Off the Desk:
Glenn West had 46 messages waiting for him when he arrived to work Wednesday morning -- an unusually high number even for the president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. West apparently caught some folks off guard when he unexpectedly announced at Tuesday's board meeting that he was leaving the job he's held for a dozen years. While there are some whispers West's decision was more a push than a jump, the 54-year-old West insists the decision was all his, motivated by the feeling he had done the job he was hired to do. When he took over in 1987, Austin was a different city. Job growth was flat, unemployment was up, and the office vacancy rate was one of the highest in the country. "There were a lot of long faces in the business community," West says. The recent opening of the airport, he says, marked the attainment of the last of the major goals he had set for himself. The event stirred a mix of emotions. "It was a kind of melancholy time for me," he says. "I looked around and noticed a lot of people I had worked with on this weren't around any more." West says he has no immediate plans; he wants to explore other opportunities, ideally in Austin, but is not ruling out the possibility of moving to another city. West's resignation follows the departure of two other chamber higher-ups: Sandy Dochen, who left in January to work for IBM, and Darrell Glasco, who announced in April he was taking a job with the chamber of commerce in Atlanta. A search committee is expected to cast a wide net for West's replacement ...
The Austin City Council will decide today, Thursday, June 3, whether to approve up to $2million from the city's general fund to buy the land and building at 419 Congress for the Mexic-Arte Museum, which has been leasing the facility since 1988. If council approves the purchase, the city would enter into negotiations with Mexic-Arte for a lease-term arrangement. For over a year, the council has been searching for a way to assist the museum, which receives more than 75,000 visitors each year. "This museum has been instrumental in maintaining a cultural presence in the downtown area," says Council Member Gus Garcia, who has led the effort to stabilize Mexic-Arte's place downtown as a complement to the future Mexican American Cultural Center and the existing Congress-area arts district. The asking price for the building is reportedly between $1.6 and $2 million, though the Travis Central Appraisal District lists the taxable value of the property at a much lower $463,867. At press time, the city was awaiting the results of an independent appraisal ...
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is a complete zero -- at least according to U.S. Public Interest Research Group's (US PIRG) 1999 Congressional Scorecard. The Dallas Republican's voting record on a host of issues including environmental protection, higher education spending, campaign finance reform, and tobacco policy landed her the lowest possible grade in the Senate -- a zero. (The highest grade is 100%.) Hutchison shares her dubious place at the bottom with North Carolina's Sen. Jesse Helms. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-College Station, fared slightly better than Hutchison, scoring a 15%. On the House side, Austin's U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett scored an 89% -- a slight dip from last year, but still the bright spot in a fairly dismal showing by Texas' contingent. Texas' average House score was 32%, well below the national average of 49%. --L.T.
The Drum Roll Please ...
And now, your Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA) update:
• Yes, it's really closed. (To commercial traffic, that is. General aviation has until midnight, June 21, to cease operations).
• No, Houston Rep. Ron Wilson's amendment to keep Mueller open for private pilots (the real mission behind his repeated Mueller meddling this session) did not make it out of conference committee. Why not? Well, the reasons (not necessarily in order of importance) include: citizen outrage (and not just in Austin); the threat of a session-destroying filibuster by Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos; some old-fashioned politicking by Austin Rep. Dawnna Dukes, in whose district Mueller lies; and yet another statement from the Federal Aviation Administration that no, Austin cannot have two airports six miles apart with overlapping airspace. Really. They mean it.
• No, the private pilots aren't done with us yet. Most everyone concedes that Austin should have another small-plane airport, but the general-aviation community has yet to show any interest in any alternative other than keeping Mueller open through extortion. (They plan to appeal the FAA's ruling.) Meanwhile, the city is trying to appease them with the promise of building additional facilities at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
• No, we don't know if the state still plans to play in the New Mueller redevelopment. The Lege appropriated not one thin dime to the project, but there still hasn't been a definite bail-out by the General Services Commission.
• No, we don't know when demolition of the runways is going to begin.
