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Tale of Winnebago Lane takes new twist

Friday, February 5, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

At least one chapter has closed in the saga of 4711 Winnebago Lane, as City Council voted yesterday against the sale of the land to a private buyer for $1.45 million.

Council voted 6-5 against the sale of the land to Jimmy Nassour, with Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council members Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen, Greg Casar and Delia Garza voting in opposition to the sale.

In related news, Tovo laid a proposal on the table that would explore the possibility of using the land with the organization Artspace to create a live/work space (as outlined here). The organization identifies itself as “the leading developer of arts facilities – creating, owning and operating affordable spaces for artists and small businesses.”

Council endorsed that proposal in a vote of 6-5, with Council members Ora Houston, Don Zimmerman, Ellen Troxclair, Pio Renteria and Sheri Gallo voting in opposition. Tovo’s proposal will have the city manager report back to Council by March 3 on the feasibility of the project.

“We have multiple planning documents that suggest using our public land for affordable housing in addition to other community benefits. I think with each sale, we need to ask ourselves very carefully what other uses exist,” said Tovo. “We can’t continue to have planning documents that offer us ideas and strategies and not ever implement them.”

Financing for the planned [re]Manufacturing Hub in East Austin has been at the heart of the debate over this particular tract of land. Earlier in the meeting, Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert explained that the current mechanism for financing the [re]Manufacturing Hub involved the sale of the property. However, he said, if Council opted not to sell the property, “It does not derail the Hub, but it does require us to come back to Council with a different financial package.”

That could mean anything from a scaled-back project to an alternative financing plan that has not yet been discovered, said Gedert, who said he has already been looking at options over the past few months.

Adler, for one, said he voted against the sale “with the understanding that it would not take the hub off track.”

Renteria said he was concerned that rejecting the sale could delay the [re]Manufacturing Hub project, which he didn’t want to see. He also pointed out that, if the hub were financed in a different way, the money would still come out of some other place in the budget.

“We have the potential to save taxpayers money by selling this lot to complete this project,” said Renteria.

Zimmerman advocated for the sale of the land on pragmatic terms.

“We have a buyer for this property. He’s ready to close on it. It’s already been negotiated and discussed. … We have a deal on the table – we need to get property back on the tax roll,” said Zimmerman.

Officer of Real Estate Services Lauraine Rizer described the process that the land went through before it was put up for sale. She explained that she sought comment on the potential sale from Council, other city departments, city committees, the Austin Independent School District, Travis County and the state before putting a sign on the property and sending postcards to all the neighbors alerting them to the potential sale.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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