Monday, July 17, 2017

Fr. Chuck's Column, July 16, 2017

You may have noticed that at the beginning of the month the McDonald’s on MLK closed. What is coming in its place is a 15 story hotel. It will have two brands of the Marriott Hotel chain in one building. I believe it will be both a Marriott and an Autograph hotel. The developer of this project is a group out of Indiana called White Lodging. They own and operate a number of hotels in Austin, more than 25. 
The old McDonald’s lot is only 7 tenths of an acre. So they are squeezing this hotel in with a shoe horn. Their building will come up directly to our property line next to the school. The distance from their wall and the facing wall of the school is about four feet. One interesting possibility is the idea of paving that area and having a walkway from our garage back to the alley and so on to the front of our church. Obviously, during construction you will not be able to cut through the McDonald’s lot to the front of our church. The passage through the blacktop however still works. 
Not only are the developers building up, but they are also going down three and a half stories for underground parking. This hole will be immediately adjacent to our property. Therefore, we have some concerns.
They claim they can construct this project without our help, but it would be cheaper and more profitable if they can get our agreement to let them put tie-backs under our school during the construction of their garage wall along our property. There is also a “heritage tree” that is half on our property and half on theirs that requires our permission to remove. And of course we have many concerns about noise, dust, traffic, safety, crane swing, possible damage to our building, etc. 
Once the project is completed we believe it will be a positive addition to our neighborhood. But in the meantime we want to make sure their project does not negatively impact us, or if it does, that we will be appropriately compensated for our loss and hassle. Since the developer is a very large company with a not entirely stellar reputation in Austin, the School Advisory Board and the parish have engaged land use attorneys from the Drenner Group to represent us. With them and White Lodging we worked through a license agreement for the tiebacks, etc. We then presented them with a dollar figure of X which we thought would make us whole. They responded with a figure exactly one tenth of X. So some negotiation was required.
On Thurs., June 30 we had a meeting at the offices of their attorneys, Armbrust & Brown PLLC on Congress Avenue. Representing our side was Steve Beuerlein, chair of the St Austin Property Comm., Ted Smith, chair of the School Advisory Board, Tara Cevallos, the new St Austin School Principal, Steve Drenner, and a couple others from the Drenner Group. Also with us and very helpful was the Chancellor of the Diocese of Austin, Deacon Ron Walker. On their side was Patrick Carlson from their law firm, Dino Yiankes the President and CEO of development for White Lodging, Adam Estes their local project manager, and a few others. 
It was interesting to watch. I said nothing. I was simply there to “show the collar” as Deacon Ron Walker said. Ted Smith gave a very good explanation of our situation, our desire to see the project move forward, but our need to not incur any loss because of this project. After an hour or so of posturing and inflated statements, they withdrew and our side caucused among ourselves. They did the same. When we came back together, over lunch, there was a more amenable tone. Each side moved some, but still not to a point of agreement. Sufficient progress was made so that it was agreed the lawyers could work out the last hurdles. 

So for the next two years I expect that there will be construction on the old McDonald’s site. This means some disruption and inconvenience in the form of traffic, lane closures, dust, noise, and construction. Austin is changing, and changing dramatically. We will do everything we can at the parish and school to minimize disruption. We have been scouting out options and thinking of creative possibilities. But just as we are getting through our own renovation project with patience and understanding, we will need the same with our new neighbor to the school.  

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