Beside the Point

Mr. Freeze in Da House

Before this bitter wintry mix; before luxe retailers Downtown tried de-icing the Great Streets with imported Dead Sea rock-salt grains; before News 8 Austin started offering weather on the Eights … and nines, ones, threes, fours, and sevens; and yes, even before the deadly Breakfast Taco Riot, which claimed untold lives as migas-mad Austinites scrambled to procure adequate tortilla provisions, the cryogenic freeze was in effect at City Council. Last week, during their first meeting of the year (Jan. 11), the hot topics that look to break the ice this year – Wal-Mart and the Big Box Ordinance, to name a couple – were instead kept in the chill-chest. That was even before Jack Frost pimp-slapped the city earlier this week, slathering the town in his wintry skeet.

There was, however, one heated exception – the Congress Avenue Retail Retention and Enhancement Fund was pulled from the freezer to thaw. The council unanimously approved a measure directing the city manager's office to draft guidelines for the fund, Will Wynn urging that they be brought back "as quickly as practical." "Obviously, the inspiration for this item frankly is the likely relocation of some existing businesses in the 200 block of Congress Avenue for a potential new project," said the mayor, obliquely referring to the Marriott hotel complex planned to replace Las Manitas Avenue Cafe and its neighbors, the casus belli in the new Downtown development wars and specific impetus for the relocation fund. (For more, see "Developing Stories.") Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley sought to ensure that the program is something council could replicate "from time to time when we have other businesses in the same situation," and there were other suggestions from council. One underscored the difficulties both of crisis policy-making and Downtown blinders, as Sheryl Cole asked staff to cast a wider net, one that would encompass Eastside arterials such as East 11th and Seventh streets. Can retail enhancement work, applied wholesale across the city?

Well, they'll have the time to tinker. Council had canceled this week's meeting before the city solidified in ice. Other initiatives appear stalled by the freeze, like Big Box Revised, which had been scheduled to be vetted before the Planning Commission Tuesday. When the storm lingered, that meeting was summarily postponed. As the city strives to dig itself out from under winter's jackboot, they may need help defrosting the municipal windshield.

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Austin City Council, City Council, Congress Ave. Retail Enhancement, Will Wynn, Sheryl Cole

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