Naked City

Council hears supporters and those in opposition to the city's proposed central booking facility, which would be moved from 7th and I-35 to a residential neighborhood west of downtown.

Naked City
By Doug Potter

Council Watch: Book 'Em

A proposal to move the city's central booking facility -- where prisoners are taken to be charged and held -- from Seventh Street and I-35 to the county's new building on 10th and Nueces has drawn protest and picketing from the neighborhood ever since construction on the building began three years ago.

Neighbors point out that the new Travis County Criminal Justice Center is situated across the street from an apartment building populated mainly by retirees, and a block and a half from Pease Elementary School. The site is also only a few blocks from the main Austin Community College campus and a few streets away from a day care center.

"This poses a real problem as far as people feeling comfortable walking around," says Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association president Chris Riley. "This seems like something that would take some real thought. I don't think people feel there's been a serious attempt by the city or the county to tackle this."

The city has been digging its heels in for several months on bringing the proposal to the table. A vote for or against relocating central booking has been delayed indefinitely.

Most of the city's energy, as far as the central booking proposal is concerned, has been spent negotiating a deal with the county. Under the terms of the latest proposal, presented to the council on Thursday, central booking would be housed in the criminal justice center, and the cost of operation would be split nearly 50-50 between the county and city -- a major shift from the nearly 70% the city has paid for shared jail operations in the past.

But while the proposal cost the city less than renovating its current facilities, neighborhood residents say the council hasn't paid enough attention to their concerns about the 150 prisoners who would be released from the center every day, about 113 of those from city booking. Neighbors aren't appeased by promises that officers will escort prisoners into the building. Nor have other proposals, including issuing bus passes to prisoners released from the facility, reassured worried residents. "There's a sense that neither the city nor the county has done a very good job figuring out what's going to happen," Riley says. "No one feels very secure about it right now."

Other options are still being considered, council sources say. One proposal, put forth by Council Member Beverly Griffith, would combine the city's booking center with a "sobriety center" (in other words, a detox facility) and locate both -- well, that's still unclear, but somewhere else that isn't in a neighborhood. At the very least, some opponents suggest, the city should wait six months and monitor the effects the county facility has on the neighborhood before making the move.

"It takes time to look at all of this," says Griffith's aide Jeff Jack. "But most cities have found solutions that don't have these facilities located in neighborhoods."

Living in a Downtown World

The city approved nearly $2 million in purchase costs and fee waivers Thursday to keep the Mexic-Arte Museum, located at 419 Congress, in the heart of downtown. A plan to buy the building outright for around that price was scrapped last year. Under the new deal, the city would purchase the building for $740,000 and lease it to Mexic-Arte. The alternative is to give the museum the purchase money in exchange for an agreement to preserve the site as a museum for the next 25 years. The remainder of the $2 million -- $1.1 million in fee waivers and a few other incentives -- went to developers Block 42 Congress Partners, Ltd., who own the 400 block of Congress Avenue. Council Member Will Wynn, part owner of Block 42, recused himself from the vote and left the chambers.

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Central booking, Travis County Criminal Justice Center, Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, Chris Riley, Beverly Griffith, Jeff Jack, WillWynn, Block 42 Congress Partners, Ltd., Mexic-Arte Museum

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