Monday, June 3, 2013 by Charlotte Moore

Proposal for Rainey Street pits developers, MACC members

One of Austin’s latest development debates is centered on one of the hottest little strips in town – Rainey Street. Development is already happening in the historic neighborhood just south of downtown, which has turned into a trendy nocturnal destination for bar-hoppers. And more development appears inevitable.

One project in the works is a 30- to 40-story high-rise at 70 Rainey Street. The group which owns that land – 70 Rainey Street LP – would also like to explore the nearby property at 64 Rainey Street for additional development. The problem is, the Mexican American Cultural Center is right across the way. Members of the MACC board and at least one very vocal center advocate are rallying the local leaders to keep the city-owned land at 64 Rainey Street free of big development for the greater good of culture, they say.

On Wednesday, the two forces will meet at the MACC’s monthly advisory board meeting where the 70 Rainey Street group will present what it calls a win-win idea for development at 64 Rainey Street.

 

Opponents of the development claimed victory in October of last year when the city passed a resolution taking 64 Rainey Street off the “for sale” list with the goal of developing “a range of options for use of this parcel of land by the Parks and Recreation Department for specific development that would address the needs of the adjacent Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and incorporate this parcel of land into the ESB-MACC master plan…” according to the city document.

 

“We’re not at all at ease; we still have some discomfort, despite the resolution,” said Paul Saldaña, MACC advocate. “It’s a resolution, not an ordinance. Ordinance is a law which gives more leverage, more finality.”

 

Attorney Nikelle Meade, representing the 70 Rainey Street group, says her clients have been attempting to come to an agreement with the MACC.

 

“We have been trying to attend their meetings for months,” she said. “We have been trying to hear their issues, to talk to stakeholders, to see what we could come up with that would be compatible with the rest of the Rainey Street area.”

But Saldaña said he’s trying to preserve part of the city’s culture in this fight and whatever the developers want to propose at this point is too little, too late.

“Last year, Senator (Gonzalo) Barrientos and I had lunch with (Meade),” he said. “We know that development is going to happen whether we like it or not. What we were telling (Meade) is if we’re going to be neighbors, we need to work with each other.”

But, when 70 Rainey Street LP filed permit applications on its land indicating its plans to move on with its Rainey Street development, “we were taken by surprise,” Saldaña said. “We decided not to meet with them because they were only interested in having conversations about the sale of (64 Rainey Street.) We politely declined their invitation and told them ‘We’ll see you at the June 5th MACC board meeting.’ ”

Meade insists the developers are doing exactly what the property owners and stakeholders expressed they wanted years ago.

 

“They went to the city to ask the city to please rezone the area and make it a central business district,” she said. “The decision was made that what the stakeholders were requesting was appropriate. I don’t think anybody anticipated Rainey Street would end up having any of the bars and restaurants you see now. This is not new to anyone except to maybe (Saldaña.) He has been very adversarial in this deal.”

 

Council members appear to be split on issues of what happens with Rainey tracts near the MACC. As reported previously in In Fact Daily, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole proposed selling the property in question. Council Member Chris Riley said he respected the cultural values of the community but that holding the land for the MACC would be contrary to the MACC’s master plan and the plan for Rainey Street.

 

Council Member Mike Martinez made the motion to direct the Parks and Recreation Department to incorporate the land at 64 Rainey Street into the master plan for the Mexican-American Cultural Center, a motion which passed on a 4-3 split.

 

Meade would not divulge what proposals will be presented at the MACC Advisory board meeting on Wednesday in regard to 64 Rainey Street, but, she said, her client is committed to achieving the type of development the city wants for the area.

Saldaña, for one, has no plans to back down and hopes the city ultimately sees things his way.

“Our community has worked for 50 years to have this here,” he said. “The city of Austin has already invested $11 million into the center. The city should protect the interest of the tax payer and the investment it’s made.”

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