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Redevelopment efforts on East 12th still awaiting action

Tuesday, September 22, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Minnie Mann cut the ribbon on her beauty salon on East 12th Street back in 1981, convinced it would be the catalyst to revitalize a long-dead commercial corridor.

Two decades passed. Minnie and her husband bought property on the street as an investment, certain the area would rebound. Six years ago, the couple was featured in the Austin Chronicle, woeful about local development and critical of the Austin Revitalization Authority and the city’s plans for condominium development.

Last night, Minnie Mann was back before the Urban Renewal Board, having faced failure to find a developer for her block a third time. On that block, Mann owns three of the lots, including her salon, which she closed about two years ago. Wilton Harris owns the fourth lot on the block. Minnie’s husband Leonard has died. Mann is ready to get her money out of the property and move on, almost 30 years later.

“I feel real odd,” Mann admitted to the board. “I feel like saying, ‘Do you have any last words?’ This is the third time we’ve terminated a contract. I’ve had two other contracts besides this one, and it’s always the same thing.”

The most recent proposal was to build a convalescent center in the 1100 block of East 12th Street, which the two neighborhood associations opposed. The proposed developer, faced with resistance, walked away from the project, which Mann said could have brought jobs to the neighborhood.

Darwin McKee, of the East 12th Street Business and Property Owners Association, said the group supported something, anything, to get development back on track on East 12th Street. With a number of the blocks on East 11th Street either done or about to be done, it’s time to start moving on East 12th Street, McKee said.

“All we want in terms of our organization is that the people who actually own the property in this corridor want to get things done,” McKee said. “It’s been promised, and then the potential is constantly deferred because the residential areas that surround 12th Street have fought every project that has come in.”

Mike Clark-Madison, the newest member of the Urban Renewal Board, represents the local neighborhoods. After the meeting, Clark-Madison said the neighborhoods wanted to see the vision that was created for East 12th Street – mixed-use with two-and three-story buildings – be realized. Residents, and the city, had put years into laying out a plan for what they wanted to see on the corridor.

The goal would have been for Mann, and the agent who worked with her, to solicit bids on the property based on the vision for the corridor. The corridor plan could have been a selling tool to market the potential of the corridor to buyers. Instead, owners have waited for potential buyers to approach them, and then tried to fit the potential buyers’ proposals to the existing corridor plan.

For something like the convalescent center, it would mean a serious down zoning on the property and, given the limited number of lots, would have looked out of place if the rest of the corridor was to be developed by the city and others, he said.

Clark-Madison wasn’t totally without sympathy. In some ways, he said, the 12th Street corridor is at a crossroads. New people are on Council. An audit of the Austin Revitalization Authority’s finances is impending. And a new director for ARA is about to come on board, just as it becomes time to redevelop 12th Street.

Stakeholders should take the time to look at the plan again and decide whether that original vision for 12th Street was reasonable or whether it needed to be adjusted, Clark-Madison said. Was financing the problem? Was it too much red tape? Or was the vision for the street unreasonable and needs to be adjusted at this juncture?

The City of Austin Neighborhood Housing & Community Development Department will host a workshop on Wednesday morning to discuss how to navigate redevelopment on both East 11th and East 12th streets. The overview will include a review of the renewal plan and current zoning, as well as financing tools and partnership opportunities. The workshop will be at the Street-Jones Building, 1000 E 11th Street, Room 400A, at 10am.

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