Matt Curtis

Two female joggers run at the newly renamed Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail overlooking Lady Bird Johnson Lake Thursday evening. The trail was renamed in honor of Roy Butler; a UT alumni and former mayor of Austin along with his wife Ann who established the Town Lake Beautification Committee in collaboration with former first lady Lady Bird Johnson in the 1970s.

Photo Credit: Batli Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail was officially renamed Thursday to the Roy and Ann Butler Hike and Bike Trail, after former Austin mayor and UT alumnus Roy Butler and his wife Ann.

The couple played a pivotal role during Butler’s two terms as mayor from 1971 to 1975 in establishing the Town Lake Beautification Committee with former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, cleaning up the lake and laying the groundwork for the 10.2-mile trail that now encircles the reservoir, said Matt Curtis, spokesman for mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“The renaming will be a real compliment to Lady Bird Lake,” Curtis said. “Ann worked the most along with Lady Bird to clean up the lake and established the park.”

Luci Baines Johnson Turpin, daughter of former president Lyndon Baines Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson, told the council she believes her mother would have supported the measure to rename the trail.

“I will not dare put words in my mother’s mouth now, nor did I in her lifetime, but I have no doubt whatsoever that she would be the first person leading the parade saying the trail needs to be named after Roy and Ann, ought to be named after Roy and Ann Butler, because it is the right thing to do,” Turpin said.

Curtis added that renaming the trail will not lead to additional costs to the city.

“Town Lake signage is minimal already,” Curtis said. “As the old signage wears out we will replace it with signage with the Butlers’ names.”

Susan Rankin, director of The Trail Foundation, an organization that advocates for trail improvement at Lady Bird Lake, said Austin would not be what it is today without the Butlers’ work.

“Ann and Roy working with Lady Bird had the vision and shaped the vision of the trail that we have today,” Rankin said. “I think we all know that the trail really is the gem in the heart of Austin.”

City council decided to rename the trail in a five-in-favor, two-against vote that will bypass the customary 90-day public comment period for name changes.

City council members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison both praised the Butlers during the meeting but voted against the renaming measure because it waived the customary 90-day public comment period.

“I feel it is so important that we have a public dialogue about this, that I will not be able to support this motion,” Morrison said.

Radio-televsion-film junior Christina Toth said she enjoys walking the trail, but doesn’t think a name change will change her appreciation for it.

“I don’t even know the name of it honestly,” Toth said. “I usually use Lake Austin. I don’t think the name will change the way I feel about it much. It’s a nice trail. I’m just glad we have it.”

Simona Tever, 22, of New York City, said she enjoyed visiting the trail Wednesday during her Austin visit but didn’t know its name. She did however know that Lady Bird Lake was the official name of the reservoir.

“It’s Lady Bird Lake,” Tever said. “That’s what was on the map.”

Published on Friday, November 4, 2011 as: Trail remamed, honors former Austin mayor

Austin has some of the most eco-friendly municipal buildings in the state, thanks in part to a plan created by former city officials.

That planning will be validated on Oct. 1, when Austin will reach its goal of becoming the largest local government to run off of 100 percent renewable energy. In 2007 former mayor Will Wynn proposed the Austin Climate Protection Plan with the intention of running Austin’s municipal facilities with only renewable energy by 2012. The city will reach its goal one year early. The plan states that city officials hoped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create cleaner air quality by powering city facilities with renewable energy alone, as well as achieving other green goals.

“Austin has established a new goal for other cities to try to achieve,” said Matt Curtis, spokesman for Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “We knew the easiest way to show our community and to show the nation our strong commitment to green power would be for us to use it ourselves.”

Curtis, who also worked for the city during Wynn’s administration, said city officials are excited to set the standard not only for other Texas cities, but for Austin residents as well. Curtis said officials have worked to “go green” by investing in wind farms and solar power for the city in order to achieve the first goal. Other goals listed in the plan included developing city transportation fleets powered by non-petroleum fuels, creating a reduction plan for household utility emissions and enhancing incentives for green builders.

Jeff Sabins, president of McCombs CleanTech Group, a graduate student organization, said he and other members chose to attend UT because of the environmentally aware mentality of Austin. Sabins, who is a business administration graduate student, said most CleanTech members are business students hoping to work with renewable energy, and he is glad the city wants to help students like himself not only make good choices, but possibly even find a career.

