What happened? It was the boom of the times, money was everywhere, growth was indecent, the city was flush. The voters had just passed bonds to build a new City Hall and a new downtown Art Museum as well as created an independent agency, which eventually became Capital Metro, with taxing authority to concentrate on public transportation.
What happened? It was the bust of the time. In 18 months everything changed. The new City Hall, the Downtown Art Museum, and hundreds of other public and private projects went away, quietly disappearing into the muck of the bust. (Capital Metro's woes are a separate story.)
It is 1999, 15 years later. The city is flush again, the boom is on. Mayor Watson, leading the most effective and far-sighted council in the last two decades, has moved forward on many fronts. Right now, the money is there, Austin is loaded. The city government has ambitious spending plans, many already voter-approved. Remember 1985?
In this issue we take a serious look at most of the major downtown developments. They represent the beginning of a radical reshaping of downtown Austin. If the economy flounders or fails, this change will slow down to a crawl. If the economy continues to grow, the next 15 years will see the kind of development downtown of which urban theorists dream. There will be new living space and new commercial, all rising above retail. Once, and if, downtown Austin is reinvented, this utopian vision of the new city might prove to be disheartening up close. We will have lost so much of the old city, not just physically, but in more defining ways.
This is not to offer a platform. I would rather see downtown grow than shrivel up and blow away. I would rather see the kind of dynamic mixed use that we're getting. Selfishly, I love most the Austin I first came to almost 25 years ago, and as this city evolves away from that, I miss it more. Evolve or die is a truism.
The more coherent and cross-referential this new development is, the better the integrity of the core city will be preserved. One of our purposes in this ambitious effort is to present to our readers a comprehensive look at the changes coming. This was a team effort with most of the politics staff contributing to this project headed up by politics editor Amy Smith. Here is the Austin of the next half-decade or so, and these changes are just the beginning.
The countdown to SXSW week continues, the Chronicle will, of course, continue to bring you up-to-date news and information on the various SXSW week events. In the next couple of weeks I'll write on both the director Jack Hill and the actor Sid Haig. Hill will be honored with a retrospective at SXSW Film Festival hosted by Quentin Tarantino with special guest Haig. Spider Baby, Pit Stop (Ellen Burstyn's first film), Big Doll House, Big Bird Cage, Foxy Brown, Coffy, Swinging Stewardesses, and, of course, Switchblade Sisters will be shown. Read the piece and find out why I call Jack Hill "The John Ford of Roger Corman's New World Productions."
The ballots are in, the stuffers being weeded out, the results tabulated. The future, though before us, is inevitable. The Austin Music Awards Show, the official kickoff event of SXSW Music Conference and Festival will be at the Austin Music Hall on Wednesday, March 17, co-sponsored by KGSR FM 107.1.