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Community members express opinions about Travis County campus

Thursday, June 17, 2010 by Michelle Jimenez

Any plan to upgrade Travis County’s downtown campus should include more than the “nuts and bolts” required for day-to-day business — it should include features that would allow the county to weave itself more tightly into the community.


That, essentially, is the message a cross-section of community members delivered during “listening” sessions held in April and May as part of the Travis County Commissioner Court’s effort to create a blueprint for the next 25 years.


Stephen Coulston, vice president of Broaddus Planning in Austin, shared the results with the court Tuesday.


“What we heard from the community is that the common vision for the facilities … is much more broad, that they’d like to see the county contribute to the context of the urban downtown area,” Coulston said.


Currently, county offices are scattered in a number of downtown buildings. The master planning process will help county officials figure out how many additional buildings they will need to get them through 2035. The community feedback will help shed light on how they might use the buildings — and surrounding areas — to inspire a sense of community.


Broaddus, hired in June 2009 to help with the master-planning project, worked with 14 focus groups and held two public meetings, among other information-gathering efforts.


Each group was asked to describe: the best and worst attributes of the central campus, current problems with central campus facilities, major concerns about the county’s development downtown, top priorities for the plan, and one key issue that the plan should consider.


The respondents, who represented law enforcement, business, and social service groups, among others, said the central campus should contribute to the urban environment, support after-hours and weekend activities, and “set a high bar” for quality and aesthetics. They pointed to parking as one of the worst problems and said that the county’s buildings are “worn and ugly.”


“I think we’re hearing loud and clear that we have an image issue,” Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt said. “But I also wanted to throw out there … the community is asking for beauty and quality. That does cost something, but that doesn’t mean it has to be lavish and expensive.”


Commissioner Ron Davis said the county alone cannot address all the issues community members identified. Parking, for instance, is a problem over which the county has no control, he said.


“There has to be some cooperation all across the line if we’re going to proceed accordingly,” Davis said.


Now that Broaddus has public input, the firm will come up with three development scenarios that it expects to present to the public in August.

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