Community still uncertain how to move forward with Rainey Street District fund

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A city bank account created in 2013 intended to help growth along Rainey Street pay for itself was never sustained and remains in limbo amid recent revival efforts by city leaders.

City Council, set to iron out the Rainey Street District fund’s fate at its Sept. 19 meeting, agreed to postpone the decision to Oct. 17 at the request of City Council Member Kathie Tovo, whose district surrounds the area. Tovo said community conversations around the fund and its goals—points of extended debate between City Council members during their Aug. 22 meeting—were ongoing.

Since a 2005 overhaul of development rules for the area, Rainey has transformed from a quiet, single-family neighborhood with a Mexican-American heritage to one of the most expensive entertainment and residential districts in Austin. Bungalows have transitioned into bars and high-rise apartments, and hotels now hover over the tree canopy. The rapid evolution has outpaced infrastructure improvements and resulted in vehicle and pedestrian congestion, with growing safety concerns from residents and city leaders.

The Rainey Street District fund, created through a City Council vote in 2013, was intended to collect right of way fees, alleyway vacation sales and money from license agreements within the district to pay for sidewalks and road infrastructure improvements, affordable housing construction and memorialization of the neighborhood’s Mexican-American heritage. However, due to miscommunication between staff and City Council, the fund was never sustained after 2013.

Tovo has led the recent push to revive the fund; however, when she brought the fund to City Council in August, six years after its creation, City Council showed a change in priorities. Council members said setting aside infrastructure improvement funds for just one area of the city ran against the city’s stated policy goals of equity.

Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza said in August that she would be open to a fund more dedicated to cultural preservation for an area in which the city has failed to celebrate its historic Mexican-American heritage. The idea gained support from Mayor Steve Adler, and Council Members Greg Casar and Paige Ellis said a cultural preservation fund would make more sense.

Tovo said community members in the Rainey area, including representatives of the Mexican-American Cultural Center, business owners and residents, are still working out how they would want the fund to operate. Tovo said whether it targeted infrastructure improvements or cultural preservation or both, a fund needed to be created for the district.

Tovo said if City Council only supports a cultural preservation fund, then a separate mechanism would need to be created to address Rainey’s “serious” infrastructure and safety issues.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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