The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Metro RFP Lurches Forward

By Michael King, January 17, 2003, News

On Jan. 8, following dueling press conferences outside Capital Metro's East Fifth administrative offices, a board subcommittee gave its initial approval for the transit authority to issue a request for proposals for a redevelopment master plan centered on Cap Metro's rail-yard property along East Fourth and Fifth. The entire area under study includes 12 city blocks between Fourth and Seventh, from I-35 to Pleasant Valley, but the redevelopment project itself concerns only 11 acres at Fourth and I-35 owned by Cap Metro (see "Railing at the Rail Yard," Dec. 13).

The Cap Metro tract is within the area covered by the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan, and ECC Planning Team Chair Joseph Martinez made clear his group's apprehension that the neighborhood's needs will get lost in a "master plan" -- or worse, an end run by Cap Metro to turn its holdings into a commercial complex and transit hub. Martinez's press event was followed by one where other Mexican-American community groups -- PODER, Con Ganas, and El Concilio, among others -- spoke in support of the proposed RFP and described Cap Metro's process thus far as "inclusive and fair." Several of those speakers have already been appointed to the community review team for the RFP.

The subcommittee suspended normal work-session rules to allow public testimony, largely a verbatim rehash of the press conferences outside. Committee members kept reiterating that they want the public process to be as inclusive and open as possible, "out in the sunlight." Travis Co. Commissioner Margaret Gomez referred obliquely to past agency scandals, saying, "I certainly do not want the FBI visiting us ever again." It was clear that, open or closed, the ruling sentiment was to keep the process moving, a notion underlined in a letter from Mayor Gus Garcia, presented by his aide Paul Saldaña. "Admittedly, a few citizens still have concerns about the project," wrote Garcia, "but the majority of people now firmly believe that we need to get moving on the RFP."

Cap Metro staff plans to accept proposals through March, with a contract to be awarded in April for work beginning in May to design "a model, interactive, mixed-use, urban village concept."

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