Naked City

Austin Stories

Let's try that again, shall we? Now that Dallas developer Gordon Dunnaway's deal to buy up Rainey Street en masse has fallen through, Austin über-landlords Perry Lorenz and Robert Knight have weighed in with a New Rainey Deal of their own. Knight and Lorenz, you will recall, were the first to propose turning the small working-class neighborhood east of downtown into a dense, mixed-use urban destination, but they bailed on the deal when Dunnaway, whose upscale 54 Rainey Place condo project is still slated for the area, started knocking on neighbors' doors.

That was then and this is now, and few on Rainey are expecting to get anything like the $65-$70 a square foot Dunnaway once said he might be able to offer for their property. As potential agents for the Rainey owners, Lorenz and Knight are looking at a probable upper limit of $60 a square foot for the land, depending on how many residents are willing to sell. Right now, Lorenz says, they're "envisioning a very dense, very urban use" for the area, though no buyer has yet stepped forward to make an offer. Once that's lined up, the agents would charge residents a per-square-foot commission to close the deal. Which could mean, as Rainey homeowner Brigid Shea points out, less payoff for residents who've already been once-bitten by the real estate bug. "I think if people look at a proposal where they have a guarantee of getting less per square foot than the previous proposal, they're going to say, 'What's up with this?'" Shea says. On the other hand, Knight and Lorenz -- who own several key parcels of land in the area -- have deep and lucrative roots in the area. Lorenz says around 85% of the landowners in the area have expressed a "serious interest" in selling...

The money pit that is the Austin Music Network -- now officially a nonprofit (as opposed to no-profit) enterprise -- is about to get another reprieve, thanks to a half-million-dollar infusion that's reportedly working its way onto the council's agenda in the next few weeks. But along with that money comes a swift kick in the rear: If Eddie Wilson (of Threadgill's, where AMN's trailers are currently parked) and his colleague Woody Roberts don't make some real changes soon to AMN's soporific programming, the rug could be yanked from underneath the channel as soon as this September...

Every jurisdiction in these parts is supposed to adopt the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO)'s long-range transportation plan as its own, but naturally the city of Austin is having qualms. The city Environmental Board, Urban Transportation Commission, and Planning Commission have all laid out a number of changes they'd like to see in the plan, which governs where state and federal transportation funding can be spent. Mostly, this means keeping roads through sensitive areas (enviro and neighborhood) from turning into highways, though that's what CAMPO says we'll need to handle twice as many cars on our roads by 2025. Council sources question if Austin can politically get away with imposing conditions on CAMPO, since transportation is our No. 1 issue. The boards and commissions say the problem is procedural, a reflection of the city's own very slow start on comprehensive transportation planning. "Some of the plan projects are exactly the opposite of what Austin will accept," says PC vice chair Ben Heimsath. "If they [CAMPO planners, who technically work for the city] had more of a sense of what Austin's program was going to be, the changes we'd have to recommend now would be minimal. But we have next to nothing to show them, so they have nothing to respond to." The council doesn't expect to see the CAMPO plan until at least March...

Residents of the five neighborhoods bordering Hyde Park Baptist Church's property at the Quarries in Northwest Austin knew it wouldn't be long before the ever-expanding church moved its bulldozers into their neighborhood. What they didn't expect was the speed with which the church -- whose representatives have repeatedly said they have no plans to build all five structures for which they have permits on the property -- would move to relocate their 600-student high school to the Quarries. So neighbors were understandably surprised by the headline in the Jan. 31 edition of the church's weekly newsletter, The Hyde Park Baptist, which proclaimed, "Church Approves Construction of Quarries Infrastructure and Church Renovation and Approves Development of a Plan to Move the Secondary School to the Quarries!"

