Conflict over Capitol complex plan raises concerns from local lawmakers

Drawing from the State of Texas Capitol Complex master plan.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The road from the Blanton Museum of Art all the way to the Texas Capitol could soon be turned into a public, pedestrian plaza. Think tree-lined walkways and grassy picnic areas. The state intends to pay for the project and Texas is ready to start building. But they still need support from Austin city leaders.

It’s a game of push and pull between the city and state. The state legislature already set aside $581 million to pay for the project at no cost to the city. The city is being asked to waive fees and streamline the permit process for construction. Rep. Donna Howard (D – Austin) urges the city support the plan for all the benefits it could bring to the city.

“Quite frankly, to me, this is kind of a no-brainer in terms of the gift that this is for the city and city taxpayers,” Howard said.

The current plan includes a pedestrian walkway, a cultural venue, an outdoor pavilion for live performances and over 4,000 underground parking spaces available to the general public. The state intends to expand this project all the way to 15th Street in the future, creating a four-acre park.

“It’ll be very similar to the National Mall – that kind of a feel to it,” Howard said. “It will bring us all together with a really great, almost 4 acre urban green space. It’s tremendous.”

Opposition to the project remains so large that Sen. Kirk Watson (D – Austin) joined Howard in writing an op-ed to the city in order to garner support for the plaza. But some city leaders call the plan, and the requirement to waive city fees and rules, an example of state overreach.

“I get that there are hard feelings here,” Howard said. “But we have worked on these kinds of shared property arrangements for years and years, the state and the city have.”

The state already delayed the project’s groundbreaking and opening. And Howard warns that more delays would only increase the overall cost of the plaza.

If everything goes to plan, the plaza will be completed by 2021.

“This is a real win-win for everybody,” Howard said. “This is not the place to have the fight. This is a good thing for the city of Austin.”

Rep. Howard also spoke about how Texas plans to fund hurricane relief efforts in Houston. The state intends to tap into money reserved to help those in the case of a natural disaster, according to Howard.

“There is luckily a sufficient amount in the rainy day fund, the economic stabilization fund, to get us through this,” Howard said. “In fact, the comptroller has actually said so.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said that private businesses and residents could have to move before the project moves forward. That is not the case. We regret the error.

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