Naked City

Austin Stories

All eyes downtown may be on Intel and CSC, but down at the other end of the Central City, another "redevelopment" project took a bow last week, perhaps its last. The troubled Waller Creek tunnel, the woefully over-budget project that was supposed to funnel floodwaters out of the 100-year flood plain that covers much of the southeast quadrant of downtown, has been shelved at least temporarily, until the city can find a source for the estimated $21 million it needs to finish the project. "It's on hold pending some other source of funding that we're not right now aware of," says city Finance Director John Stephens. Two possibilities -- a property tax increase and a hike in drainage fees -- were rejected by the City Council in December; other options, such as convincing private entities to pay for part of the shortfall, haven't panned out. "I think it would be hard to find some business who would directly benefit or indirectly benefit to the extent that they would want to pony up $21 million," Stephens says. Cheaper options, pushed by Council Member Beverly Griffith, have been rejected as too "ugly" by both the city's watershed protection department and the project's engineer, Brown & Root.

So what does that mean for the proposed renaissance of downtown's eastern end? According to Stephens, the prognosis isn't good. "We can't have any development that is going to encroach on the flood plain, so it's going to put a halt to or preclude developments that would occur in the flood plain," Stephens says. Not that developers are exactly lining up at the floodgates. "I think the opportunity for redevelopment of that corridor is still extremely limited," says George Oswald, engineering manager with the city's Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. "We've been in a boom phase for the last five years and how much new construction has gone in there on Waller Creek? … If the last five years are any indication, it's pretty limited." But dozens of existing properties, including Stubb's Barbecue on Seventh and Red River, are still at a high risk for flooding. The tunnel would clear out about 98% of the 100-year flood plain for development, but for now, the $25 million in bond money already raised for the project is sitting around gathering interest until the city can decide if the tunnel is feasible at all; if it's never built, Stephens says, the money would be used to pay off bonds for the convention center expansion, which shares its revenue source with the tunnel…

Warren Chisum -- whose bill to exempt Hyde Park Baptist Church (and other rapaciously expanding practitioners of "organized religious worship") from all but the "least restrictive site development standards" (his words) sailed through the House Land and Resource Management Committee last week -- enjoys attending services at HPBC when he's in town. But it's his legislative aide, Derrick Seal, who's more likely to be spotted in an HPBC pew: According to Hyde Park Baptist's membership roster, Seal has been a member of the congregation since 1999. Could Seal have inspired Chisum's sudden concern for a church whose growth stops some 350 miles short of the Pampa Republican's district line?…

The Alliance to Save Hyde Park is having a samba party to help pay off legal bills related to its battle against Hyde Park Baptist Church's proposed parking garage and related developments, on Saturday, May 5, 5-8:30pm at the Empanada Parlour, 709 E. Sixth. Suzanna Sharpe & Sambaxe will perform; donations of $10 and up will be accepted. For more info, call the Alliance at 647-7008…

The economy isn't the only thing that's chilling out in Austin. The Austin American-Statesman, whose headlines have heralded an impending economic turnaround for months, has reportedly issued a hiring freeze. Publisher Michael Laosa and HR director Lanell Duggan did not return calls for confirmation…

State Rep. Ron Wilson may get his own private airport after all, but it won't be the former Robert Mueller Municipal Airport. The Houston Democrat had floated a bill to create a state-owned general-aviation facility with a specific eye to Mueller, which Wilson tried in 1999 to keep open for the state's use. That didn't fly, but on April 25 he and our own Rep. Dawnna Dukes, in whose district Mueller is located, amended the sunset bill for the State Aircraft Pooling Board to create a new small-plane airport, open to the public, in Central Texas -- but only with the approval of the relevant city or county, and not on "any property owned by the most populous municipality in the region if the property was previously used as an airport." Rep. Fred Bosse of Houston tried to table this amendment, and then tried to amend it himself to strike the Mueller protection clause, but failed both times…

Former Texas governor George W. Bush's security detail didn't take kindly to the reception given him by a handful of protesters who showed up at Bush's homecoming appearance at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum dedication ceremony last Friday. One protester, Jamie Churchill of Spicewood, says Secret Service agents first attempted to prohibit protesters from gathering across from the Governor's Mansion on 11th Street, where Bush had lunch with Gov. Rick Perry. When the protesters demanded access to the sidewalk, the agents relented, says Churchill, but soon four mounted policemen appeared, lined up on the sidewalk, and sidestepped their horses directly into the body of protesters, pushing them back into the parking lot, refusing to back down even when one woman was knocked down and a horse chomped a mouthful of her hair. The Austin Independent Media Center has video footage of the incident available at

Churchill says there was no cause for the policemen's actions, saying the 50 or so protesters were a "boring" bunch who said nothing more threatening than "Oh, no, Gore's ahead, better call my brother Jeb." After they began challenging the officers' actions, Churchill says, officers spat at the protesters' feet. Lt. Carl Zimmerman, who heads APD's downtown rangers, says motorcycle police needed room on the sidewalk to get clear of traffic on 11th. He says horses are used routinely to keep order downtown, because they are "very efficient in crowd control situations."…

Instead of contributing to the problem during this year's ozone season, be part of the solution by biking to work on the city-sponsored Bike to Work Day. (Although, as far as we can tell, this biking thing works better -- for both your health and the environment -- if you keep it up for more than just one day.) At any rate, you can get started Friday, May 4, when various restaurants around town will be serving free breakfast to people who show up on bikes on their way to work between 7-9am. Later that afternoon, Congressman Lloyd Doggett and several City Council members will lead a Political Pedal from Eighth and Congress up to the Capitol, and back south to Ruta Maya for happy hour at 5pm. For more info about events and times, contact Kathryn Otto at

The State Policy Committee will hold its much-anticipated appeals meeting on the State Employee Charitable Campaign at 10am, Friday, May 4, in the William B. Travis Building, 1700 Congress, Rm. 1.100. Many groups rejected for this fall's campaign will be appealing those decisions -- described as a "glitch" by Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander, whose appointees spearheaded the rejections. Three new Lt. Gov. appointees will also take part. The public is invited to attend…

Coming next week: The much-awaited, much-anticipated Intel design contest results! (And not a mesh-screen movie projection multimedia thingy in sight)…

-- Contributors: Mike Clark-Madison, Kevin Fullerton, Michael King

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  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    UT President Larry Faulkner's comments about minority hiring and recruitment anger many minority members of the Texas Legislature.

    Naked City

    Rick Green and Ken Armbrister push a flurry of bills creating special water and development districts -- including the reviled, though much-revised, "Bradley bill" -- through their respective chambers at the Legislature.
  • Naked City

    A long-awaited decision on the rezoning of the Bennett Tract, which has sat vacant awaiting redevelopment for more than 10 years, should happen this Thursday.

    Naked City

    The Open Door Preschool, which offers its services to low-income, disabled, and non-disabled children alike, gets to stay in its old building -- from which its landlord had planned to evict it -- at a new, more expensive, lease.

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