Small Lot Leverages Big Land Deal on Rainey St.

The Austin City Council made good on a long-ignored promise to protect the Mexican American Cultural Center. Fulfilling the promise was part of a deal that involves the construction of a new condo high rise on Rainey Street.

The lot at the corner of Rainey and River Street is currently a dusty parking area. Tuesday it became a symbol of a promise kept at Austin City Hall. The council vote was cheered because it designates the property as park land. The lot is part of the Mexican American Cultural Center,  which city officials had promised to protect. That was 30 years ago, said activist Paul Saldana.

"I’m hopeful and optimistic this time the promise and commitment will stick because we don’t want to have to come back and remind a future council what this council committed to do today,” said Saldana.

Supporters of the center were able to get the park designation, for the entire property which is located along Lady Bird Lake. The designation which prevents the city from selling the land without a public referendum was done by using the small lot as leverage.

"This has been a great learning experience for me in terms of the community coming together and try to find a compromise,” said developer C.J.Sackman.

The development company is paying the city $400, 000 to lease the lot for 2 years. The corner location is to be used as a construction staging area to keep heavy equipment off Rainey Street. It's needed to build a new condominium high rise which is set to open by fall of 2017. The lot is to be refurbished and landscaped using the money from the lease agreement.

Mayor Steve Adler said resolving the issue justifies having a council elected by district and not at large.  It is a new form of government, according to the Mayor, that forces compromises while not excluding those who want to be involved.

"It’s about doing it the right way, and this is a pivotal time as we plan this growth to gather input and it does require developers taking the time and addressing those and I feel this was a great example of that happening,” said Sackman.

The council action - from a big picture point of view- may signal the promise of new approach to high density development. For those with the Mexican American Cultural Center- the day was simply about keeping a 30 year old promise.

The lot is valued at around $2-million, which may be why the promise to protect it was never made good. City Manager Marc Ott will now have to make the paper work is done for the park designation to happen.
He was out of town today and not available for comment.

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