“A lot of people in our group are trying to find jobs and get involved in the [renewable energy] industry,” Sabins said. “We’re not a tiny city here, so to see innovation on that sort of scale makes us proud of the fact that we can work towards making this approach more widespread.”

Sabins said CleanTech members speak with renewable energy companies on a regular basis and are involved in learning about new ways to create a cleaner climate.

The city offers residents the opportunity to subscribe to renewable energy in their homes, and while these services may be a bit pricier, Austin Energy spokesman Ed Clark said he hopes residents will realize the difference their choice can make. He said although a current subscription to renewable energy may cost more, those who subscribe will save money in the future. Clark said the city is committed to its current renewable resources on a fixed rate which keeps prices from rising.

“Natural gas and other fuels used in the conventional generation are expected to rise,” Clark said. “By having a fixed price you put a hedge against rising prices in the future.” 

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: City of Austin meets goal of complete green energy

A security guard monitors the flow of traffic outside of an entrance to Zilker Park on Thursday.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Limits festival this weekend not only includes world-famous musical performances but also features an influx of people from all over the world and is expected to boost the local economy.

Matt Curtis, spokesman for the Office of the Mayor, said ACL is an incredible asset for the Austin community and that the Mayor’s Office has worked very hard to harness the opportunities offered by the festival and to accommodate it. Austin is ready, he said.

“We [speak] with mayor’s offices around the country who want to know how they can replicate what we’ve done here,” Curtis said. “[Which means] coordinating public safety and communications among city departments and communication outreach to all the neighbors and businesses affected by ACL.”

Curtis said ACL brings around $100 million into the local economy and stimulates the city’s tourism industry. He said the mayor’s office threw an emergency preparedness summit in February for Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, Hays and Caldwell counties to give public responders an opportunity to review their safety procedures for their event.

“Emergency preparedness is very important to the mayor because of his background as a pilot and his experience in the military,” Curtis said. “Safety has to be the most important thing worked on to make it the best experience for concert goers.”

Todd Smith, Austin Police Department Lieutenant for Special Events and Patrol, said APD will have extra police officers on duty outside of ACL. Smith said the festival is generally very calm, and the main issue for APD will be parking. He also said there will be APD officers inside Zilker Park to keep the peace and handle everything from fighting to drunkenness.

“Usually people tend to behave better when they see officers at every corner,” Smith said.
Smith said APD will also have specialized patrols on the hiking and bike trails and around the festival grounds to watch out for fires.

Patrick Dougan, manager and key holder of Tyler’s on Guadalupe Street, said the store has already seen sales of its official Austin City Limits shirts increase during the week. Despite the influx of people, Dougan said Tyler’s on the Drag isn’t expecting an increase in business this weekend because of how far it is from Zilker Park.

Finance sophomore John Connell said he expected ACL to bring a big boost to the local economy. Connell will be volunteering at ACL and introducing acts on stage.

“ACL provides a great outlet for the local consumer and the local businesses to have the opportunity to help stimulate the local economy,” Connell said.

Printed on Friday, September 16, 2011 as: ACL expected to aid Austin economy.

Big Boi, one half of Atlanta hip-hop duo Outkast, performs during the MOG party at the Mohawk. (Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council marked the 20th anniversary of its city’s self-declared reign as Live Music Capital of the World with a celebration honoring the original music commission, which helped create and pass a resolution that gave the city its title on Aug. 29, 1991.

Last year alone live music brought in a billion dollars to the local economy, said Matt Curtis, spokesman for Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“More than just being an economic generator for the city, our music industry is a major part of our local culture,” Curtis said. “People know Austin for our music and our creative industries, and we like to support those creative industries.”
Curtis said Austin has always been known for its music, and the 1991 resolution is the reason its so well known around the world as a live music hot spot.

“We like to cultivate local talent, and the rest of the world likes our local music,” Curtis said.

Max Nofziger, a councilman in 1991, formed the music commission in an effort to support local talent.

Nofziger said he has spent the past several years getting back in touch with his musical roots, and he helped shape Austin’s capital of the world title. Nofziger said Nancy Coplin, chairwoman of the original commission, came to his office and pitched an idea that would call Austin the Live Music Capital of America. Nofziger liked the idea, but wanted to add his own spin.

“I said, ‘This is Texas; now is not the time to be modest,’” Nofziger said.

