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Council weighing options to sell Rainey Street property

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Members of the Austin City Council last week delayed a vote on the sale of a city-owned property at 64 Rainey Street. Their action came as representatives from the nearby Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center (MACC) complained they had not been included in discussions about the potential sale.


Three iterations of the potential transaction appeared on the Council’s agenda: The first would exchange the property for $100,000 cash and 30 parking spaces in a yet-to-be-developed garage that would use 64 Rainey as part of its development; the second would earn the city $400,000 and 20 spaces; the third would provide no parking spaces and the city could sell the land for $1.2 million.


The chair of the MACC advisory board, Juan Oyervides, worried that sale would mean construction of a building that would make it difficult to see the MACC. He urged Council members to transfer ownership of the property to the five-year-old, city-owned MACC. “I’m appealing to your sense of community to transfer this piece of land over to the MACC,” he said. 


The MACC was something community activists and artists had sought for years when it was put on the 1992 bond election ballot. That proposal failed, but city leaders came back in 1998 and 2006 with different propositions that finally provided funding for the center. The 1998 bonds provided $10.9 million and the 2006 bond package added $5 million to that amount. A separate proposition provided $5 million to fund an art gallery at the MACC.


According to background documents provided to Council before their meeting, 64 Rainey was acquired by the city in November 2003 in exchange for a slice of right-of-way that was ceded to a development. No money changed hands as part of that transaction.


Then, in January, 2012, the city’s Real Estate Department began to see interest from multiple parties about the property. After some internal discussion – with Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, the city’s Transportation Department, city management, and parking consultants – the real estate office began to formally solicit offers for it.


A third-party valuation placed the value of the 64 Rainey Street tract at $1.176 million. The various proposals for sale seem to reflect a value of roughly $1.1 million for 30 parking spaces.


The Council background documents also reference a Parks and Recreation study that found that the Mexican-American Cultural Center would exceed its parking capacity within five years. That study further concluded that the facility would need between 50 and 70 additional spaces.


If approved, the sale would send 64 Rainey to the group that is developing a project at 70 Rainey Street. Don Reese, a partner in that group, told Council that he and his partners would be willing to meet with center representatives. Reese also indicated that his group would be willing to work with the neighborhood on the aesthetics of the structure. However, his amenability came with a caveat. “I will say if the objection is strictly that there will be something built there that is taller than three or four stories, that would be what would ultimately be built there,” he said.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell was ready for the interested parties to sit down. “I personally think it would be of benefit to at least go out and have that discussion,” he said. “It’s probably something that should have happened before.”


The item will be back before Council on Oct. 11.

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