Mas Noticias Las Manitas: Council Members Take Stand

Three city council members have taken a public stand asserting the value of Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, Escuelita del Alma, and Tesoros Trading Co. to the city and the 200 block of Congress Avenue. In a Sept. 28 letter to J. Willard Marriott Jr., chariman and CEO of Marriott International -- the hotel chain whose current development plans would displace Las Manitas and friends -- Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez, and Brewster McCracken state: "To clear up any ambiguity: Las Manitas, Escuelita del Alma, and Tesoros are revered local institutions which have significant cultural and historic value to our community. It is a source of pride that these institutions have grown up locally and thrived on Congress Avenue, one of the most high-profile, historic streets in Texas. These businesses are -- and they are representative of -- what makes Austin a unique and special place. Losing them is simply a losing proposition for everyone involved." (See below to read the full letter.) Noting that council approvals will be needed for the proposed Marriott project, the council members made a recommendation to Marriott: "We are writing to request that Marriott work with community stakeholders to create a revised development plan that accommodates the ongoing operation of the block's existing small local businesses."

The council members' point is that rather than seeing these beloved local businesses as a problem, Marriott and its development partners should creatively incorporate them as a unique asset. Far from being a lag on economic development, Austin's unique, hip multicultural character -- perfectly embodied in these three businesses -- is exactly what makes our city a desirable location in which to do business.

Remember the initial civic reaction when a roosting colony of bats was discovered under the Congress Avenue Bridge? Eradicate the bats! Poison them! Now look at what a huge tourist attraction our beloved Mexican freetail bat colony has become -- an eclectic, one-of-a-kind urban feature that draws visitors and dollars to Austin. What's needed now is a similar shift in thinking. Marriott and friends would do well to take a step back and realize that they are not being saddled with a pest. Au contraire, they are sitting on the kind of marketing attraction and opportunity for community goodwill that corporations usually have to spend millions on. Wake up and smell the cinnamon coffee, hoteliers!


September 28, 2006

J. Willard Marriott, Jr.
Chairman and CEO
Marriott International
One Marriott Drive
Washington, D.C., 20058

Dear Mr. Marriott,

We are writing concerning the proposed Marriott development on Congress Avenue.

It has been reported here that the proposed Marriott development would remove the existing day care center and all of the small local businesses in the 200 block of Congress Avenue. As you may know, the development as it is now envisioned would appear to require several approvals by the Austin City Council.

We welcome and appreciate Marriott's interest and investment in Austin. We want companies like yours to be able to do business profitably in our city. We also believe very strongly that Austin's unique local character and culture are one of the central reasons why companies like Marriott enjoy that opportunity in the first place.

To clear up any ambiguity: Las Manitas, Escuelita del Alma, and Tesoros are revered local institutions which have significant cultural and historic value to our community. It is a source of pride that these institutions have grown up locally and thrived on Congress Avenue, one of the most high-profile, historic streets in Texas. These businesses are -- and they are representative of -- what makes Austin a unique and special place. Losing them is simply a losing proposition for everyone involved.

We are writing to request that Marriott work with community stakeholders to create a revised development plan that accommodates the ongoing operation of the block's existing small local businesses. Because lease arrangements are a consideration, we would ask you to propose a revised development plan no later than October 31, 2006.

Several successful developments in Austin and elsewhere around the country have built around or accommodated important local institutions. We feel confident that Marriott has creative people who can produce a profitable development that also helps protect what makes our city special. Austin has many creative people who are ready to help.

Please remember: The things that make Austin unique are exactly the same things that make Austin a great place for Marriott to do business. We hope that you will work together with our community now to find a solution, for our mutual long-term advantage.

Sincerely,
Lee Leffingwell
Mike Martinez
Brewster McCracken


Also from this issue:

"The Good Fight"

"Point Austin: Tough Tacos"

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