Together, Nofziger and Coplin decided to call the city the world capital.

“My charge to them was to figure out every way the city could help local musicians,” Nofziger said. “I had lived in other cities and I knew the music that was happening here was very special.”

Marcia Ball, a blues musician and pioneer of the Austin music scene, played a song at the celebration, which ended with a proclamation by Mayor Leffingwell. The original members of the commission received certificates and medals to commemorate the occasion.

“In ’91 my husband and I opened La Zona Rosa,” Ball said. “It was the heart of the scene for a while.”

La Zona Rosa is one of more than 250 live music venues around Austin, and more than 50,000 concerts are played here every year, according to a city press release.

“Marcia [Ball] has been very influentual in the Austin music scene and to have her come perform tonight to honor the people who worked on the ’91 effort is a big honor,” Curtis said.

Ball said Austin has continued to evolve musically throughout the decades.

“They didn’t pass a resolution that made Austin the Live Music Capital of the World,” Ball said. “They passed a resolution calling it the Live Music Capital. It already was.” 

Printed on Friday, August 26, 2011 as: Music brings culture, global fame decades after resolution.

Lawrence Martinez walks past a parking meter, which may be no longer be free on weekends, next to Hickory Street Bar & Grill Tuesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Extended parking meter hours for the downtown area will go into effect next month. Based on last week’s city council vote, the city will enforce metered street parking from 1st to 10th streets between IH-35 and Lamar Boulevard between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

The new hours begin Sept. 6, but police will issue warnings instead of tickets until October, said Matt Curtis, spokesman for Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Council members and city officials passed the ordinance last week but began discussing a change in enforcement hours in March because of concerns with crowding along downtown streets. After surveying approximately 8,500 citizens and receiving a response indicating that 75 percent of drivers preferred free parking, council members reconsidered enforcing metered weekend parking and used information from the survey to refine their policy.

“What we passed at the council meeting on Thursday reflected much of the feedback we received,” said council member Mike Martinez. “I intend to continue to listen to that feedback and will remain open to the possibility of adjusting the ordinance in the future to find the right balance to manage a public resource and ensure that downtown continues to thrive.”

Council members directed the city’s Transportation Department to continue developing further solutions to overcrowded parking spaces, including the possibility of Capital Metro transit in the downtown area at night.

The city will use additional revenue from extended meter hours to pay for the enforcement and operating costs of the ordinance and for transit improvements downtown, said Austin Transportation Department spokeswoman Leah Fillion.

Fillion said a button will be added to the affected meters intended to allow inebriated would-be drivers to buy time at their parking space into the next day.

“If you are able to plan ahead, you can purchase time into the next day,” Fillion said. “We understand there are some occasions that you can’t plan ahead, but if you can show proof you took responsible means home by taxi or bus, any ticket will be dismissed.”

Transportation Department members charged with drafting and putting these ideas into effect will report back to the city council in March 2012 to provide details on the ordinance’s effectiveness.

“In an effort to help the parking problem, our Transportation Department worked with several downtown stakeholders to come up with this plan,” Curtis said. “Austin is a big city. We grow very quickly, and our parking problems grow just as quickly.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Downtown parking meter hours set to expand into nights, weekends.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced Tuesday the designation of Jacmel, Haiti, as a Friendship City of Austin.

Jacmel is often compared to Austin, Leffingwell said in a press release, a similarity primarily found in their creative communities including art and film.

The effort to aid the city following the 2010 earthquake which devastated the country may serve as a model for other U.S. cities to adopt Friendship Cities in Haiti through a relationship that includes tourism, trade and cultural interaction, said Matt Curtis, a spokesman for Leffingwell’s office.

“If our communities can exchange culture, promote tourism and economic development, the benefits will be significant,” Leffingwell said.

Curtis said the designation would increase awareness of the similarities between both cities in an effort to strengthen the links between them.

“The mayor’s number one goal is that our community can help in the reconstruction of Jacmel,” Curtis said.

One example is the exchange in film between both cities, which will develop a richer appreciation of the material each has to offer, said Kevin Johns, director of economic growth and redevelopment for the city of Austin in the press release.

“The Friendship City relationship between Austin and Jacmel will create tremendous creative industry opportunities,” Johns said.

The designation of a Friendship City pushes communities to encourage cooperation in economics, education and culture, according to the press release.

