APD chief meets with Mellow Johnny's staff at Lance Armstrong's request after bike shop drops police contract
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley met with Lance Armstrong and employees of his bike shop, Mellow Johnny's, at Armstrong's request last week to discuss staff concerns about police relations with the community, in a move prompted by the shop's decision to stop selling bikes to the city for use by the police department, the former Tour de France cyclist said on his podcast.
Mellow Johnny's announced two weeks ago that it would be canceling its $314k contract with the city, signed in 2019, to sell 40 bikes each year for five years to the police department for use by its bike patrols. The shop has sold bikes to the city for police for years under similar agreements, police have said.
The store's general manager, Will Black, told Austonia on Wednesday that while the decision hasn't changed and wasn't addressed in the meeting, it was congenial and the chief was "very generous and allowed us to engage and ask questions."
"It was a chance to get everybody in the same room and just have a conversation," Black said.
He also said he was "sick and tired of everybody screaming" at each other over the issue, which pitted the business against the police and some members of the public in a war of words at a time when the community is grappling with police reform.
Police supporters in the community also lashed back at Armstrong, who said "people were upset with this show, they were upset with the shop, and I get it."
Armstrong, who founded and co-owns Mellow Johnny's, whose "World Headquarters" flagship is a sprawling downtown store, training center and cafe, called the discussion over defunding the police "crazy talk" but also acknowledged that police reform "must happen."
"I wish I had an answer or solution, but I damn sure wasn't going to let it sit without having a conversation, and so we shall see," Armstrong said on the podcast. "Like most things, you try to see both sides of it."
Black declined to comment on Armstrong's position on the decision.
Shop managers said in a Facebook post two weeks ago that the decision was made "in the context of the current evaluation of community policing in Austin." The post said that while the shop is not anti-police, the decision was based on the business' desire to "do the most to suture these divides and place our community on the right side of history."
The post, which garnered 8.7K comments, also referenced "very real threats" the store had been getting since news came out about the decision, adding that they were certain that police would still protect them from their detractors.
Mellow Johnny's also has a store just outside Fort Worth, a location they call "The Trailhead."
Black said nothing had changed regarding the contract with the city and that Manley started the conversation by saying he wasn't there to discuss the bike contract, which isn't under APD's purview.
"It was more about having the staff here understand day-to-day functions and operations of APD and all the challenges they face," Black said. "It was more about that, we really didn't discuss the contract in any specificity."
Armstrong said he sought counsel from former Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, now chief of police in Houston, and then called Manley.
"I got Manley's number, and I said, 'Chief, we have a workforce at Mellow Johnny's that's not happy, and this is their decision," Armstrong said in a video clip of his podcast, posted this week on his Instagram account. "I'm put in a terrible spot. I need you to come down, and I need you to have a conversation."
Armstrong said he joined Manley and the Mellow Johnny's staff in a private meeting, where Manley spoke for about 20 to 30 minutes and then listened to the opinions and "tough questions" from the staff.
"Kudos to Chief Manley, kudos to the staff," Armstrong said, adding the meeting "was non-hostile, was smart, was open, honest transparent. ...The staff listened and Manley listened."
"I cannot think of the last time in America where everybody said time out, stop screaming, let's all get in a room and talk about this," Armstrong said. "So, I don't know what the ultimate outcome will be—I know what I would like for it to be—but at least we sat in the room together."
Austin police could not be reached immediately for comment.
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In May, Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein looked back on 10 years of Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix at COTA confident that the race would be here to stay in Texas. But sources tell Austonia that securing another contract may be in jeopardy.
Some insiders worry that COTA's 2021 Grand Prix race might be its last.
The multi-day fest from Oct. 22-24 will include a 56-lap race over the 3.3-mile track, food and musical performances from two acts, including Billy Joel at COTA's 1,500-acre facility in Southeast Austin. But after this year, the U.S.' first F1-specific track could lose its headline event.
