Unfortunately the third time wasn’t the charm for community activists who sat for hours Tuesday at a city council finance committee meeting, awaiting a decision on whether the Brach site in Austin will be turned over to a property developer. The answer was yes.
Activists were pushing alderman to reject the proposal to provide more than $10 million in TIF funds to Itasca-based ML Realty, who’s now clear to go ahead with plans to covert the site, formerly owned by Brach’s Candy, into a product distribution center. The deal was backed by Ald. Ed Smith (28), whose ward includes the Brach site at 401 N. Cicero. Activists had wanted the property converted into a College-prep high school campus. That, now, won’t happen.
Among the finance committee’s business Tuesday was deliberations on the TIF proposal. The committee
voted unanimously in favor of the deal, the decision coming at about 1:30 in the afternoon. Community activists, residents and youth were at City Hall about an hour before the committee’s start at 10 a.m. They were disappointed with the final decision.
“I think this is a total travesty,” said Austin resident Delano McIntyre. “It’s a disregard for the people that elected [Ald. Smith]. If you are a leader, you should be the voice for the people not of the people. There are many in the community who has supported him his entire political career that feels cheated right now.”
For the third time in as many months the group, including the Westside Health Authority, gathered at City Hall to make their plea for a high school at the site.
They attempted to persuade finance committee members with a show of support Tuesday. In the end, the protest was for naught.
The TIF (tax increment financing) deal for ML Realty totals $10.6 million.
ML Realty will only receive $2.9 million to begin construction and will not receive the remaining $7.7 million until after 30 percent of the project is completed. Ald. Smith said he is still committed to opening a new school in Austin. He suggested a site near Cicero and Division.
“I drove pass that spot,” responded Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church “It is not 27 acres or even 20 acres.”
Although arriving early in the morning, community members waited until the middle of the afternoon to speak.
Given the limited time allowed, only Acree and WHA Executive Director Jacqueline Reed were allowed to voice their thoughts.
Each argued against what they viewed as “an impractical use of Austin’s best resource.”
“The crux of my argument focused on the lack of logic attached to placing a factory in an area that would provide maybe 50 temporary contracting jobs and 75 measly full-time jobs that are not even mandated in the TIF agreement,” said Acree. “Contrary to what people believe those jobs do not necessarily need to go to Austin residents.”
Acree added that Ald. Smith was hesitant to change his mind on TIF deal, insisting that he’d given his word to the company and could not go back on it.
“I said ‘That holds no water because while it may be true that you promised an outside developer access to the land, you gave your implicit word to your electorate to look out for their interest and you have not done that,'” Acree said. “It simply fell on deaf ears.”
Reed added, “Why the Brach’s site for this warehouse? Why not any other location in Austin? The greatest resource in our community is our children and they have been put at the bottom for too long in our community.”
Reed told the committee that many in attendance, including students and elders, requested to speak but simply were not given the time to do so.
“It’s a sad day when residents of a community as populated as ours have no voice,” she said.
“There is no question that I am extremely disappointed,” said Reed after the vote. “A lot of people devoted a lot of time, energy and personal finances to this cause and they went home deeply saddened.”
Terry Dean contributed to this story