City Hall

City officials are debating whether to ban plastic shopping bags in order to make Austin environmentally safer.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

Plastic may not be an option for Austin shoppers much longer.

City officials are deliberating on the best way to implement a ban on plastic shopping bags to lessen negative environmental impacts, Mayor Lee Leffingwell announced Monday.

Plastic bags cost the city roughly $850 thousand a year to clean up and dispose of, Leffingwell said in a press release. He said the proposed ban on the bags will be further discussed and voted on at the Aug. 4 City Council meeting.

“Single-use plastic bags are both harmful to the environment and costly to our local economy,” Leffingwell said. “They create litter in our rivers and streams. They’re harmful to wildlife and because bags are not biodegradable, they are around forever.”

Leffingwell’s spokesman Matt Curtis said city officials have attempted to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags in previous years by designing a voluntary program for retailers to limit the number of plastic bags they use, but the plan only reduced usage by 20 percent.

“Currently our community uses about 263 million plastic bags each year,” Curtis said. “The best thing to do for the environment and the economy is to look at ways to have a severe reduction of their usage.”

Curtis said the mayor’s team has asked City Manager Marc Ott to create a plan that will gradually reduce and eliminate the use of plastic bags. The best alternative for shoppers is to invest in reusable bags, he said.

“Plastic bags are bad for our community, and it is time to do something about it,” Curtis said. “This has been done in other communities, and it has worked. Austin is one of the most intelligent cities in the United States, so I think if this can work elsewhere it can work in Austin.”

He said while there are methods for recycling plastic bags, many still end up in landfills and are harmful because they do not decompose naturally.

“They cause more problems than anything,” Curtis said. “We do expect one thing out of this ban, and that is a drastic and hopefully complete reduction of plastic bags going into our local environment.”

English senior Thomas White said he feels more people would make the switch to reusable shopping bags if they did not have the option of using plastic bags.

“I understand they can have negative environmental impacts, and I’d be willing to work around not using plastic bags,” White said. “We all still have to buy groceries and carry them somehow, and I think the Austin community especially would be willing to work around the ban.”

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: Austin may ban plastic shopping bags

Photo Credit: Andrew Torrey | Daily Texan Staff

Ideas for retooling the Austin city government are under consideration as the mayor and staff review proposals for regional representation.

Austin currently elects six council members and its mayor at-large to stand for the entire city, but a new plan would allow representatives from six geographic districts to hold a place in municipal government. The city hired the lawfirm Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta to develop a proposal for how to divide the city. They proposed four maps for possible districts that could support plans for regional representation.

Federal law requires each district be nearly equal in terms of population, and other demographic factors like race and voting age were taken into consideration when drawing potential districts. City demographer Ryan Robinson said he believes these issues are important because if done correctly, geographic districting can ease concerns over gentrification.

“People think one district is comprised of a majority ethnicity when really it’s not,” Robinson said. “There’s a connection between demographic evolution of a city and how that relates to creation of a district.”

Robinson said geographic districting would help ensure minority representation and could also increase voter turnout.

“The mayor has been championing this change since his time as a council member,” said Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s spokesman Matt Curtis. “He firmly believes this is the right next step for the community.”

Curtis said city officials are considering each map and will choose one to put before the council and citizens. City officials will discuss plans and create community conversation over the next year, and Leffingwell hopes to put the change up to vote next November, he said. Citizens would elect one representative from their local district, while two council members and the mayor would still be elected at-large.

Austin is one of only three major U.S. cities to not operate under a system of single-member districting. Leffingwell and other community leaders believe the city has grown beyond its ability to operate under the current system and geographic representation would prove beneficial.

Linda Curtis, founder of ChangeAustin.org, said she agrees with the need for local representation to exist as the city evolves, despite concern over possible development of “ward politics,” which would put districts in negative competition with each other. She said districting could also potentially allow UT representation in city matters.

“We are at a breaking point,” Linda Curtis said. “Single-member districts are coming in as a way to take back the city with competitive, local campaigns.”
 

Funding for the Formula 1 racing event will fall on the race organizers according to a new plan nearing approval in the Austin City Council.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The Austin City Council is nearing an agreement with the organizers of Formula 1 regarding how to fund the racing event that will debut in June 2012 if the city approves the plan.

