Spruce Up debates betterment projects

Published 10:50 am Friday, March 13, 2009

Spruce Up Austin, Inc. has a lengthy list of community betterment projects to pursue in 2009.

At least two of them are dependent upon anticipated funding from a $10,000 grant given the City of Austin by Wal-Mart, Inc. when the company’s new store was constructed along 18th Avenue Northwest.

SUA, Inc. board members discussed the grant when they met Thursday morning at the Town Center, downtown Austin.

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Mike Ruzek, project committee chairman, first listed anticipated SUA, Inc. projects under consideration at this time.

They include replacing trees along Hormel Century Parkway.

The trees were planted in 1991, during SUA, Inc.’s signature project: 100 Trees for Hormel, when the company observed its centennial.

The project, which involved a street’s renaming, became the linchpin for the city’s ambitious efforts to upgrade Horace Austin Park. The Mill Pond Pathway around a portion of the Cedar River, statuary from Austin Zonta International, a gazebo, fishing docks and more.

SUA, Inc. and its volunteers have conducted several tree-plantings in the area; especially with its Honorary Tree Program to remember loved ones in their passing.

But Ruzek said such projects as the proposed new Geo. A. Hormel Plaza and “welcome to Austin” signage also need consideration.

To accomplish some of SUA, Inc.’s project goals, Ruzek said a $10,000 grant to the city from Wal-Mart, Inc. will be needed.

Kim Underwood, SUA, Inc. board member and director of the Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, said, “Spruce Up determines what the project will be to spend the Wal-Mart money on. Then, it goes to the Park Board for approval and finally the Austin City Council.”

Ruzek said the money could help the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department fill a void created by the current Local Government Aid reducing funding crisis facing the city.

“There are no boulevard trees being planted this year by the city,” Ruzek said, “and that means after 30 straight years, the city could lose its Tree City USA designation.”

Ruzek suggested the Wal-Mart Inc. grant be used, in part, to plant boulevard trees.

“The rest of the money could go to other projects like the Oakland Avenue signage,” Ruzek said.

Gretchen Ramlo, SUA, Inc. board member, reminded all: “The city’s tree ordinance was written because Spruce Up requested the city adopt an ordinance such as that.”

With the city’s ordinance, developers must ensure there will be adequate green space included in each development project.

The Wal-Mart, Inc. grant to the city was the result of the company having to remove a large number of trees at its 18th Avenue Northwest location to make way for the giant discount store facility.

The money was first earmarked to go to the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, but the Friends of the Nature Center governing body rejected the donation.

In turn, it was given to SUA, Inc. to recommend its use to benefit the environment.

According to Ruzek, helping fund a boulevard tree project will fulfill the intent of the Wal-Mart, Inc. grant’s contribution.

SUA, Inc. board members agreed by consensus with Ruzek’s proposal.

According to the project committee chairman, discussions on all potential SUA, Inc. community betterment projects in 2009 continues and another update will be made at the next, April 9, SUA, Inc. meeting.