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A win-win

June 7, 2017

After hastily throwing together an article yesterday about the mayor’s reaction to Gov. Gerg Abbot’s call for a special session — a call that included (some would say overtly craven and degenerately political) attacks on Austin — I hoofed it on over to the ol’ Paramount Theatre to take in a screening of Kubrick’s klassic “Paths of Glory”, a fine film that portrays a detached and depraved ruling class of amoral generals who, in between their daily routine of fancy lunches and lavish balls, treat with sadistic glee driven by careerist lust the lives of the common men they lord over.

On my way to the theater, I couldn’t help but dwell on the governor’s complaints about burdensome regulations that depress Austin’s true economic potential, especially as I passed one of the most unfortunate blocks in all of downtown. I’ve written articles before about Block 126, a Travis County-owned property that sits at 11th and Lavaca streets. The site is severely impeded by a Capitol view corridor which restricts building height on all but its northeast corner.

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Naturally, the state-protected view of the dome under which so much anti-regulatory legislation is concocted by worthy statesman from such cultural centers as Woodville, Humble, or Euless deserves to be maintained so that we may all be reminded of the paternal lordship of our duly elected masters, those golden ubermensch of high breeding and indomitable intellect.

But with the county eyeing a reshuffling of its various facilities, as well as its interest in partnering with the city on projects aimed at helping the most vulnerable aspects of our rapidly changing community, could there be a mutually agreeable solution for Block 126 that guarantees the greatest good for the greatest number? Standing in the large, empty parking lot on Tuesday, the evening sun casting my long shadow against a lifeless, non-descript white wall across Lavaca Street, I was struck with an answer: Yes! Here then is the perfect place to protect our community’s proud yet struggling culture of Live Music!

With calls for the city to take pressure off of its premier parks by redistributing large outdoor events to other venues, and with private music clubs threatened by mounting market pressures, and with the county’s constant struggle with complaints from neighbors about an outdoor event space along the Colorado River, why not kill three or four birds with one single, publicly-owned outdoor amphitheater-shaped stone at this centrally-located yet underpopulated section of downtown, complete as it is with a stunning view of that temple of fiscal prudence and local preemption?

Surrounded by a cornucopia of bus routes, bike lanes, and parking, Block 121 presents itself as the ideal location for weekly or even daily exhibitions of all flavor of musical diversity, from reggae to hip hop and cumbia to conjunto. Much as it did for other venues downtown, the city could relax burdensome regulations such as noise curfews, allowing the freedom of ear-splitting musical expression to extend as late as midnight even on weeknights since, after all, the area is virtually devoid of humanity after the daily 5:00 p.m exodus of neighboring government offices by parasitic, taxpayer-funded bureaucrats.

Granted, there are a handful of permanent residents at the Westgate condo tower just to the north, but the state-mandated height restrictions do not preclude a partial acoustic-buffering eggshell that could rise up along 11th Street, replacing the existing county office building there. Naturally, in order to preserve for concert goers the vista of that awesome Olympus of state government whose great pantheon includes towering authors of Texas law such as Pa Ferguson, Earle Mayfield, and Bo Pilgrim, the egg would obstruct in neither vision nor sound the wide open eastern boundary of the property.

What’s more, this grand plan could also serve as primary SXSW stage, where brands could sponsor over-the-top set pieces featuring booming pyrotechnic displays and the hippest artists of the day, such as maybe Atari Teenage Riot. In the spirit of combining innovation with tradition, perhaps a hologram Lou Reed could be drafted for tri-daily performances of his cult classic Metal Machine Music. This could help economically pollinate underused sections of downtown Austin as throngs of festival attendees hike from 6th Street towards the new venue. Here are some suggested routes:

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Of course, the influx of thousands of people daily to this site would require a large overhaul of the surrounding infrastructure, work that could conflict with the crowds and their musical gratification. To that end, the city’s Public Works Department could simply stagger the work hours and deploy overnight crews to tear out and reinstall the needed utilities, concrete streets, and extra bright LED safety lights along the surrounding access routes such as 11th, 10th, and Colorado streets. It is of vital importance to get this work done correctly, right down to the finest detail. No cost should be spared, and if even one hair of the final work is unsatisfactory, the city must not hesitate to rip it all up and start from the very beginning, no matter how long it takes.

This all of course is but just one proposition, and perhaps a modest one at that. There are likely a staggering number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through, but no doubt a willing partnership between city and county officials could quickly shepherd it to its final stages. In fact, perhaps the biggest obstacle would be securing permission from the one man whose omnipotent Word carries with it the intractable law of the land, the captain whose beck and call we dutifully serve, in whose mercy we are undeservedly privileged to bask, the true leader of Texas himself: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

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