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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Austin: growth through redevelopment

The Lambda Alpha International (LAI) Austin Chapter hosted the Fall 2019 Land Economics Weekend (LEW) attracting a global contingency eager to learn about Austin's history, challenges, and accomplishments. With limited time, the LEW tours and presentations focused on Austin's compassionate approach to addressing the homeless population, affordable housing for the growing population, and innovative redevelopment of once vital yet closed facilities.

LAI is an honorary society for the advancement of land economics. LAI provides a forum for the study and advancement of land economics where the "winnowing and sifting" of ideas takes place in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Operating through a network of twenty-nine global chapters, LAI provides a variety of programs and forums for its members to share information critical to understanding important land-use issues. The IMPACT Blog article, Lambda Alpha International Atlanta Chapter: growing membership, influence and impact, introduces LAI along with its designated purposes.

Twice per year chapters sponsor "Weekend Experiences" giving members an opportunity to meet and learn about land-economic issues in cities throughout the world. Open to LAI members and their guests, the LEWs address wider international, national and regional issues and include project tours within the host city.

Austin LEW - business meetings
In early November the Austin Chapter welcomed over 100 LAI members and guests from around the globe to their grand city for the 2019 Fall LEW. The day prior to LEW festivities was slated for global LAI business meetings, including the Executive Committee, Land Economics Foundation (LEF) Board, President's Roundtable, and the Board of Governance meetings.

Hyatt Regency Austin
At the Board of Governance meeting, the biannual executive committee officers slate was voted upon with new roles effective the following Monday morning. Elemental Impact (Ei) Founder Holly Elmore was voted onto the Global Executive Committee in her new position of Assistant Scribe.

At the Spring 2019 Puerto Rico LEW the LEF Board approved a grant for a land-economics project spearheaded by University of Georgia Associate Professor Velma Zahirovic-Herbert. Thanks to LEF VP Jon DeVries' introduction to Holly and fellow Atlanta Chapter members Ron Thomas and Bill de St. Aubin, Velma is slated for LAI membership induction in December. Additionally, Velma accepted the nomination to serve as the incoming Atlanta Chapter Vice-President and successor Chapter President in two years. Thus, the LEF grant was instrumental to the LAI Atlanta ReFRESH underway!

Founded in 1965, LEF is a not-for-profit charitable foundation organized to administer an investment fund which provides grants for research projects related to land economics. LEF commits capital (5% of assets) to a number of significant and worthwhile endeavors across the country on a matching basis with other non-profit entities. After the LEF Board of Directors' review, qualified applications are submitted to the LEF Board of Trustees for approval.

As the business day closed, the LEW opened with the President's Reception where attendees were treated to delicious cuisine, cocktails and a heartfelt welcome to the hosting city. The Austin LEW President's reception was held at the Hyatt Regency located downtown on Lady Bird Lake and the LEW host hotel.

Austin LEW - Day#1
Jon Hockenyos at the podium
Each LEW day the program began at the Hyatt Regency with a presentation on Austin's economic landscape addressing historical contributions to current successes | challenges. Additionally, work-in-progress to harness the explosive growth with healthy outcomes was addressed and discussed. On LEW Day#1, TXP Economists President Jon Hockenyos' Austin Economics presentation was a perfect LEW opening session and set the stage for the two days of Austin tours and education.

Not shy, Holly ventured to the back-of-the-house. Impressed, Holly witnessed how the Hyatt "walks-the-talk" with recycling and food-waste collection for compost as standard operating practices for their meetings and banquets. Additionally, the breakfast service included reusable dining-service ware; waste was reduced by serving condiments (cream, honey etc.) bulk instead of in individually packaged servings.

Following the presentation, the LEW group boarded buses for tours of the Mueller Airport redevelopment, Circuit of the Americas, Community First! Village, various Austin urban districts, and finished at Barton Springs | Zilker Park. Attendees were on their own for dinner.

