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Parks board talks MACC design, and cost

Wednesday, May 2, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Recently, the advisory board for the the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center wrote a letter to City Council asking to be allocated the full project cost – $40 million – instead of the $15 million that was recently recommended for the center from the 2018 bond proposal for city infrastructure.

However, at the April 24 Parks and Recreation Board meeting, Jaime Beaman, the president of CasaBella Architects and the original architect behind the current iteration of the MACC, presented a proposal where the total cost was between $55 million and $90 million.

As of now, the project’s only funding strategy is the bond money, which all city departments are vying for.

According to Kim McKnight, the project manager for this plan, although they are looking at a wide range of funding sources, “the general obligation bond would be the most appropriate.”

Board Member Michael Casias noted that during the public process discussions on financing, public-private partnerships and reserving the air rights above the building were suggested as viable funding alternatives. He was disappointed to hear that the suggestions had not been taken into account. “It’s obvious that bonds are not going to fund this anytime soon,” he said.

Financing aside, the design is inarguably an improvement over the current structure. Casias, though, was surprised that CasaBella was the firm that came up with the design. “I was very surprised when you were hired, seeing as you were part of the original design – a design in which the artists complained multiple times that the space was unworkable,” he said, addressing Beaman.

According to McKnight, creating this workable design concept with the same architect firm that MACC had previously worked with cost around $287,000-$290,000.

One of the goals for the new design is to make the space more amenable to artists and inviting for visitors. “One of the key issues we found is that six to eight thousand people walk along the hike-and-bike trail every day … (but) we talked to many people and they had no idea that MACC was there,” explained McKnight.

In fact, not even all the Parks and Recreation Board members have been to the cultural center. “You’re correct; a lot of people don’t know about the MACC,” agreed Board Member Dawn Lewis.

In hopes of creating awareness, the new design is unmistakably representative of the center’s function. Separated into three distinct sections, the north side is colored in red, the center in white, and the south section in green, which is reminiscent of the Mexican flag. Structurally, the hike-and-bike trail will lead into a cafe that looks out onto Lady Bird Lake. There will also be additional underground parking, two floors of classrooms and gallery space, and a theater with 300-500 seats.

At present, only about a third of the planned structure is completed. There is also no current timeline since the project is not fully funded. According to McKnight, if the project does not receive the full amount of funding, the MACC hopes “to be able to be creative and find other financing strategies.”

Until the full amount of funding is acquired, the project will remain on paper.

Casias shared his personal feelings on preserving and sharing the Mexican heritage of this city. “As a Mexican-American, I feel like we could do so much more,” he said.

The board voted unanimously to recommend the proposed design to Council. Board members Frank Ward and Francoise Luca were absent.

Photo by Steve (Flickr: MACC sunset pano) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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