Jenkins said she is not convinced that it should go on either site. “I still think that there has to be another place to put this,” she said. “I hate it that we either have to cut off our foot or cut off our hand. We don’t win putting it in either place.”

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

What's up with the taxi franchise? . . . That's what Bobby Garza, aide to Council Member Mike Martinez wanted to know when he learned that one applicant had been allowed to turn in his application after the deadline set by the Public Works Department. Garza wrote an email to Devon Madrigal, an aide to Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza (no relation), asking, "Why are we allowing Capitol City to apply when earlier we turned down an application from Mendoza (an architect who arrived late)?" The response stated that Capitol City Cab did not turn in its application by the "administrative deadline" because its attorney arrived half an hour late. "The 'deadline' for the taxi franchise applications was administratively established by the Public Works Department. As opposed to a procurement process (which is what applied to the Mendoza case) …established by state statutes, the current taxi franchise process was established administratively." Public Works was acting "in order to maintain a fair and reasonable process, to expand the pool of applicants and provide the city the greatest opportunity…." the memo says. Martinez aide Bobby Garza said he has not been able to find out when the department will be making a recommendation on the new franchisee or when the matter will be coming back to the City Council . . . Clarifying the picture . . . In Fact Daily stirred up some angst this week when we reported that Joe Pinnelli was seeking information on the city's possible intention to seek legislative changes to the Capitol View Corridor. We reported that such a change might allow for taller buildings at the old Seaholm Power Plant. But that report brought a negative response from the city's redevelopment partner. "It has always been our intent to redevelop the Seaholm Power Plant site within the current Capitol View Corridor, and all aspects of our plan comply with current standards," said John Rosato, managing partner of Seaholm Power LLC. Rosato is also is on the Historic Landmark Commission and fellow Seaholm Power LLC principal Kent Collins is the immediate past president of the Heritage Society of Austin. The city's Downtown Commission has recommended as part of a goal of putting 25,000 residents downtown that the view corridors be reconsidered. Council Member Brewster McCracken noted that both he and Mayor Will Wynn said during the recent Council retreat that "we should examine the capitol view corridors. Why should a huge chunk of the east side of downtown be (limited) just to preserve a view from the upper deck of I-35?" However, he added, "It's not going to come up this session," and is not part of the city's legislative agenda. McCracken said Roma Design Group would look into the question but that any change would be at least two years away and only come about through an open public process . . . County records back online . . . Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir has announced that her office is fulfilling the promise to return public records to the Internet following an extensive redaction of individual personal data provided by filers in public document submissions. The images are part of the Official Public Records database that includes property deeds, marriage licenses, probate records, and documents related to power of attorney filings. DeBeauvoir removed the document images from the Web in June, citing the need to protect individual personal data from potential predatory threats related to identity theft. DeBeauvoir said customers can access images of documents filed between April 5, 1999, through August 15, 2006, from a new link to the Redacted Images Test Site at http://deed.co.travis.tx.us/. She encouraged online users to provide feedback to her office on the usability of the new site and to contact her staff if any information that should have been redacted still remains. . . . Water Conservation marches on . . . The Water Conservation Task Force meets at 2:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. The group will take up the third of its three charges, on City and Utility conservation strategies relating to leak repair, water reuse program, rate structures, and public education. The panel is scheduled to review and adopt its final report on Jan. 12 . . . SOS Silent Auction . . . The SOS alliance is having its annual Holiday Party and Silent Auction at 7pm tonight at the Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal off South First Street. The auction will feature items from local businesses and artists. There will also be dancing to Bill Oliver and his band. . . . Next week . . . Council Member Sheryl Cole has invited a large group of stakeholders to a presentation on the future of the Waller Creek Tunnel. The meeting will be next Friday, Dec. 15, the day after what may be a very long meeting-the last Council meeting of this year. In Fact Daily will begin its annual Christmas/New Year's vacation on Dec. 20.

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