Mayors weigh in on accomplishments, Austin's challenges


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Posted on February 6, 2013 at 7:06 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 6 at 7:28 PM

AUSTIN -- In 1990, the Capitol City was much different than the Austin, Texas of 2013. Then, the city had virtually no skyline. Now, it is ranked by Forbes as the fastest growing city in the county, and that's thanks in part to mayors who shaped the city over the last 35 years.

Wednesday, those history makers gathered at an event to raise money for the Austin History Center Association. Each one had a hand in helping Austin grow.

Carole Keeton Strayhorn was mayor from 1977 until 1983.

"We revitalized downtown Austin," said Strayhorn. "Brought in, like the Hyatt came in downtown, got people living downtown for the first time."

Lee Cooke served as mayor from 1988 until 1991. When asked what his greatest accomplishments were, he said, "The convention center, taking the lead on moving the airport to Bergstrom, the right of way for Ben White and 183 so we could build those freeways."

Bruce Todd, who was being honored at Wednesday's event, was the mayor from 1991 until 1997. He said completing the airport project was his biggest accomplishment.

"The airport because that was a big decision, and it took a lot of courage from the citizens of Austin to approve the funding, which they did overwhelmingly," added Todd. 

Will Wynn was mayor from 2003 until 2009. "Those years were pretty instrumental in changing the skyline, bringing residential downtown. Now the retail is following that," said Wynn. 

The mayors all seem to agree that in order to continue moving Austin forward, there's one thing the city has to work on -- transportation.

"It is the big issue. That's what everybody talks about," said Todd. 

"For years people thought, 'Don't build it, and they won't come,'" added Wynn. "But people kept coming, and they're going to keep coming."

Current Mayor Lee Leffingwell is working to establish an urban rail system through not only Austin, but the region, but some of his predecessors think more will have to be done.

"Alternative transportation is great, but people are going to stay in their cars, and I do believe we are going to have to use tolls in this area, in Central Texas, more aggressively," said Lee Cooke.

Mayor Leffingwell said which ever transportation solution Austin goes with, it will have to be one that the voters approve of. He is hoping to lay the groundwork for that solution during his term.