Barnes: Putting together Austin’s entertainment districts

Easy to reach on foot, they don’t seem linked

Showed a new friend around town. Kyle Seeley, former deputy mayor of Binghamton, N.Y., is a New York state political prodigy and urban planning enthusiast. In town for a wedding, he expressed interest via social media in our food and nightlife scenes.

So we cleared the calendar to take Seeley, on foot, to our major entertainment districts. We made the circuit of SoCo, Second Street, West Sixth, Warehouse, East Sixth, Red River, Far East Sixth, Rainey Street and, finally, South First, by way of the Butler Trail. We shared barbecue and Tex-Mex to get him started on a three-day, self-guided tour de cuisine.

Seeley and I noted the strengths and weaknesses of our urban landscape. For one thing, there’s no clear visual links between these districts. And just how did these social magnets develop? With the exception of Second Street, they evolved pretty much organically, although with some loving care from long-sighted public and private backers.

Future of Care Lunch

The Lola Wright Foundation has made the first million-dollar gift to the new Seton teaching hospital, to be paired with the planned Dell University of Texas Medical School. The $295 million hospital needs $50 million in local charity. It will break ground later this year, however, so finances must be in order already.

One of the coolest things during the Future of Care Lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel was an animated video of how the center will look, including medical school and innovation zone on either side of Waller Creek.

Rainmaker lawyer Pete Winstead — a veteran of many Austin mega-projects — was introduced as captain of a fundraising campaign for the hospital. So we can breath a sigh of relief.

We also heard for the first time from super-sharp Kate Henderson, who now heads up the core Austin medical units for Seton.

Junior League of Austin at 80

It’s hard to imagine a more streamlined, efficient or effective civic group than Junior League. No wonder they also pack a powerful political punch in Austin when they chose. Why do we have the Palmer Events Center? Guess.

Rather than raise money, the women — and a few men — celebrated the group’s 80-year stint in Austin at the Driskill Hotel with lively chat, nibbles and a few speeches, plus a nifty video with some historical material that your columnist would love to get his hands on.

Among the cheering guests was former mayor Carole Keeton, a prime profile target for this column.

Presidential Citations Ceremony

This year, the University of Texas Presidential Citations were split into two parts and moved to the former library in the UT Tower. Oh my. Vaulting arches, stone inscriptions, restrained gilding — it reminds one of the Vatican, the Louvre or the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy.

More importantly, President Bill Powers briskly honored five worthies: African diaspora scholar Edmund Gordon, former ExxonMobil exec and UT backer Charles Matthews Jr., and top attorney and former UT System Regent Shannon Ratliff, as well as Miriam and James Mulva, who have given more than $75 million to UT.

I spent a good deal of time with retired Ransom Center director Tom Staley, former Ambassador Pam Willeford, and McCombs School of Business Dean Thomas Gilligan, who separately confirmed my long-held belief that UT, for different reasons, is among the best universities in the world.

Austin Recovery Lunch

Why are we drawn to these traumatic tales?

The Austin Recovery speaker series often features a celebrity who has thrown off the shackles of addiction. This year, more than 700 guests assembled at ACL Live during the lunch break to hear musician Natalie Cole tell of her extreme behavior on drugs before sobriety took hold in 1983. It took more than just a detox and time in a rehabilitation center.

Rather, she was able to reenter the world after months in a family-oriented residence. Cole talked about the insecurities of growing up the child of celebrities, performing and interviewing “high as a kite,” and walking “on the other side of midnight.”

Potent stuff. Before her fluent, sometime funny speech, an Austin Recovery leader announced that the group would soon open a family outpatient facility on Spicewood Springs.

Toast of the Town

Imagine a Dick Clark-designed house of limestone, glass and metal, positioned high above a pristine nature preserve. Think drinks on the deck for St. David’s Foundation Toast of the Town series, as the sun sinks behind the impossibly green hills. Then move inside the home of Charlie and Melanie Jones (C3 Presents), where three tables seat 10 guests each.

In the kitchen is affable Congress chef David Bull and his crew, although most of the food is also touched by the wood-fired grill outside. The menu: crisp giardiniera, white asparagus gazpacho, flash-seared salmon belly, potato gnocchi with grilled octopus, roasted pork and kohlrabi slaw. Pasty chef Erica Waksmunski’s light dessert included a sweet pea mousse. All this was masterfully paired with wines by Whole Foods Market’s master sommelier Devon Broglie.

My near tablemates were Dr. Bob Stern and his wife, Karin Stern, who discussed their German, Swedish and Danish Texan ancestors as well as their daughter and son-in-law’s dressage stables in Coupland.

I tell you this, not to provoke envy, but rather to encourage attendance at these sorts of social benefits. There’s one for every size pocketbook.

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