After hearing public objections and debating the proper use of a piece of land adjacent to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, Austin City Council voted Oct. 11 to look into having the land incorporated into the center's master plan rather than selling it.
“I think it would be very smart for the city to hang on to that parcel for future expansion,” said Juan Oyervides, chairman of the MACC advisory board, while the council was discussing the issue.
The council voted to remove the land, 64 Rainey St., from consideration of sale and to develop multiple plans for the tract that would address the needs of the center.
Councilman Chris Riley brought up this particular issue in a council workshop in September. The city acquired the land, which is about 11,700 square feet in size, in 2003, and the public works department has been using the property as a staging area for the Waller Creek Tunnel project. Earlier this year, the Parks and Recreation Department expressed interest in the land to address a need for additional parking in the area.
Initial plans for the lot included selling the land but allotting 20 to 30 parking spaces for public use as well as selling the property outright for about $1.2 million.
“This is a very expensive way of addressing our parking needs, and it does it by putting parking on Rainey Street where we have all kinds of goals about bringing life and vitality to the street,” Riley said during the September work session. “Generally, putting a big parking garage on Rainey Street is not necessarily the best way to achieve a lot of life and vitality on the street.”
Many members of the community as well as members of the MACC board spoke out against the parking garage, feeling that it would diminish the importance of the center.
“It's an insult to us when a developer wants to come and build a seven- or eight-story structure that, in our opinion, blocks the view of a piece of art that our community has worked for decades to do,” said Paul Saldana, who spoke at the council meeting.
A substitute motion was brought by Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole that would sell the property for $1.2 million and have her come back to the council at a later date with a resolution allocating $200,000 for programs under the Hispanic Quality of Life Initiative. The initiative is an effort to asses the Hispanic community's experience in Austin and provide recommendations. Cole said the amendment was an attempt to both bring money into the city and preserve cultural values and history.
Riley brought up that long-term plans for the center did not include this particular piece of land.
The substitute motion failed on a vote of 3-4 with Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Councilman Mike Martinez, Councilwoman Kathie Tovo and Morrison voting no, while the main motion to not sell the land passed with a vote of 4-3, with Councilman Bill Spelman, Cole and Riley voting against.
“Our real challenge here is we have values, and we value money, and then we value community,” Councilwoman Laura Morrison said. “It's just so hard to put those all in one basket and see that you come up with an easy answer.”