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City staff negotiates settlement between Bat Fest and business owner

Thursday, August 14, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Austin’s Annual Bat Fest will go as planned on Labor Day Weekend, just a few blocks west of the original location. With the help of city staff, Roadway Productions and GeGe Cordeiro, owner of Your Living Room furniture store,  reached an agreement Wednesday that will allow the festival to be held on the First Street Bridge over Lady Bird Lake.


Cordeiro has refused to sign off on closing down the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge because of the potential disruption to her business over the Labor Day Weekend, when she anticipates her biggest sales of the year.


“It’s not ideal by any means, being in the other location, but it will definitely allow us to go forward and have the event,” said French Smith, president of Roadway Productions. “We hope that everybody understands the change. There will be some confusion, and some people will think from stories that they’ve heard that it’s been closed down. We’re getting our advertising ready to go to announce the changes.”


The issue came to head at the August 7 City Council meeting, when Council Members Sheryl Cole and Laura Morrison sponsored a waiver of signatures to allow the festival to go on. When it became clear that Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Randi Shade and Lee Leffingwell would probably oppose that waiver, Council Member Mike Martinez moved to postpone the vote and asked the city staff to broker an agreement before next week’s City Council meeting.


“Several Council Members’ offices worked very hard,” Cole said. She named Martinez’ aide Andy Moore, Morrison aide Bobby Levinski and her own aide, Beverly Wilson, as playing big roles in negotiating the settlement along with Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza.


Staff in the Right-of-Way Office and the Parks and Recreation Department also assisted in negotiating the agreement.


Cole said Wednesday she was very pleased to see “people working together to find a solution that is in the best interests of the entire city while balancing the needs of individual business owners.”


“It’s a great solution to something that obviously was very contentious to start,” said Morrison, “but with a little motivation to come to a solution, I’m really glad that they did …it seems like it’s a good productive way to go about it. I think a lot of it was expectation because we really did need to come to a solution so everybody rolled up their sleeves and really did make it work.” She said next year three neighborhood groups would be involved in conversations about Bat Fest.


Cordeiro said she was happy with the outcome.


“Everybody’s happy,” she said. “It will keep us open and in business. We’re happy because our bridge will be open and all the businesses in that area will be able to open their doors.”


Cordeiro said it is not just Bat Fest that is going to be a problem over the Labor Day Weekend.


“A triathlon was going to shut me down on Monday morning,” she said. “Then there was another race – the Human Race – on Saturday night. It’s also a UT football weekend. So there are going to be barricades all over the place. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. There’s no central authority in charge of it all.”


Smith said his company has made a few adjustments for the move. He said all festival goers will be issued a wristband to allow them to leave the First Street Bridge area to go view the bats at sunset and return. He said they also agreed to shut down their south music stage by 10pm Saturday at the request of the Bouldin Neighborhood Association. Smith has promised to end music on both stages by 10pm Sunday.


Closing the First Street Bridge will not directly affect any businesses, although it will partially block the entrance to the Run Tex Store at Riverside Drive and South First. However, Run Tex’s Riverside entrance will not be blocked and Cole said owner Paul Carrozza had indicated that he would not oppose the street closure. Carrozza is chair of a task force looking at downtown street closures.


As part of the discussion agreement, Smith said Cordeiro stated that she would not oppose the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge closure for Bat Fest 2009 as long as it is only a one-day event and happens on any other weekend but Labor Day weekend. Both Cole and Morrison said that was their understanding of the agreement for next year.


However, Cordeiro said that that was still under discussion and no firm agreement on future use of the Congress Bridge had been reached.


The Bat Fest is scheduled for 2pm to midnight on Aug. 30 and 2 to 10:30pm on Aug. 31. Admission is $5 for adults and a portion of the proceeds goes to Bat Conservation International.

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