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Developers tout economic benefits of Villa Muse project

Thursday, February 28, 2008 by Austin Monitor

More than 200 people, many with ties to the film industry, filled the Scottish Rite Auditorium Wednesday night for a meeting on the merits of the proposed Villa Muse studio complex in eastern Travis County. The developers are hoping to build support for their request to be released from the City of Austin’s extra-territorial jurisdiction. That request has already been reviewed by the Environmental Board and the Planning Commission and is scheduled to go back to the City Council next week.


The Council earlier this year called for discussions with the developers on ways that the project could be built without the release of the site from the ETJ. With the developers’ deadline of March 6 looming, “the conversations have been very good,” Hiten Patel with Villa Muse told In Fact Daily. “We’ve been very actively engaged. The city is working with us on our request and they’re basically throwing out suggestions on their end on how this may work within the ETJ. Those conversations are ongoing and they’re very detailed. We’re making progress, I think.”


As part of those discussions, Patel said the developers have offered to agree to return the land to the city’s jurisdiction if they fail to meet certain benchmarks. “If we don’t get the construction underway or the studios aren’t generating jobs and revenue in a particular time frame, we’ve offered three and seven years respectively, then the land would  revert back into the ETJ,” he said, “So in essence there is a real incentive for us to make sure we’re out there moving quickly and delivering on our promise to the industry.”


Representatives of the venture also encouraged those at Wednesday night’s meeting to communicate their support for the project to the Council, either through e-mail or at next week’s Council meeting. Much of the presentation Wednesday night focused on the economic benefits the project would bring to the state.


While the Villa Muse studios themselves would initially employ about 300 people on a full-time basis, an analysis done by economist Ray Perryman showed that the project could generate about 40,000 jobs in related fields and would have an economic impact of $6.5 billion per year. A few of those in the audience even used the question-and-answer portion of the evening to inquire about opportunities for employment.


That level of enthusiasm for the project within the film, video, and music industries did not surprise Place 1 City Council candidate Jason Meeker, who attended the meeting to learn more about the project. “I’ve been hearing about this for a year from friends in the Dallas area who are interested in moving to Austin because of it,” Meeker said. He indicated that he generally supported the project because of the economic benefits, but also had additional questions he would like answered.


The incumbent in Place 1, Council Member Lee Leffingwell, has been critical of the request to release the land from the ETJ, citing concerns over environmental regulations. The developers have said they need a decision well before the Council elections in May, and told the crowd at Wednesday’s meeting that if a decision was not reached by March 6 their investors would likely pursue other options.


Developers are hoping to alleviate concerns over environmental regulations and developing within the flood plain. Patel noted that Travis County’s interim development rules (known as Chapter 82) would apply to the project. “We will be living up to the standards that are set for us,” he said. Developers are also discussing plans for improvements to FM 969, the primary route to the site, to accommodate additional traffic.


Before the developers go back to the Austin City Council next week, they will first make an appearance before the Webberville Village Council. Patel told In Fact Daily that Webberville has scheduled a special Council meeting on Friday.


“There are a few things we’ve asked Webberville to do. One is to provide us with a non-annexation agreement,” said Patel. “The risk, obviously, is that Austin lets us out…and then all of a sudden Webberville grabs us. We want to provide that assurance to Austin that while we’re out there in the county, then no other municipality can come out there and claim us as their city.” Beyond that, the developers are also asking Webberville for a general resolution in support of the project. “It comes down to the jobs,” he said. “This is a huge economic engine for Webberville.”

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