After a wait of more than a decade, the expansion of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC) located at 600 River Street in the heart of downtown’s fast-growing Rainey Street District is set to break ground next month during an on-site event on Saturday, December 10 at 9:30 a.m., according to Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department. Having an actual time and date on hand for this symbolic start of the project is a bit more meaningful than usual, thanks to the long delay of the center’s second phase — additional space for cultural programming at the site was always part of the overall plan for the center, but fell through the cracks unfunded after the completion of the first phase in 2007 and a small addition in 2010.
The crescent-shaped MACC structure, designed by the late Mexican architect Teodoro González de León with Hispanic-owned local studio CasaBella Architects, remains the most striking single piece of architecture in the Rainey District — a building serving not only as a living work of art in its own right but also a monument to the history of the surrounding neighborhood as a working-class Mexican American enclave, a past that’s now largely overlooked as Rainey’s new towers reach for the sky. Even though it was always part of the plan, expanding the center without harming the original design is no small task, but the duo of local architecture firm Miró Rivera and Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao have worked to thread this needle with a Phase 2 plan including new buildings on either side of the existing structure.
The project includes new classrooms and galleries, music rehearsal and performance space, offices, and a teaching kitchen. Outdoor landscaping and wayfinding improvements will allow the site’s central outdoor zocalo, or plaza, to be closed for ticketed events, with a new circular shade structure that compliments the overall shape of the zocalo and the surrounding crescent-shaped buildings.
We’ve kept up with this project for a while now, so you might notice the renderings seen here appear to be different from what you’ve seen in previous months, and that’s actually the catch — even though the project finally has a firm groundbreaking date, ongoing labor shortages and construction price increases have required the Parks Department and MACC staff to reduce the overall scope of the expansion. The largest change is the elimination of a lower floor to be built below the zocalo facing the Hike-and-Bike Trail, which would have housed additional galleries and performance space. The city describes this value engineering process as such:
At the completion of the design development package the reconciled cost estimates from the CMAR and the Cost Estimator forecasted an overage in the proposed construction cost. Despite assigning additional Parks and Recreation Department funding to the project, and the development of value engineering strategies reviewed by ESB-MACC staff and the Department, the forecasted overage remains $6.5M.
This escalation in cost is due to many factors, including labor shortages and the volatile construction industry pricing present in Austin and elsewhere. To keep the project within the anticipated timeline and continue to build out as much of the original plan as possible, the Department has agreed to move forward with the option preferred by ESB-MACC staff, which will eliminate the lower level and the continuation of an ADA compliant Hike and Bike Trail segment fronting the ESB-MACC campus to the nearby future Confluence project. The Department anticipates that this reduction in scope will offset the funding gap.
— City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department
It’s always going to be a bummer when the unfeeling world of money intrudes on the dreams of a project’s designers, but these reductions in scope don’t appear to harm the spirit of the overall design — the expansion still compliments the original architecture of the site, and the potential for future event programming in an improved and shaded zocalo remains fantastic. Once you consider the surrounding context, with many other projects still up in the air as Austin seems to ponder whether a recession could actually slow down local growth, a firm groundbreaking date for the MACC project — heck, a date and time — is kind of a minor miracle.