The high school was the biggest sticking point in negotiations between the Central Austin church and its Northwest Austin neighbors. But it was resolved, according to Five Neighborhoods United steering committee member Bobbi Henley, when the church agreed to build a barricade between the school and the entrance to the neighborhood, forcing traffic onto a yet-to-be-built access road to MoPac. But before that happens, the church's school board will have to agree that moving the high school is, financially speaking, a good idea; and whether, as former Hyde Park Neighborhood Association co-president Ann Graham points out, it makes sense for parents with multiple children in HPBC schools to drive, daily, to two schools: one in Hyde Park proper, and one in Northwest Austin, some 30 minutes' commute away...

In other Hyde Park Baptist news, the public hearing on the church's proposed five-story parking garage in the Hyde Park neighborhood has been moved to Thursday, March 1 - not March 8, as originally reported. ...

Electric deregulation is coming to Texas -- are we afraid? No need to be, say officials at Austin Energy, which (along with Mayor Kirk Watson and Council Member Daryl Slusher) called a press conference Tuesday to explain why rolling brownouts, instituted in California after a disastrous attempt at deregulation there, won't happen in Austin. As a municipal utility, AE doesn't have to open its service area up to competition under the dereg law passed in 1999, the mayor reminded reporters, adding that as far as he's concerned, the utility shouldn't deregulate at all until we've seen how the open market affects the rest of the state.

But the central point of the discussion was to assure Austin residents that Austin Energy won't become the Montgomery Ward of a leaner, meaner electric market. "Every utility in the state of Texas will have to be competitive when restructuring begins, regardless of whether they opt in or not," Watson said.

After the press conference, AE officials dropped hints that part of the utility's strategy could include using more renewable energy -- still more expensive to buy, on average, than natural gas and coal, but not subject to the wild price spirals of natural gas. As of Friday, the utility had gotten bids from 15 renewable energy providers that could add as much as 300 megawatts of new power from renewable energy sources to AE's generating capacity. This winter, the utility has been burning fuel oil instead of natural gas in its Decker plant to keep rates low. For now, they're not saying whether they'll try to add enough renewable energy to prevent having to burn the dirtier fuel oil in times of escalated gas prices...

Computer Sciences Corporation's first new building is officially on the leasing market. USI Real Estate Brokerage Services Inc. is shopping for tenants to fill at least three floors of the six-story building, which was built with a slew of sweetheart incentives from the city. CSC and the city had brokered the three-building complex to steer CSC away from the aquifer and to meet the then-growing company's demand for new space. But recent layoffs have hampered CSC's ability to fill even one of its buildings, hence their decision to play landlord until the economy rebounds...

This week's e-mail mudfight comes courtesy of Austin Police Association president Mike Sheffield, who fired a shot heard 'round Austin when he sent a vitriolic missive to the city's most prolific e-mailist, Texas Monthly Publisher Mike Levy, blasting City Council Member Beverly Griffith for "absolutely never [missing] a chance to complain and criticize the department and its officers behind the scenes." Sheffield expressed concern that Griffith would oppose an estimated $40 to $50 million department pay raise, currently being discussed in executive session as part of the union's meet and confer bargaining process, because she cares more about "parks and greenbelts" than "the safety of the people who pay city taxes." Sheffield's letter prompted a flurry of snipes between Levy, Sheffield, and activist Scott Henson, who runs a Web site (home.austin.rr.com/apdhallofshame/) critical of the APD. In any case, Sheffield believes the APA has the solid support of the six remaining council members, leaving the question of why the union chief felt the need to call Griffith "a rich white woman from West Austin who has no concern for [East Austinites'] needs" a bit of a mystery...

-- Contributors: Mike Clark-Madison, Kevin Fullerton, Amy Smith

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Rainey Street, Gordon Dunnaway, Perry Lorenz, Robert Knight, Brigid Shea, Austin Music Network, CAMPO, Ben Heimsath, Hyde Park Baptist Church, Bobbi Henley, Ann Graham, Austin Energy, electric utility deregulation, Kirk Watson, Daryl Slusher, Computer Sciences Corporati

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