After a year of planning, the city’s Parks & Recreation Department and CasaBella Architects finally brought the public into discussions of efforts to reimagine the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, known as the MACC, with a public input meeting on Saturday (June 17).
The meeting marked the first step in a yearlong redesign process. Both PARD and CasaBella hope to maintain the MACC’s cultural and physical presence in the increasingly crowded Rainey Street Historic District.
The MACC was built 10 years ago. PARD project coordinator and cultural resource specialist Kim McKnight noted Saturday that, at the time, the center stood out as an anomaly in the “sleepy little residential neighborhood of single family houses.” But Rainey Street has shifted – from that sleepy neighborhood into one of the pre-eminent entertainment districts in this city – and today, the MACC’s presence has somewhat receded. It’s now nestled into a constantly evolving neighborhood of bars and condominiums.
Throughout the month of June, the city has been collecting public input through an online survey about how the community utilizes the MACC and what changes should be made to the facility. Focus meetings with partners such as the Trail Foundation, the Waller Creek Conservancy, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Rainey Neighbors Association are also taking place this month.
Jaime Beaman, a CasaBella architect who contributed to the MACC’s original master plan in 1999, will spend the month of July drawing potential designs with his colleagues. They’ll present three concepts to the public in September – the same month of the MACC’s 10 year anniversary. A final presentation and vote is expected in December, with a single consolidated design hopefully available early in 2018.
Beamen said that establishing a “gran entrada” will be “critical” to the redesign. “The MACC is getting so surrounded by tall buildings,” he said. “When it was built, you could easily see it from [I-35], but you can’t anymore. And you can’t see it from Rainey Street.” Vision boards and filled-out notecards highlighted other design priorities, including added parking for those living outside of the Downtown and East Austin areas and better views and access to the Lady Bird Lake waterfront.
According to McKnight, after the selection of a final design takes place in the spring of 2018, the city will assess funding strategies for the renovation more closely. So far, the redesign project has been supported through reserve facility update funds and from a $400,000 city of Austin lease of park land near the MACC to a construction company that needed working space. “We were fortunate that some funding came through for a plan which will allow us to really position the MACC for the future,” she said.
PARD hasn’t scheduled any public meetings until September, but McKnight encouraged people to “be a part of [the redesign]” by completing the public input survey, available online in Spanish and English, and by subscribing to the MACC newsletter.
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