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Council requests emergency economic development corporation

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

As part of the Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors program, City Council is seeking to expedite formation of the Austin Economic Development Corporation, an entity that may be able to help refine and administer the long-term sustainability component of SAVES.

The fully composed corporation will include a board of directors with 20 appointees that are to be chosen before Jan. 1. In the meantime, Council has appointed a six-member interim board and asked the city to consider standing up an emergency interim economic development corporation to begin the SAVES work as soon as possible.

On Thursday, Mayor Steve Adler said the interim corporation structure “may be very different from what the long-term is, in order to get it up and going.” Among its potential tasks, it would be charged with making the final decision of which specific long-term strategies – such as providing businesses with legal and accounting services – would be supported by the SAVES fund.

Council chose not to move forward with the city’s SAVES proposal that would have awarded the bulk of the $15 million in cash assistance to struggling business owners. Instead, Council’s direction calls for a nuanced approach that provides businesses with legal and financial expertise to help them not only survive the pandemic, but reemerge with a stronger, more sustainable financial strategy.

For the specific purpose of administering the long-term part of the SAVES program, Adler said the interim corporation may be as simple as “hiring several people with particular expertise that could take that structure and get it up and moving.” The corporation would help refine long-term strategies that could include helping businesses negotiate lease terms, bring in investors, obtain historic preservation dollars, purchase a leased building, or file for bankruptcy.

“It could be that, if we seed that entity with some directed funding, it might be able to step in quickly and leverage that funding to help save at least some of the most at-risk and critical components of our economy, civic infrastructure, character, culture and brand,” Adler posted on the City Council Message Board last month.

Council approved creating the economic development corporation, along with the six-member interim board, at the beginning of October. Veronica Briseño, the city’s chief economic recovery officer, has been appointed president of the interim board. Other board members include Mark Dombroski, the city’s interim chief financial officer; Kellee Coleman of the Equity Office; and Rosie Truelove with the city’s housing department. Rick Carney, chair of the Music Commission, and Jaime Castillo, chair of the Arts Commission, are also interim board members.

On Thursday, Council Member Alison Alter said Council should expect some delays considering the overlapping responsibilities of the interim board members.

“We just stood up four grant programs tonight and they’re the same people who are doing the economic development corporation,” Alter said. “And our team is wonderful and I’ve heard rave reviews of how they’ve worked with people in the community to get stuff done, but there’s only so much they can do.”

Alter added, “I don’t know that we have an option of how else to do this, but I want to acknowledge that it will take time for the economic development corporation to kind of get up and running and that’s on the same people’s plate that we’re putting all of this on. They will have to hire somebody and that process is going to take some time.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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