ARA Needs to Go, Groups Say

Should private developers complete what ARA failed to do?

A 2009 city manager's assessment of the development agreement between the city of Austin and the Austin Revitalization Authority opined that it was "not advisable to continue the relationship as currently structured nor to bring to close our partnership."

In a firmly worded resolution sent to City Council members on March 4, the Swede Hill and Robertson Hill neighborhood associations disagreed – ending the ARA's agreement is exactly what they'd like to do.

"We request that Council acknowledge that ARA's flawed business plan has [led] to a misplaced priority on managing ARA's debt rather than on revitalizing the area according to the vision, goals and project controls agreed to by the surrounding communities," reads the resolution, signed by RHNA President Stan Strickland and SHNA President Tracy Witte. Citing the failure of ARA to complete the East 11th & 12th Streets Community Redevelopment Project in a timely fashion (the ARA was created back in the mid-1990s and has accomplished only a partial redevelopment of 11th, while private redevelopment has boomed in other parts of East Austin), the resolution requests the following:

The elimination of ARA's role in the project

An immediate moratorium on transactions between the city, the Urban Renewal Agency, and ARA while a new plan is formulated to promote "true competitive bidding to attract and capture a much broader spectrum of potential private developers than what has been produced under the current approach"

An incentive package to jump-start redevelopment by local firms and area stakeholders

Assurance that oversight of the plan is "competent and without conflict of interest"

"We've been talking about this for a long time," Witte told the Chronicle. "The undeniable fact is that nothing has been accomplished on 12th Street."

ARA President Greg Smith replied that the resolution isn't fair because it doesn't take into account a couple of major factors: Changes in city staff, the city council, and the makeup of the neighborhood over the past five years led to a deterioration in relationships in the corridor, he believes, and market forces are not conducive to redevelopment right now. Also, he says, city staff received a directive from council in February 2009 to take no action on the project until a city audit came out, which didn't happen until November.

"We've had the worst recession since 1928," Smith said, "and there's no development taking place. ... No one is bringing those issues up. ... You don't have developers running over there and developing property because of the market right now."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Revitalization Authority, ARA, Swede Hill, Robertson Hill, East 11th Street

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