On a Clear Day ...

"Naked City" recently got in an epistolary wrestling match with former City Council member Robert Barnstone, who with Perry Lorenz developed the Nokonah lofts at Ninth and Lamar. In a lighthearted July 12 item, Chronicle reporter Jordan Smith poked fun at the Statesman's enraptured reportage of the Nokonah and its "expansive views of Austin's hills, the Shoal Creek greenbelt, Duncan Park, and the downtown Austin skyline." Smith added that the building's northeast perspective features "a stunning view of the inmate recreation yard atop the Travis County Criminal Justice Complex" several blocks away. (The yard appears to be a giant empty cage atop the building -- see photo in Naked City .) That potshot made Barnstone cry "foul," and he wrote to "Postmarks" that Smith probably drives to the grocery store, and that she shouldn't "fabricate ... stunning views 'into the inmate recreational yard'" -- which was not, in fact, what she had written.

Asked about the discrepancy, Barnstone grudgingly admitted that Nokonah residents can see the inmate yard from the building, although "you have to be told what it is, and there's never anybody out there" (true -- which suggests the inmates have more of a beef than Barnstone). He recently invited "Naked City" over for a tour of his not entirely finished but quite elegant building, proud to show off its amenities and even the panoramic northeast view, which includes the Capitol, an expansive hunk of the downtown skyline, and, alas, the non-rec inmate rec yard. "If you ask me," said Barnstone, "as a social democrat I'm more offended by the view of the Wells Fargo bank" -- a garishly headlined eyesore, we agreed. Barnstone described the variety of Nokonah units as "democratic," ranging in price from $160,000 to $2 million. The latter price is probably more in the neighborhood of former governor Ann Richards, a Nokonah condo-owner and also a Democrat.

More seriously, on the looming question of Downtown gentrification, Barnstone says the number of Downtown residential units had steadily declined for 30 years, showing an "uptick" only in the recent 2000 census. "There's only one variable that determines residential prices," Barnstone said, "and that's population growth. That means that for Austin, the only thing that will bring prices down -- Downtown or anywhere -- is supply, supply, supply."

For the record, "Naked City" notes that Barnstone and Lorenz have a really nice building, reporter Smith does walk to the grocery store -- and if the jail inmates are ever allowed out to play, they'll be able to peer at their Downtown neighbors at the Nokonah.

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