The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back – Are You Ready For This?

By Bill Oakey – March 21, 2016

In a February blog posting, I discussed the need for the City to compile a list of all their expensive project plans, publish them for public input and discussion, and then set some realistic and affordable priorities on them. What I did not happen to mention is that obviously Travis County needs to do the same thing. In fact, the City and the County need to work together and then bring the community into this discussion.

Just try to imagine Amy’s Ice Cream, Whole Foods, Dell Computer or any other business of any size trying to operate without knowing the cost of all of their plans. Publicly held companies’ shareholders would never stand for it. If anyone reading this blog can find a single City or County office holder or staff member who can identify all of their master plans and project plans and tell us the total cost, I would be very surprised.

Are You Ready for This?

There is a Britney Spears slot machine in Las Vegas where she struts across the screen offering a bonus prize and asks, “Are you ready for this?” Well, ready or not, here comes something that is not nearly as much fun. In fact, I’d say this is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

$620 million for a new Travis County Expo Center!

$620 million for a new Travis County Expo Center!

Yes, you read that right – a price tag that is over twice as high as the failed bond proposition for a new civil and family courthouse! You can see the high cost estimate that totals up to $620 million in this PDF from Page 33 of the County’s draft report. There may be some lower estimates out there in Consultant-ville, but why not factor in the highest estimate and assume that the routine cost overruns will hit that amount in the long run?

Are You Ready for Some More?

Oh, and just when you thought that the plan for two commercial golf courses at Walter E. Long Park had been put to rest, guess what. They’…rrre…back!! The same developer who brought up the original proposal has launched an expanded version that includes a host of other grand ideas. And the Austin Parks Department is about to start…here we go again…a brand new master plan for the park. So, the awesomely expensive new Expo Center would only be one piece of a much bigger package. The neighborhoods near the park have waited for over 30 years for some well-deserved improvements. But a grand scheme for luxury development would only bring on more California-style gentrification. (Quick note on the golf courses – Keep in mind that the Austin City Charter clearly states that no City parkland can be leased or “otherwise alienated” without voter approval).

Last year I addressed the big picture planning cost issue in another blog posting that conjured up images of the multiplying brooms in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Today I am still haunted by those images of a hapless office apprentice carrying two buckets full of planning reports. As the music gradually rises to a crescendo, the brooms take over his duties and they begin to multiply. A dozen buckets full of plans morphs into hundreds. Our only hope is to wake up the City Council and the Commissioners Court before it’s too late.


Click here for a stereo video of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”


1 thought on “The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Back – Are You Ready For This?

  1. Vince May

    When events (ROT Rally or Rodeo etc) are held at the current facility, there are traffic jams. The residential neighborhoods directly across the street suffer badly. The new facilities will greatly magnify this problem. Figure in another $50 or $60 million to upgrade the surrounding road network.

    The new facilty, unlike the current one that only hosts a few big events each year, will have at least 100 big events per year. That makes the traffic impact on the Colony Park neighborhood double bad.

    Why doesn’t the city and county build food stores? They are way more importatant than entertainments venues. Government doesn’t have to build food stores because private companies like HEB, Whole Foods and Walmart do a wonderful job of providing grocery stores exactly when and where they are needed. They do this because they earn profits.

    Why are these big expensive entertainment centers only built by government or only with multimillion dollar government subsidies (like the F1 track)? Because, unlike with food stores, they lose money. They lose money because relatively few people like to attend the types of events that will be staged (like circuses, horse races, and sporting competition.) Or, they like to go but percieve the cost of a ticket to be too high.

    Our fealess leaders at City Hall and the Commissioner’s Court see this as a problem to be remedied with copius amounts of public money. But raising our property taxes to enable us to go see circuses doesn’t make us any richer. It makes us poorer, while the out-of-town vistors get subsidized ticket prices.

    Just wait. The Donkeys and Elephants will soon be crowing about the 1,000s of jobs that will be created by new Expo Center. A lot of those jobs will be cleaning up after the trained elephants and donkeys finish their performances. Why can’t we train our elected Donkeys and Elephants to end this crap?


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