The Daily Hustle: 8/6/10

Bond vote set; Seaholm wall tumbles

Artist Jim Isermann's aesthetic at work
Artist Jim Isermann's aesthetic at work (Image courtesy City of Austin)

While the biggest item on yesterday's City Council agenda – setting a $90 million bond election for November – was a fait accompli, what might have looked like one – approving an Art in Public Places contract to erect a decorative wall around an Austin Energy substation at the Sealholm redevelopment – turned into anything but.

The bond vote – a forgone conclusion following the massive B&C rounds the package made, as well as the mayor's unflagging enthusiasm – received a motion for approval from Sheryl Cole, who had most publicly scrutinized the size of the package, and its effect on future bond elections. Joking that one point she threatened to arm wrestle the mayor, Cole lent her support to the package, while also noting she was "looking forward to a potential bond election in 2012."

Mayor Lee Leffingwell also spoke in support of the package, obliquely alluding to some of the package's more controversial aspects – the Lady Bird Boardwalk project, and other non-roads related spending. Saying it was "the most specific bond proposition that we've had, certainly, in my memory," he added "because of that specificity there's been a lot of discussion." But he lauded the mix of projects in the package along with its timing, arguing that the "window of lower cost construction is not going to be open for much longer." He also said that his since-instituted campaign promise making "local preference" a consideration in bidding matters could make the $90 million bond "a local stimulus package."

The following council members directly addressed the Boardwalk controversy: Laura Morrison took on the argument to defer completion of the boardwalk until it's funded in the 2012 bond, saying the "realities of fundrasing" – namely, money being raised by The Trail Foundation – wouldn't make that possible. Bill Spelman concurred, then pivoted back to the broader issues, calling the package a "model of transparency … you know exactly what you're gonna get. … I don't agree with everyone of those projects," he continued, "but that's OK," saying the itemization of projects allowed him – and presumably voters – to make an informed choice on the overall package. Ultimately, the motion setting a vote for November passed unanimously.

Speaking of massive projects, the aforementioned wall going up at Seaholm proved an unlikely flashpoint, at least for Chris Riley. Saying such a big project – a "large metallic wall," in Riley's words – would determine the character of the nascent Seaholm project, he was concerned the selection of artist Jim Isermann hadn't been adequately vetted. "This is a very significant project," he said, noting the new central library, pedestrian plazas, and the Shoal Creek Greenbelt would all surround the substation.

He suggested the wall project be run by the Downtown Commission, which has members pulled from several other boards and commissions – Parks and Recreation, Music, Urban Transportation, and more – who could lend an opinion. Ultimately, they decided the wall project – which is currently only a conceptual design – could return to council August 19, following an appearance before the Downtown Commission the day before.

What the hell else is happening?

On the city calendar: City Council's Audit and Finance Committee meets in the Boards & Commissions room at City Hall, 301 W. Second, 10am.

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