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Thursday, October 30, 2014 by Tyler Whitson

Parks Board says ‘no thanks’ to Rainey house

The Parks and Recreation Board voted Tuesday to recommend that City Council “politely decline” the donation of a small historic house for use as the Rainey Street History Center. The vote came after the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center Advisory Board members expressed concerns about staff’s identification of 64 Rainey St. as a potential location.

The property, on which the MACC Advisory Board hopes to eventually construct a new entrance to the center, was the subject of community backlash last year when a group of developers proposed to purchase the property from the city for more than $1 million and build a 30-story business and residential tower on it.

The board voted not to approve any of the three locations that staff identified for the house — which also included 700 Cummings St. and an undeveloped property on East Avenue — citing insufficient funding.

“I think that this house should go to a nonprofit, and on a site that can immediately use it,” Board Member Michael Casias said. “I don’t think we have the funding or consensus on where it should go.”

Board Vice Chair Jeff Francell made the motion and Chair Jane Rivera cast the sole opposition vote, stating that she did so “on behalf of the neighborhood.”

Developer Austin Rainey St. D/E/P, LLC is relocating the 1,600-square-foot house as part of a redevelopment project and offered to donate it to the city.

Council directed the city manager in a June resolution to accept the donation of the house, noting that the MACC Advisory Board recommended it for use as the history center.

The resolution requires the city manager to identify a new location for the home within the Rainey Street District and place the structure at that location. It also requires the city to refurbish the house to code standards within a year of placement, using money from the Rainey Street District Fund that Council established in an October 2013 ordinance.

The Rainey Street District runs from east and west between Waller Creek and Interstate 35, and north and south between 3rd Street and Lady Bird Lake.

Parks and Recreation Director Sarah Hensley raised concerns that the house would fall into disrepair, saying that available funding amounted to about $100,000, likely just enough to relocate the house. “Whether it’s Cummings or Rainey or anywhere else, $100,000 is not sufficient to do anything with this building,” she said.

“My biggest concern is inheriting something I cannot maintain nor can I take care of,” Hensley continued. She said the project would be more viable if it included funding of “$1 million or whatever that price tag is to do it right, refurbish it, move it and do the right thing for the community, wherever it is.”

This conversation tied in with an agenda item that would have recommended Council dedicate the location of the MACC, 600 River St., as city parkland.

The PARD board voted to postpone that decision for at least 30 days after MACC Advisory Board members requested that PARD consider the main property along with adjacent properties at 58 and 64 Rainey St.

Francell, who motioned to recommend that Council dedicate the 600 River St. property as parkland, cast the sole opposition vote, saying he wanted to stick with his original motion and was “not upset.”

Hensley said that, though the Public Works Department owns 64 Rainey St., its staff has indicated that they would have no issue with turning it over to Parks and Recreation if Council decides to do so.

Assistant Director Cora Wright noted that Parks and Recreation does own 58 Rainey St., but Council has not yet expressly dedicated it as city parkland and staff is still working out how to fund it.

“The reason you don’t see all three properties on the agenda tonight is because we know that we can move forward with 600 Rainey,” Wright said. “We still need a little more time on 64 and 58 Rainey just to figure out which strategy we need to move forward, but at the end of the day they should be dedicated parkland.”

MACC Advisory Board Chair David Carroll said the city did not own the property at 64 Rainey St. at the time of the MACC complex’s construction, but that the community has “overwhelmingly expressed” that the property should be incorporated into the MACC complex.

Carroll said the MACC’s architect of record issued a letter in September saying that, if the land had been available at the time of the design, the firm would have used it to improve the MACC entrance.

Carroll added that the MACC’s needs will grow once it completes further planned phases of construction on its current property. “There will be larger auditoriums, there will be more traffic, and so we’ll need the wider entrance to safely ingress and egress the property.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center: An Austin center with exhibits and events that explore Mexican-American heritage and culture.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

Rainey Street: Once a quiet residential street, Rainey Street quickly transformed once the historic district was incorporate into the Central Business District in 2004. Currently, the street remains in transition as the bars in the original homes there make way for larger development projects.

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