One man’s dream come true sounds like a nightmare

Austin American-Statesman, October 2, 2009

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To vary a line from “Cool Hand Luke,” what we’ve got here is … failure of city leadership.

American-Statesman columnist Michael Barnes reported in Tuesday’s editions that the biggest post-Austin City Limits Music Festival bash in history is to be held at the iconic Seaholm Power Plant on Friday and Saturday nights.

It’s a dream come true for producer Jason Hicks, Barnes wrote: “The Seaholm project is his moonshot.”

What’s a dream come true for Hicks will be a nightmare come true for the hundreds of residents whose balconies face onto Seaholm — folks from Austin City Lofts, Gables West Avenue, Monarch, 360, 404 Rio Grande and Spring.

After ACL breaks up across Lady Bird Lake at Zilker Park, three impressive bands will headline free, outdoor concerts for up to 4,000 revelers (controlled by a hastily erected fence) on the Seaholm grounds — both Friday and Saturday nights.

Seaholm is a large, vaulting postwar plant that could easily house a very large music venue inside. Couldn’t the 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. bash be held inside? I asked city official Clara Hilling by phone message and e-mail if the producer obtained a temporary outdoor music venue permit, but she didn’t get back with me.

What consideration is due to the hundreds of residents who live within a stone’s throw of Seaholm? Nobody’s asked us.

A firefighter living in my building needs to get up at 4:30 a.m. Saturday for a 24-hour shift in Schertz. He has booked a hotel for Friday night. As a nurse, I need to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday to care for sick, premature infants all day. We’re real people with real jobs with real sleep needs.

The most frightening part is now that this event has been blessed, Seaholm is likely to become a regular venue. In fact, I’ve already heard it referred to as “the Seaholm venue.” If that happens in our backyard, even soundproof windows won’t help, and it’ll be time to move. Is that what city leaders want?

Downtown living and music events are worthy community goals that have achieved a meteoric rise in success. But we’re now at a crossroads, and city officials must demonstrate the leadership to guide both along a successful trajectory.

Back in the 1990s, Mayor Kirk Watson started the ball rolling to transform a shabby downtown to a bustling one with a real neighborhood feel. Mayor Will Wynn came into office asking, “What’s up with the empty downtown sidewalks?”

The campaign torch to combat urban sprawl with urban density has been carried by successive City Councils, with council members elected on platforms of neighborhood and environmental integrity. We voters thought your leadership would reflect that philosophy.

It was the mayor and City Council who encouraged people to move downtown and gave residential developers incentives to build. As an idealistic lifelong Austin resident, I heeded the call and moved downtown in 2004 with the idea of helping the environment as much as upgrading lifestyle.

Hey, city leadership, you’ve now got thousands of us living downtown. Now that we’re here, you’re not enforcing your own ordinances. At night, when I ask downtown police leaning on their bicycles why they don’t enforce the decibel limits or amplified- music cut-off times of the sound ordinances, they laugh and tell me they’ve got more important things to do.

They do not ticket cars blocking sidewalks or bars blocking sidewalks with signs. Police Chief Art Acevedo and members of city leadership know about this and are simply allowing it.

If, in a decade or so, city leadership sees a downtown returned to its previous decrepit state with half-empty and run-down mid- and high-rise residence buildings, it will be because it abandoned downtown residents.

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident and retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews, writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.