The Austin Chronicle

Beside the Point

Books at Green, Drunks on Sixth

By Wells Dunbar, October 27, 2006, News

"A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life," congregational minister Henry Ward Beecher once sanguinely waxed. Tell you what, Preach – that's all well and good for Olde New England, but it was a might rough finding an iced mochaccino in the 1800s. Us neo-Enlightenment-types will take a Borders, thank you.

And so it went at City Hall last week, as City Council set a time line for decommissioning the Green Water Treatment Plant Downtown and planting a new central library there. Much must be done before any development occurs – stabilizing the Shoal Creek banks that separate Green from the hulking Seaholm skeleton next door, moving Seaholm's water main, extending Nueces and Second streets through the former waterworks. Demolition and deconstruction is under the purview of an as-yet-unnamed design consultant, to be chosen next month. Of course, these well-laid plans hinge on another November decision – voter adoption of Proposition 6 and its $90 million in library largesse. In so many ways, Green is the lingua franca of our current municipal dialogue. From the mind-boggling Water Treatment Plant No. 4 fiasco, to streetcars and transit-oriented development, implementation of the city's Great Streets program, and the Capitol view corridor's role in plotting the future of Downtown, Green redevelopment is the maypole around which all banners wrap.

And let's not forget mixed-use development. A new central library was initially floated with a much higher price tag, up to $126 million, before being pared down to the present amount. Whether the funds will be used just to complete its buildout, or if the city wants in on the bonanza, we don't know – but one thing looks certain: condos ahoy! Mixed-use maven Brewster McCracken wondered aloud when council could offer "policy direction" specifying the library be a "base building" for a mixed-use project. "If you have a $90 million public central library that is the base building of a larger building, that produces great economies for the entire development. … So I personally would like to see us come back fairly shortly after the election … because that's a fundamental pivot point about how we structure the planning from that point forward."

Yes, land sale proceeds are expected to offset the $27.5 million cost of flushing Green. Yes, we sorely need a library befitting Austin as the education and entertainment seat of the state. But I don't know if the way to do that is to drop condos crammed with literary lattetistas above a public library. Admittedly, the current craze to build out every parcel of city land Downtown has added millions to the tax rolls, but in attracting largely luxury retailers and $200,000 condominiums, they're pricing out all but Cali-transplants. Not to shit in the stacks, but I'll be damned if my new library is just intellectual padding for tax base über alles.

Little consolation, but it could always be worse. Last week, international "entertainment and leisure industry" consultants Economics Research Associates delivered what could only be described as the State of Sixth Street Address. Or was it a eulogy? Basically, they were paid to tell us Sixth is a trash-strewn, police-state pukehole, but by God if they didn't earn their money. The highlight of the presentation was the supremely ill-advised "24 Hours on Sixth Street" segment, wherein some intrepid soul documented the debauch over six-hour increments. The midnight segment starts innocuously enough, as a vagrant falls to the street under Lady Vodka's icy grip. In their quest for quarter Jell-O shooters, a clique of sorority chickenheads nearly trip over our humble drunkard, but, doubling over with laughter, they whip out their camera phones to snap some pictures!

The girls will never believe this one!

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