City council voted to approve the convention center expansion and the new council district map, and also ruled to approve the payday loan ordinance championed by District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal.
Convention center expansion:
A study that began in 2010 indicated a demand for an expansion for updated exhibit space and improved meeting space to keep the Convention Center competitive. The expansion will also add the largest ballroom in Texas with 55,000 sq. ft. of space.
District 8 Councilman Reed Williams said he remained skeptical of the project, but at today’s meeting told the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Ben Gorzell, that running numbers under adverse circumstances helped him trust the project would be a smart move.
“I’m convinced that what we have here is a financeable plan," said Williams. "It doesn’t do any good to talk about this beautiful building and all the opportunities and who’s going to build it if we can’t finance it. So my concern all along has been how we finance this. I figured they’d come out a way to build it and make it look good.”
The recommended team to update the convention center is Hunt-Zachary, who will work with a $304 million budget. There will be no impact on the city’s operating budget.
City council redistricting map approved:
Austin attorney David Mendez told council members today that the maps were revised based on public comments. He said they are compliant with federal guidelines that require districts to deviate no more than 10 percent in population.
“The plan is based on your existing districts," said Mendez, "so residents will see minimal change throughout the city and it’s really only along the edges of your boundaries that the districts have changed. All of the incumbents are in their district, the districts are compact and contiguous, and we have minimized the amount of potential retrogression for minority voting as required by law.”
The maps must now be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice, a process that Mendez said should take no more than 90 days; the districts should be approved in time for the 2013 municipal elections.
Bernal's payday loan ordinance passes:
More than 100 people signed up to speak both for and against the payday loan measure, but in the end, District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, who proposed the ordinance, said he believes a safety net should be in place for people who may fall victim to payday lenders.
He said he has no shame in pushing for the ordinance and Mayor Julián Castro agreed, saying the State Legislature may take up the issue next year during the session.
Castro said if a state law passes, it would supersede the local ordinance, but until that happens this is a way to guard against loans with high interest rates that become difficult for people to pay off