At Your Doorstep: Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center Phase 2 Improvements

The Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (ESB-MACC), located at 600 River Street on Lady Bird Lake, adjacent to the Waller Creek Boathouse and Rainey Street Historical District, has entered Phase 2 of the 2018 Facility Expansion Plan (2018 Plan) approved by City Council. Phase 2 includes expansion and renovation of the facility in addition to site improvements in order to meet the growing needs of the community, supporting programs which foster meaningful understanding and appreciation of Mexican American, Native American, Chicano and other Latinx Cultures.

The funds assigned will not be sufficient to build the entire scope of Phase 2 as outlined in the 2018 Plan. Step 1 of the project focused on building programming, identifying aspects of the 2018 Plan to be implemented with the 2018 GO Bond funds. The building programming phase identified priorities from the 2018 Plan to be implemented with current funds. The Project Team consulted with the community to identify the most pressing needs of the community that can be achieved with the building funds. The building program book was presented to the MACC Advisory Board on March 3, 2021, and the final version will be published in March 2021.

Phase 2 of the Council approved 2018 Plan underwent significant community engagement and will provide the project parameters. The community engagement process will evolve through the project, moving from consultation to informational only.

Once priorities have been decided, the Project Team will create the initial design for consultation with the community. Phase 2 design and construction is estimated to take place over the next four years with a grand opening anticipated in summer 2024.

A large part of Phase 2 emphasizes the importance of landscape. The landscape plan and site plan propose key improvements to the site with the intention of better connecting the site to Rainey and River Streets and to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail and lakefront. Similarly, a key facet of the site design is an emphasis on highly visual entry points and markers that clearly demarcate arrival to the ESB-MACC site from points east, downtown, and the trails. The landscape design team participated in all public meetings and received significant input on amenities and design; supporting the ESB-MACC Mission Statement was the most important factor in determining site amenities and programming. The existing parking areas, service building, water quality treatment area, and high-tension power lines represent constraints to the overall site plan, as these features are to remain. The design team worked to maintain the existing tree canopy where reasonable and the landscape palette is intended to be low-maintenance and culturally responsive and offer areas of high visual interest in all seasons, to the extent possible. The key landscape design considerations are further outlined:

Site Circulation
The master plan proposes modifications to the existing site vehicle circulation. The entry drop-off loop and fire lane are relocated to an interior point in the site, directing drop-off traffic to the north face of the building. The existing parking space total will be increased from 127 spaces (current) to 187 spaces in Phase II and 235 spaces in Phase III. Phase II includes the construction of an additional surface parking area, which would be replaced by a below-grade two-story garage and theatre expansion in Phase III. While a connection to Red River Street would be a demonstrable improvement to site circulation, the portion of Red River Street immediately adjacent to the site has been vacated by the City of Austin and its privately-owned. If this right-of-way ever becomes available in the future this should be explored as an additional connection as access to Red River Street could allow future CapMetro circulator routes to access the ESB-MACC; unfortunately, it appears that this scenario is unlikely or impossible. Bus service on Rainey Street was explored by the project team but was determined to not be feasible after conversation with CapMetro and the City of Austin Parks and
Recreation Department.

The Gran Entrada
The Gran Entrada is an essential component of the site design and is intended to provide an enhanced pedestrian entry and signature entrance from Rainey and River Streets. The Gran Entrada was made feasible through the acquisition of the 58 Rainey and 64 Rainey parcels and the vacation of the Rainey Street alley right-of-way. Visitors on foot will enter the ESB-MACC site via a pedestrian walkway aligned on the axis of the existing tower window. This primary pedestrian entry will employ a mixture of pavers to enhance visual delight, referencing the ornament of streets in Lisbon, Spain and Mexico City. A raised pedestrian crossing at the ESB-MACC driveway
enforces the visual strength of this entry and provides traffic calming for pedestrian safety. The primary pedestrian entry is bounded on its north side by a curved chiseled concrete seat wall, reflecting the circular language and materials of the existing building. Palm trees are placed at regular spacing along this curved wall.

The Paseo
The Paseo introduces a new entry procession for visitors arriving by vehicle and provides a courtyard for a future theatre expansion. With the addition of the Gran Entrada, the primary drop-off loop is moved to the north of the building. This drop-off, which also doubles as a fire lane, provides curbside access for buses, tours and vehicles for events. To reduce the visual impact of the loop drive, pavers are used in the drop-off area.

The Zócalo
The Zócalo will remain the signature outdoor area for large events and congregation. The geometry of Teodoro González de León’s original design remains but will be augmented with additional planting, seating, and shade. Additional paved paths will improve access to the site from the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail and Lady Bird Lakefront.

Las Ventanas
Another key feature to the master plan is improving its connection with the waterfront. Steep slopes and dense vegetation along the site edge significantly limit view of and exposure to the water. Las Ventanas is an intervention to provide a visual and physical connection to the lake, which includes two key parts: a staircase seating and viewing element and “El Muelle”, an accessible dock and small performance area. The seating area for Las Ventanas should be sited to avoid key heritage trees or other significant landscape features along the lake edge, and in co-ordination with the Trail Foundation. The seating is a combination of concrete steps at regular height intervals, with stairs allowing physical access to the lake edge, and grassed areas within the concrete steps. These steps may be used as seating, resting areas, fishing, and other activities. In the
future, swimming in the immediate area may be permissible.

Waller Delta and Hike & Bike Trail
Strengthening the connection between the Butler Trail and Waller Creek improvements is also a priority for the master plan. The current hike and bike path through the site is a narrow decomposed granite path with concrete where it runs at a high slope and a choke point at the bridge over Waller Creek. The Waller delta area to the east
of the creek is underused space. The master plan calls for an informal amphitheater to be built into the delta slope. This construction would include
curved chiseled concrete retaining walls that form seating for a small concrete pad. Stairs and a dogleg ram will run alongside the amphitheater and provide accessibility and connect to a new trail leading directly from the Waller Creek Bridge. The master plan calls for the bifurcation of the hike and bike trail as it abuts the ESB-MACC; this is intended to attract slower-moving foot traffic to the Zócalo and café and limit conflicts with faster moving bicycle traffic.
Where paths are intended for pedestrian use only, bollards will be used to delineate bicycle dismount zones. The master plan aims to directly brand this section of the trail as belonging to and complementing the ESB-MACC. To this end, totems will be placed at both the east and west ends of the trial at the site, both constructed of
chiseled concrete and be abstractions of Toltec warriors or goddesses. These will demarcate entry of trail users into the ESB-MACC site and encourage exploration and participation in the site and its programs by trail users, who
can average up to nine thousand per day.