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AUSTIN-Mayor Kirk Watson, who will leave office by year’s end, exhorted downtown business people to keep moving ahead with the area’s redevelopment and avoid the inaction that resulted in the area’s stagnation for many years.

His advice: “Cultivating your vision, pushing forward even when it’s not perfect, even when you will have setbacks and critics, reveals what I view as the optimism about our city.”

Watson, who resigns later this year to run for Texas Attorney General, spoke Wednesday to the annual luncheon of the Downtown Austin Alliance. The luncheon had to be moved to the Omni Hotel’s spacious atrium from a ballroom because of the large audience, eager to show appreciation to Watson. The audience members greeted Watson with a standing ovation.

“I look out (at the audience) and see so many friends and so many people I’ve had the opportunity to work with 4 1/2 years as your mayor,” he said. “I know that you have that vision. Please pursue it.”

As mayor, Watson has pursued, prodded and pushed a vision of downtown Austin as the city’s living room. He’s been credited as being a prime mover behind the downtown’s plethora of municipal, commercial and residential projects that are casting that vision into brick and mortar.

Watson noted several of the projects that have had at least one thing in common: It took decades of debate before dirt flew on them. The projects are the Austin Convention Center that doubles its size; the community activity center-performing arts center across Town Lake from the CBD; and the city hall-Computer Sciences Corp. project.

The mayor said even the saga of the Intel Corp. building bears a positive message. The San Jose, CA-based company halted construction on the 10-story building earlier this year as the market for it computer chips softened. The skeletal structure stands guard on the western end of the downtown’s office district.

“Do you remember what it replaced?” Watson asked. “Folks, we didn’t tear down the Capitol building to put up the Intel building. It was an abandoned car dealership.”

No, the building isn’t buzzing with chip designers, but he said, the city didn’t spend money to bring Intel downtown and the site pays higher property taxes. “And, ultimately, it will be completed. The real story,” he says, “is a willingness to experiment, a willingness to try do something differently. And while it hasn’t worked exactly as we’d hoped, it certainly has more hope than an abandoned car dealership.

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