A lot of Austin enthusiasts and a visionaries let out a collective moan this past week when, at the start of the Texas Legislative Session, lawmakers froze plans to redevelop the Capitol Complex from a glut of blighted surface parking lots and garage structures into an integral part of the emerging world-class, vibrant capital of the Texas Republic, including the $146.5 million Waller Creek Redevelopment already underway.
The proposal to redevelop the complex began being crafted by the Texas Facilities Commission staff under the direction of then-new Executive Director Terry Keel in 2009.
Keel himself is a Republican, and was member from House District 47 (Austin) from 1997 until 2007.
The kill switch on Capitol Complex redevelopment was publicly thrown by Sen. John Whitmire, Democrat-Houston, who said: “We ought to have totally off-limits the Capitol complex” and that he “cannot imagine, as I’ve heard, they want to allow the private sector to build condos on Capitol grounds. It’s just … our children, grandchildren, are going to think somebody really lost their mind.”
Sadly, KUT is reporting that Whitmore wants to “give lawmakers time to permanently stop projects in the pipeline.”
This includes the proposed Planetarium. Sigh.
When the news broke, Whitmore was the mouthpiece, but since several other lawmakers have talked to the press in support of his comments.
So admittedly, it is not just Whitmore who took issue here. As far back as November, Keel’s plan was catching flak from the State Sunset Commission.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: Which two politically-opposed state lawmakers each chaired criminal justice committees in opposite sides of the statehouse over part of the last decade?
As an elected Republican, Keel chaired the criminal jurisprudence committee in the House, while Democrat Sen. Whitmore chaired the Senate’s criminal justice committee. If the vitriol being passed between parties these days is any guide, Keel and Sen. Whitmore are probably not golfing buddies.
It would certainly be a great injustice to the State of Texas, the countless visitors to the State Capitol, and residents of Central Texas if personal grievances from the past are, in part, the cause for Whitmore’s public attack on Keel’s plans for higher and better use (economically and civically) of the myriad blocks of parking surrounding the State Capitol.