15 Jul Neighborhood Park or High-Rise Amenity? : The Story of 64 Rainey Street
Latino community members stood up for their rights and heritage late last month, asking council members of the Open Space Environment and Sustainability committee a difficult question: what’s the difference between a park and an amenity, and will the Latino community lose another battle for land in Austin?
At issue is a small piece of property at 64 Rainey St., near the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). The property is wanted by the MACC to incorporate into their Master Plan as a pocket park, which a developer has agreed to create. There are voices in the community, however, that fear the developer might transform the pocket park into an amenity for his condominium next door.
The MACC advisory board approved the agreement earlier this year to lend the developer, Sackman Enterprises Inc., the property as a staging area for Sackman’s project next door on 70 Rainey St. In return for two years of staging space, Sackman has promised to build a $300,000 pocket park for the MACC, which the company will design, develop and maintain. Sackman also said it will contribute a $100,000 donation to the MACC for its remaining development.
This agreement between Sackman Enterprises and the MACC must be approved by city council before development can begin.
While many MACC board members support the agreement, some Latino community members are concerned, and spoke out at the Open Space Environment and Sustainability Committee meeting against it. They reminded the council that the property is in a significant neighborhood for Latinos in Austin who have, they said, struggled to maintain control over their properties. The crowd made clear that this time was going to be different than in the past.
“It’s very important for us to not allow history to repeat itself,” said Paul Saldaña of the Latino community losing land in Austin. Saldaña is a local Austinite who had family on Rainey and was former Chief of Staff for Mayor Garcia until 2002.
Ideas and designs for a pocket park have been proposed by Sackman Enterprises Inc. developers, who were present at the meeting.
“We are open and willing to engage with the community and neighborhood…” Sackman Executive Board Chairman Alan Sackman said. “In no way does [the proposal] take off the table any ideas moving forward. I want to do what’s best for the neighborhood and I do think that a green space would benefit the community.”
Juan Oyervides, a member of the MACC advisory board, expressed concerns that the park would simply be an amenity for the residents of Sackman’s Condominium on 70 Rainey, and that the cultural and historical significance would be absent in its design.
“If you look at the pocket park in their vision,” Oyervides said, “that just doesn’t suggest any history about the neighborhood. How does that connect to the MACC?”
The street is listed on the national historic registry as a historic district for being the first formally recognized Mexican American neighborhood in Austin, Saldaña said. In the early 1900s, Mexican Americans were limited to the warehouse district around 5th and Guadalupe but were pushed out of their homes in 1990s with the exception of Rainey Street.
“The Latino community were very used to accepting peanuts, or very used to just settling and moving on,” said Valerie Menard, president of the Center for Mexican-American Culture Arts. “But … the community said that we’re not doing that anymore.”
Currently, the City of Austin owns the 64 Rainey Street property, which is managed by the Public Works Department. At the meeting, Oyervides suggesting changing this – transferring 64 Rainey to the Parks and Recreation Department from the Public Works Department, so that the MACC would be given control of the property.
In the end, the council chose not to push the action forward after Councilman Zimmerman brought to attention that the 64 Rainey St. item was on the agenda as a “briefing and discussion” and not as a consideration. The council unanimously voted to hold off on a formal decision to approve the agreement between Sackman and the MACC until more questions could be answered. Their next meeting will be on August 26th.
“This is not a neighborhood issue,” Menard said, “This is a city-wide issue. [The MACC] is a beacon for the Latino community in Austin. Were it to be completed, it would be a beacon for Latinos in Texas.”