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Council approves Mueller site for AISD performing arts center

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

The Mueller development will soon be home to a 1,200-seat performing arts center. At their meeting Thursday, City Council members voted unanimously to approve the sale of a 4.5-acre parcel at the corner of Mueller Boulevard and 51st Street by Mueller Master Developer Catellus Austin to the Austin Independent School District for the construction of the center.


In the 2008 bond election, Austin voters approved land acquisition and construction funding to build an AISD performing arts center. The Master Development Agreement the city entered into with Catellus in 2004 requires that the sale of any land by Catellus to a governmental authority, such as AISD, requires approval by Council. According to city staff, Catellus and AISD have already agreed to the terms and conditions for the sale of the site; now that Council has approved, those groups will enter into a contract.


Despite Council’s unanimous approval, several speakers expressed concern about possible traffic problems resulting from the construction of the center. Rick Krivoniak, vice chair of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Commission, argued that putting the performance center at the corner of Mueller Boulevard and 51st Street would result in more traffic problems for an area already plagued by them.


“This is the project that’s going to generate a lot of traffic that is also going to be on 51st street,” Krivoniak said. “Fifty-First Street has a lot of traffic issues. … I would like for you to ask Catellus and AISD to go back and look at a different site at Mueller, something that’s more central. If that doesn’t happen, I think the city owes it to the community to do a serious look.”


Placing the center in the development’s interior, Krivoniak said, would help disperse traffic before and after performances.


Greg Weaver, executive vice president of Catellus, told Council that his group had considered other sites in the development but had settled on this particular site because it is sided by three roads that have four lanes, making it more accessible.


However, Weaver said that AISD had agreed to do a traffic demand management plan, “a prescriptive and prescribed document that would talk about the roads, allowed roads for buses, preferred access in and out.” Weaver said that Catellus and AISD will be looking for community involvement with the design process and with the development of a traffic plan, including traffic lanes, bike lanes, and bus access.


“Hopefully there will be consensus,” Weaver said.


“The big issue seems to be traffic,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “Fifty-First Street is becoming more and more of a commercial corridor with the Home Depot and then the Dell Medical Center and now the performing arts center and so forth. Obviously all these things are high traffic generators. And are we making sure that we continue to update our traffic studies? And as a part of this project approval process, I would assume that the possibility of traffic mitigation would be considered along the way.”

Pam Hefner, with the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Office, assured Leffingwell that numerous governmental entities and development committees would vet the entire process, from design to traffic to construction.

“The entire Mueller project does have a Transportation Impact Analysis (TIA), and it would be reviewed through the Transportation (Department),” said Hefner. “Also, Catellus is responsible for allocating the trips of the entire TIA to the different parcels. So they would be limiting the number of trips for this parcel. Also the design will go through the new construction council and be subject to design guidelines. But as far as traffic, it’s very early in the process. The direction (the arts center) will face hasn’t been identified, so that’s just the beginning.”

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