City officials say the new deal would require Formula 1 organizers to pay the entire cost and would eliminate the use of taxpayer dollars going to support the $4-million-a-year races. Earlier proposals would have required Austin taxpayers to foot part of the bill after the first year. Finalizing a deal with the city will make it possible for Formula 1 organizers to annually receive a $25 million subsidy from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund to offset development and program costs.

“This is going to be bigger than Austin City Limits and South By Southwest combined as far as economic development,” said Matt Curtis, communications director for Mayor Lee Leffingwell. “We really aren’t going to be financially intertwined with Formula 1, and we would still reap the benefits of hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect profits.”

The new track, named the Circuit of the Americas, is currently under construction in southeast Travis County and will host the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix race for 10 years. According to the Circuit of the Americas website, the track is expected to attract an estimated 300,000 fans during race weekends and generate $400 million in revenue through events such as concerts and motorcycle races.

Curtis said the Major Events Trust Fund has only been tapped a few times, and putting it toward the races would be a smart investment. He said several other cities are eager to take advantage of Formula 1 as an economic opportunity if Austin turns down the deal.

He said the city will be required to pick up costs such as extra security and trash pickup as it does with any large event, but these costs are miniscule compared to the revenue generated by tourism.

“These events bring in a lot of people from out of town, and the majority of them don’t bring cars,” Curtis said. “They’re spending a lot of money here, and this is the best kind of money. It’s tourism dollars, which means all the money stays in our economy.”

Tavo Hellmund, Formula 1 United States Grand Prix chairman and Austin native, said in an April press release the new racetrack would boost the local economy throughout
the year.

The City Council will discuss the final negotiations of whether or not the city will officially endorse Formula 1 at Thursday’s meeting.

Annual local media staples add millions to economy, bring thousands of visitors

Austinites wait for a band to begin at Fador Fort during the 2011 South By Southwest festival. SXSW brings in $113 million and 200,000 visitors to the city annually.

Photo Credit: Mary Kang | Daily Texan Staff

Each year, five events boost Austin’s economy by about $357 million combined but cause the city to scramble to accommodate visitors and citizens who struggle to get from point A to point B.

Today, the annual Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau Luncheon will celebrate events such as South By Southwest, Austin City Limits, the Texas Relays, Rodeo Austin and UT football games, which bring hundreds of thousands of people to town and millions of dollars into the economy.

The hospitality industry brings in most of the money, although some businesses such as copy shops and production companies also see added revenue, said Beth Krauss, a spokeswoman for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When Formula One racing debuts in the fall, Krauss said the event will bring in $300 million and attract 300,000 people to the city. As events grow in popularity, the city must increase hotel space and develop improved methods of transportation, Krauss said.

“Austin could benefit from the construction of a new convention-style hotel,” she said. “We aren’t able to accommodate some of the groups that have grown beyond our current inventory, and we have new customers that want to meet here but need more hotel rooms than we can offer.”

Mayor Lee Leffingwell believes the city needs a new convention center hotel to accommodate visitors brought in by major events such as ACL and SXSW, and others have expressed interest in the project, said mayor’s spokesman Matt Curtis.

The city also works with Capital Metro to improve methods of transportation and decrease roadway congestion during major events, Curtis said.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” he said. “We try to ensure that people can easily access these events and have a good time and that they can access these events safely.”

For big events such as ACL in locations with little or no access to public transit, such as Zilker Park, Cap Metro usually makes agreements with organizers of the event to provide shuttles or buses that would not normally go to the location, said Cap Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited. For smaller events, Cap Metro examines the areas of transit that are likely to be most utilized and provides supplemental buses, she said.
This year, SXSW posed particularly nasty transportation difficulties, with 2.3 million riders in March, a 7-percent increase over last March, Whited said. Pedestrians, bicyclists and cars all had trouble because of the vast influx of people to the event, she said.

“I don’t know if there was anything that could have been done better,” she said. “There were just so many people. I think maybe as the next one comes around, we’ll come to the table with the city and organizers to talk about possible solutions.”

In 2010, 89,000 rode the buses provided for ACL, which is typical for the event, Whited said.

Cap Metro brings in much of the city’s added revenue during citywide events, whether because of agreements with organizers or just an increase in people riding the buses, she said.

“For events like South By Southwest, we have great ridership,” she said. “Lots of people take advantage of it because it’s easier than sitting in traffic all day.”