Tuesday, August 24, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Renteria opposes Red River extension into Rainey Street, MACC area

Council Member Pio Renteria has come out against a proposal to create a new roadway through the Rainey Street district that would require using some of the land provided by the city for the creation of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

An extension of Red River Street south and then east has been the favored choice of the city’s Transportation Department to address concerns about traffic congestion in the fast-growing former residential area that is now thick with hotels and residential towers.

MACC supporters have loudly objected to the extension because of the loss of parking spaces and other property for the center, with advocates accusing the city of having the plan slated to start even though community feedback and input sessions were just beginning.

At an online forum last week organized by the group Save the ESB-MACC, Renteria said he plans to oppose any Council action authorizing the extension plan. He said the city should be focusing on moving ahead with an expansion of the MACC that was funded by voters in a 2018 bond proposal.

“My recommendation to the transportation staff is to back off because I would not give my support for this on Council and would definitely not allow a road to go right through the middle of our MACC,” he said. “It’s frustrating to hear there has been this much time and resource spent on a road when we could be spending that time on the MACC.”

Word spread after the meeting that Renteria had pushed hard enough to cause the Transportation Department to stop actively working on the project. In a pair of responses, a department spokesperson said the feedback process is still moving forward and that the department doesn’t comment on Council actions.

Renteria wasn’t available for comment on Monday.

Paul Saldaña, a local activist and member of Save the ESB-MACC, said his group has forwarded Renteria language for a possible Council resolution that would object to the road project or any action to “breach any part of parkland and parking facilities set aside, and designated for use by the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and its citizen stakeholders, supporters and participants.”

Participants in last week’s forum said city staff appeared to have the project ready to be bid for construction, and said much of the distrust over the issues comes from the city repeatedly failing to deliver on promises made to protect elements of local Latino and Mexican American culture from encroaching development.

“It seems like every time there is a traffic issue in that area that they continue to impose on the MACC property or it seems to become an issue that only comes back into the laps of the MACC board. It was through the 70 Rainey Street development process that we learned through the developer that 60 Rainey Street was never dedicated as parkland … eventually that did happen,” Saldaña said. “Over the years the city continues to approve more development in that area with really not giving a thought to the ongoing transportation issues that are happening there.”

Transportation Department staff participating in the forum said they planned to use the feedback sessions as a guide for whether to move forward with the road project, which was included as an option in recent transit studies for the area and detailed in the most recent master plan for the MACC.

Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes the MACC and the Rainey Street business and residential district, said city staff may have sent the wrong message about where the project is relative to the approval process needed for expensive public works initiatives.

“As we continue to address the mobility issues in Rainey for everybody, for those who go there to attend programs at the MACC but also who are living in that area, we need to continue to make sure that process is open,” she said.

“This arose kind of quickly and I’ve gotten lots of voices of concern but I look forward to the Transportation Department assuring us, as I believe is the case, that there is no pending vote on the Red River piece and they really are at the beginning of this conversation about what the plan looks like.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Council Member Sabino "Pio" Renteria

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

Transportation Department: This city department is responsible for municipal transportation planning including roadways and bikeways.

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