Edited By Mike Clark-Madison, Fri., July 11, 2003
City Hall's $37 million incentive package for the Domain became a little more problematic this week, as the University of Texas System announced it would lease 46 acres of land at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus -- right across Braker Lane from the Domain site -- to Simon Property Group for a 550,000-square-foot mixed-use urban village neo-mall or in the parlance of the trade, a "lifestyle center." That is, just like the Domain, but Simon -- America's largest retail developer -- has a lot more stroke to get tenants for its Shops at Arbor Walk project than does Domain developer Endeavor Real Estate Group. In fact, Endeavor -- along with City Hall's two other favorite local developers, Stratus Properties and Schlosser Development -- bid unsuccessfully against Simon for the ground lease at the Pickle tract, located between the actual campus and MoPac. Real estate pros, including reps from both Simon and Endeavor, say the Arboretum area is so hot that it can support all this new retail -- on top of planned expansions to the existing Arboretum and Gateway complexes and other proposed malls all over the region, including Simon projects in Georgetown and Buda. The Domain is supposed to open for business in 2005, the Arbor Walk project in 2006. -- M.C.M.
Speaking of mall projects, the Save Our Springs Alliance filed suit Monday against the Village of Bee Cave, claiming the town council violated state law when it entered into a development agreement for the proposed Hill Country Galleria. The agreement included up to $30 million in sales-tax rebates for mall developer Chris Milam; the council based its action on a state economic-development statute known as Chapter 380 (the same law allowing the Domain deal). SOS attorney Brad Rockwell said the statute does not authorize cities to enter into a contract for sales-tax rebates 20 years into the future. "The Texas Constitution forbids cities from contracting away their powers to private entities," Rockwell said. SOS and area neighborhoods opposed Milam's speculative mall plan for both environmental and traffic reasons; the proposed site is upstream from little Barton Creek and is in the contributing zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Austin development attorney David Armbrust brokered the agreement on behalf of Bee Cave. -- Amy Smith
In other enviro news, the SOS Alliance, along with the Save Barton Creek Association and the Sierra Club, has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list Cicurina cueva, a spider endemic to two western Travis Co. caves, as an endangered species. One of the two caves, Flint Ridge, is already on city-owned preserve land, but the state's plans for State Highway 45 South -- which may run directly over the cave -- would put the spider at risk, the petitioners argue. The groups add that the county and TxDOT committed to protect cave species and their habitat as part of the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan but have failed at the job, making an Endangered Species Act listing essential. And, as was the case with the listing of the Barton Springs Salamander, protecting the spider would also, SOS says, protect water quality and the aquifer recharge zone. -- M.C.M.
Rainey Street is in the news again, as the city's Downtown Commission tackles the long-running question of how to plan for redevelopment of the beleaguered historic neighborhood between the Austin Convention Center and Town Lake. The commission's Rainey Street subcommittee is reportedly leaning toward reviving a strategy floated during the last round of Rainey talks in 2000, in which commercial property surrounding the Rainey Street Historic District would be redeveloped -- at fairly high densities -- to generate revenue to rehabilitate the historic structures and provide a fair return on the longtime homeowners investment. -- M.C.M.
Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle is the subject of a major article in Time magazine this week -- billed as "an in-depth look at a D.A.'s struggle to ensure that only the guilty go to the death chamber." "Where do you find a D.A. willing to both ignore public opinion and challenge his colleagues in the criminal-justice system?" writes Time's John Cloud. "Surprisingly, in the heart of Texas." Surprisingly, Cloud only mentions in passing -- in a story of considerable length -- that Austin is "liberal," which may have something to do with Earle's squeamishness on capital punishment. Nor does Cloud mention Earle's willingness to prosecute 12-year-old Lacresha Murray on capital-murder charges or say one word about the yogurt shop murders, where the DA's tactics may have left the convictions of Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott vulnerable on appeal. The piece's conclusion that Earle is a different kind of DA stems almost entirely from his refusal to seek death for Edwin Delamora for the murder of sheriff's deputy Keith Ruiz during a botched raid by the Capital Area Narcotics Task Force -- leading Cloud to call Earle "courageous and freakish." For more bons mots and colorful Texas detail, visit www.time.com. -- M.C.M.
The Dixie Chicks aren't the only Texas country musicians against George W. Bush -- Willie Nelson last week came out with an endorsement of Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich for president. "A Kucinich administration will put the interests of America's family farmers, consumers, and environment above the greed of industrial agribusiness," Nelson said in a prepared statement. Kucinich, a congressman and the former mayor of Cleveland, made an appearance at Willie's 4th of July Picnic last weekend, coming onstage shortly after Willie did a duet with Ignorant Redneck poster boy Toby Keith. -- Lee Nichols