Austin Chapter members joined the bus tours and shared their Austin experiences and wisdom. On Holly's bus, Chapter VP Randy Williams, JLL Valuation and Advisory Services Executive VP, provided superb, often humorous, dialogue while traveling between destinations. Chapter Treasurer Laurie Logue, Broadway Bank Executive Vice-President, supported Randy and ensured his dialogue followed the well prepared narrative; Randy and Laurie were a perfect team!

View from the COTA Turn 1
On the first tour stop, the LEW group learned about the ambitious redevelopment of the closed Mueller Airport into a mixed-use urban community.

Circuit of the Americas (COTA,) the home to the only Formula 1 and MotoGP races in the country, was the second-tour stop. After lunch and before the tour, there was a presentation on the COTA's history, economic impact and current scenario.

In the Race Control Room, 44 cameras monitor the track for any necessary action related to accidents, fires and/or infractions. A maximum of 85 cars are permitted on the track at any point in time. At the venue's highest elevation, the Turn 1 grandstands showcase the grade 1 FIA-specification 3.426-mile motor-racing track and facilities. The 251-feet observation tower was designed by MirĂ³ Rivera Architects and built by Patriot Erectors as a landmark for the venue.

What a treat to tour the world-class motor sports and entertainment complex!

The most inspirational tour was Mobile Loaves & Fishes development The Community First! Village (CFG,) a permanent safe haven for chronically homeless individuals. One qualification for residency is ten years living on the streets. LEW attendees were gifted with an autographed copy of Welcome HomeLess, One Man's Journey of Discovering the Meaning of Home by CFG Founder & CEO Alan Graham.

Due to inclement weather, the group toured the village in the buses versus walking the grounds. Below are Holly's iPhone notes taken while Alan guided the tour bus through the village:
As an innovative approach to the chronically homeless population, the Community brings in the disabled (physical, emotional, mental & addiction) so they may heal from life on the streets.
Currently there are about 235 residents. With under-development phases slated to bring the population up to over 500 residents.
The community operates a 6.5 acre organic farm including chickens and goats. Food is free to residents.
There are community kitchens and bathrooms, deliberate to get the residents out & about to create a sense of community.
3D-printed home
iPhone image
This year the community will distribute $800K in dignified income to residents via working within the community. The community is well taken care of with no cigarette butts or other human-generated remnants.
Residents must abide by three rules:
1) obey civil laws
2)  pay rent
3) clean-up after yourself
The Community has the second three-dimensional printed home in the world. The plan is to print a total of six 3-D homes.
The community is located in the county. Thus, there is no applicable zoning.
Children are permitted within the missionaries yet not with the residents. The average age is 55 years; the mean death age is 59 years from rough years on the streets.
The final DAY#1 tour destination was an urban oasis with views of the nearby Austin skyline. Located within the Zilkar Park, the three-acre Barton Springs pool is a treasure. Spring-fed, the pool maintains a consistent 68 - 70 degrees, ideal for year-round swimming. In recent years, Barton Springs Pool attracted record-setting 800,000 visitors annually. Beyond the famous pool, Zilker Park is filled with historical relevance.

Barton Spring pool with
Austin skyline 
Designed in 1929 by prominent Austin architect Hugo Kuehne, the Zilker Caretaker Cottage housed park supervisors from the 1930's until 2010. In 2012, the cottage was remodeled to serve as a park-ranger headquarters.

Located in the Caretaker Cottage's backyard is an underground fallout shelter, which opened in April 1960 as the first of two models, The shelter has interior dimensions of 8 feet by 8 feet, with 8-inch reinforced concrete walls. Austin’s shelter was also the first to have custom furniture built inside to best use the minimal space.

By 1971 there were more than 200 public fallout shelters in Austin, though there is not a record of how many private shelters might have been built into backyards or as basements in new homes. (“Nuclear Attack Alarm; From Panic to Apathy.” 1971. The Austin Statesman. May 9.)

