Mexic-Arte Museum, Mexican American Cultural Center seek city bond money for building projects

Mexic-Arte Museum. Photo courtesy Creative Commons Code.

Mexic-Arte Museum and the Mexican American Cultural Center are both looking to an upcoming city of Austin bond package to fund building projects

In February the city’s Bond Election Advisory Task Force recommended that the MACC and Mexic-Arte each receive $15 million. The money would come from the proposed $851 million bond in public works projects which goes before Austin voters this fall.

However backers of the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, this week said they plan to ask members of Austin’s City Council for more. The MACC’s advisory board wants $40 million to expand the center, the Austin Monitor reported.

Council has the final decision on the bond package’s size and how its funds will be allocated.

Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. (Austin American-Statesman via AP)
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David Goujon, a member of the MACC’s advisory board, told the Monitor: “We see our city growing rapidly, and the MACC should be growing with it because there is a huge demand for the use of what a cultural center can provide. This (expansion) should have happened a long time ago, so we’re asking for the full amount of around $40 million. We want to let them know that this is needed so we can serve as a beacon to the community.”

The MACC — sited on 6.5 acres of downtown parkland along Lady Bird Lake — is a municipal entity, a unit of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

When the 30,000-square-foot city facility opened in 2007, at a cost of $16 million, it was only a third of what the original master plan called for. Originally, famed Mexican architect Teodoro González de León had designed a three-part complex.

The current facility features classrooms, an exhibit gallery, a dance studio, a small black box theater, a 165-seat auditorium hall and a plaza that’s used for events and performances.

The proposed 68,000-square-foot expansion would include a 500-seat theater as well as new classrooms, meeting areas, gallery spaces and an amphitheater.

Rather than mount a capital campaign, Goujon told the Monitor that he and other board members prefer public money as a means to fund the expansion.

Meanwhile Mexic-Arte Museum — a private non-profit organization — has long proposed different scenarios for upgrading its Congress Avenue building, parts of which date to the 1860s. However none of Mexic-Arte’s plans have ever been realized.

Mexic-Arte moved into the three-story building in 1988, renting it until 2001 when the city gave the museum $740,000 to purchase the building. In exchange, the museum promised to rehabilitate the building and maintain it for 50 years.

Shortly thereafter, Mexic-Arte received a $100,000 grant from the Houston Endowment for a study that recommended demolishing the building and replacing it with a seven-story facility. The museum also received $100,000 from Austin philanthropists Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long and another $100,000 from the Mitte Foundation of Brownsville for a new building.

Then in 2006, Mexic-Arte appealed for city bond money, receiving $5 million for building rehabilitation. However a capital campaign was never launched and plans were shelved. Museum leaders told KXAN recently that the 2006 bond money remains mostly untouched because it’s insufficient for the extensive rehabilitation work needed.

According to a Feb. 20. report sent to Austin’s mayor and City Council from interim Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley, the cost of all necessary repairs to the Mexic-Arte Museum has reached $23.5 million.

Currently only the first floor of the Mexic-Arte building can be used by the publc. The upper two floors are off-limits due to structural issues, the lighting and HVAC systems are woefully outdated, and asbestos abatement is needed before any renovation work can begin. The brick building’s foundation is badly deteriorated.

City Council still has the option to make changes to the bond proposal before it is placed on the November ballot.

 

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