• Yes, the city will revisit the RMMA Redevelopment and Reuse Plan, even if the state does decide they want to play after all. Expect return visits from Roma Design Group, the San Francisco-based consultants behind the New Mueller plan.
• Yes, the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition is still pushing the city to create a new citizen commission to oversee RMMA redevelopment ASAP, with a Mueller Development Corporation to follow.
• Yes, there will be parties. Two. The Mueller neighborsare organizing a shindig in the terminal Saturday, June 5, from 2-5pm. Food, music, speeches, paper airplanes. And air conditioning. Volunteers are needed to assist with the festivities. Call Vanessa Ronsonette at 451-5941 or e-mail her at email@example.com to enlist. Another farewell soiree is slated for June 11 from 6-9pm. The "retirement party" organized by the city, local businesses, and Huston Tillotson College is called the "Bye, Bye Bob" and will feature a silent auction for airport memorabilia, a "best and worst Mueller travails" contest (big prizes are promised), and electric cart rides. Seriously. Electric cart rides. Tickets are $50. Proceeds will benefit Huston Tillotson's United Negro College Fund scholarships. For more info call 505-3073 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. --M.C.M.
Designs on Downtown
Perhaps the city's first official set of downtown design guidelines was prompted by the building everyone in town loves to scorn: the squat little post office that's dwarfed by a massive, heat-absorbing parking lot at Guadalupe and Fifth streets. But on paper, the design commission arm of the Downtown Commission explains diplomatically that the document's aim is to "promote positive and enriching development ... by assuring [downtown development] aspires to a greater architectural and urban design standard."
While it's uncertain how or if the guidelines will be enforced, the booklet also has another purpose. "Anyone interested in building downtown knows that it's a whole lot of trouble and people would rather go someplace else," says developer/real estate broker Perry Lorenz, a design commission member. The "community-based" guidelines are geared toward making the development/design process a little easier while creating a final product that's worthy of civic pride.The 109-page document provides a downtown historic perspective that points to the city's older structures -- the state Capitol, the Scarbrough and Littlefield buildings, and the Paramount -- as stellar examples of craftsmanship. But somewhere along the way, the book points out, less thought began going into the design process, particularly in the "formidable barrier" presented by the I-35 project.
Overall, the document provides suggestions for building mixed-use developments -- such as, being mindful of how the building's facade will appear from the street level, and creating plazas and open spaces, as well as buffer zones in adjoining residential areas. Coincidentally, the draft guidelines are starting to circulate just in time. A slew of new downtown projects are on the horizon. --A.S.
Showing How It's Done
Over 400 law enforcement professionals representing 139 agencies, from the El Paso Police Department to the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, packed the downtown Sheraton for last week's "Community Policing Texas Style" convention. Hosted by the Austin Police Department, the convention was designed to explore the benefits of community policing, and to share tools of the trade that make such efforts successful. Engineered by APD under the tutelage of our local community policing guru APD Chief Stan Knee, the convention was in full swing by Tuesday's networking lunch with guest speaker Mayor Kirk Watson. "We [APD] are the community policing leaders in Texas," said a beaming Knee as he waited in the buffet line to load up on sizzling fajitas. Watson spoke about the importance of building partnerships between citizens and law enforcement, citing budding alliances in East Austin which are helping to curb gang activity in neighborhoods. Watson was impressed with the convention's success, which he glowingly attributed to Knee's reputation as a leader in community policing. "He is the man," said Watson.
Before Knee became the city's top cop in October of 1997, he served as police chief in both Garden Grove and National City, two ethnically diverse towns in Orange County, California. While in National City, he received kudos for implementing community policing strategies which led their police force to be cited by Good Housekeeping magazine in 1996 as one of the 10 best in the nation.
"This is a very important two-day investment that will pay dividends for your communities," Watson told the crowd. "It's not a government thing, it's not a police thing. It's a community thing," he said. "The essence of community policing is to determine what the community needs from its police, and channeling all the police resources to the community level. It's a social fabric initiative: a sewing together of the different fabrics." --J.S.