Globally, the only remaining moonlight towers reside in Austin and are recorded on the National Historical Register. Installed in the mid 1890's, the Zilker Park moonlight tower transforms into the anticipated Zilker Park Holiday Tree each year.

Since LEW attendees were on their own for dinner, LAI Past President and prior Austin resident Steven Gragg hosted a group for dinner at a local popular dining destination followed by two-step dance lessons at Broken Spoke.

Austin LEW - Day#2
As the final LEW day ended with the Awards Banquet, the program was light on Saturday so attendees may relax before the evening festivities.

After a Municipal Codes & Austin's Recent Experience panel discussion, the LEW group embarked on the Day#2 tours. Beginning with a bus tour of South Congress Avenue and the University of Texas Highway area, the destination was The Domain mixed-use project located in the high-tech corridor of northwest Austin. In its prior use, The Domain was home to a large IBM manufacturing facility and corporate campus. Post-lunch, the final Day#2 tour was back downtown at Seaholm District, the power-plant redevelopment.

Downtown view from the
Shoal Creek Trail
As the formal The Domain presentation ended, Austin LAI Chapter President Jim Nias presented the prestigious Skyline Award to the Endeavor Real Estate Group.

After the Seaholm District tour, Holly and Jordan Peters from the Chicago Ely Chapter walked back to the Hyatt via the Shoal Creek Trail that leads to Lady Bird Lake. With camera in hand, Holly enjoyed capturing the stunning trail and gorgeous lake within downtown Austin.

Austin LEW - Awards Banquet
Following tradition, the LEW ended with an Awards Banquet where LAI awards were presented and the LEW baton was tossed to the next LEW Chair.

Good friends from Chicago, Madrid,
and San Diego enjoy the reception
Named after the late founder of The Salt Lick Barbecue Thurman Roberts, Thurman's Mansion was an excellent location to host the Awards Banquet. The 7,000 square-food, two-story native limestone building was once slated for the Roberts' family home. Established in 1967 as a restaurant, The Salt Lick Barbecue has local history dating back a century when the Roberts family moved to Driftwood, TX.

Prior to the formal dinner and awards ceremony, LEW attendees enjoyed a casual reception with an open bar. Though the typical banquet attire is business formal, the Austin LEW attire was "Texas tuxedo" and attendees obliged with their creative versions including an eclectic array of hats.

With the dinner service complete, Global President Robert McBride opened the awards ceremony. First on the agenda was presenting the Barcelona Chapter charter to Chapter President Juanjo Martinez. Next Awards Committee member Gary Leach presented LAI Treasurer Sheila Harris with the International Member of the Year Award.

Robert McBride passes the
presidential gavel to Sheila Harris
LAI Fellow Ian Lord bestowed the organization's highest honor of LAI Fellow on Sheila and Steven. Keeping with tradition, the spouses attached the prestigious Fellow pin on the inductee's lapel or blouse. Sheila is the first female LAI Fellow!

Closing the awards, President Robert McBride joyfully passed the baton to incoming President Sheila Harris.

The Ei FB album, Austin Land Economics Weekend, is a pictorial recount of LEW activities through Holly's lens.

Congratulations to Austin LEW Chair Jim Nias for spearheading an amazing weekend. Thanks to the dedication of a strong committee, LEW attendees left Austin impressed with the city's compassionate approach to addressing its homeless population, dedication to addressing affordable housing issues for the increasing population, and innovative approaches to reinvigorating the community with redevelopment plans for once vital yet closed facilities.

... and the Spring 2019 Chicago LEW is a mere six months away!


  1. This report evokes the excitement of the event while documenting the historic facts for posterity; and our congratulations and thanks to the Austin Chapter for this wonderful educational event and the fine fellowship time together.

    1. Thanks so much, Christine! I enjoyed researching for interesting facts to support our LEW tours and destinations. ... and, WOW, the Austin Chapter did an amazing job showcasing their impressive city. It was a wonderful LEW!