The facility's inability to secure a contract thus far comes down to the Texas Legislature, a new threat in Miami, and, most importantly, money.
The first F 1 race will take place in Miami next year. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Every year, Formula 1 receives roughly $25 million from Texas' Major Events Reimbursement Program, a taxpayer-funded initiative that helps bring big sporting events like 2017's Houston Super Bowl to the state. A 2019 report by the Reimbursements Program on that year's race said the "data is inconclusive" on if the event has a positive or negative economic impact on the state with the resources given. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman reported that COTA had brought back a total of $75.7 million between 2015 and 2017 for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix.
Legal issues have also barred Epstein and Co. from securing another 10-year contract earlier: in 2018, the company lost its yearly $25 million bid after failing to submit a human trafficking prevention plan as part of its yearly application.
That same year, F1 managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches told the Associated Press that the organization hopes to stay at COTA "for many years to come."
However, in May, the racing league announced that it had secured a 10-year contract to hold the Miami Grand Prix as American interest in the sport soared following the three-season "Drive to Survive" documentary, which gives behind-the-scenes looks at drivers and races of the Formula One World Championship.
Epstein is optimistic about the new U.S. location and told Autoweek in May that "more race in our time zones are good for the sport."
"I think we're getting double the impact this way," Epstein said. "Miami should sell out huge the first year and maybe the second year and then after that, I think we'd be spitting audience if we were around the same time on the calendar. So the spread is fantastic."
Bobby Epstein recognizes the 1 millionth customer of COTA in 2013. (COTA/Facebook)
The new F1 venture may impact COTA's contract, however: in an opinion piece for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, writer Mac Engel said Texas is unlikely to fork over taxpayer money if the facility is no longer the only F1 track in the U.S.
According to Engel, the Major Events Reimbursements Program agrees to provide funding only "if Austin holds the only F1 race in the country."
Epstein hasn't addressed such claims; by contrast, he feels as though there's room for a third race in the U.S. as ticket sales rebound after COVID.
"In the first week, we sold pretty much all the tickets we put up for sale and we plan to break the 2019 attendance record," Epstein told Autoweek. "Texas was the first place to lift COVID-19 restrictions (in the U.S.) and put on sporting events, and we're full. We're at 100% capacity.
Despite ventures to diversify revenue at COTA—Epstein's USL soccer team Austin Bold has seen its own share of troubles, and the facility plans to develop into a multi-faceted entertainment arena complete with music venues, a waterpark, condominiums and an 11-story hotel—a loss of its primary event could be devastating for the $300 million complex.
F1 has rarely lasted more than a decade at venues in the U.S. over the last century; let's hope Austin breaks that curse.
COTA's media relations team did not immediately get back to Austonia for comment.
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Houston? Dallas? San Antonio? No, it has to be Austin.
We know Californians love Texas, but a recent string of posts on neighborhood platform Nextdoor in Santa Barbara, California, displays what the craze to move to Austin looks like.
When one user posted, "Hi neighbors, I want to buy a house in Houston, Texas any recommendations?" the responses flooded in displaying what the admiration for Austin looks like from the West Coast. Users mostly advised against a move to Houston; one person even wrote, "Austin is the ONLY place to consider!!"
While some defended H-town, saying, "Awesome place to live," one person wrote, "WORST PLACE TO LIVE." Reasons to not move to Houston from Californians' perspective included:
- "Foul air from refineries"
- "horrible flooding due to the flat Gulf coastal shelf"
- "crazy zoning"
- "racial prejudice"
- "super high humidity"
- "very conservative"
The comments were shifted to Austin's lush greenery, weather and acceptance of gay people.
Over the last five years, Austin has seen more migrants from California than any other state, according to an Austin Chamber of Commerce report. The Austin appeal from residents living in more congested places like California became more prevalent during the pandemic when stay-at-home orders were issued and people sought more space.
It wasn't just Austin though; lots of other Sunbelt cities saw an influx in their housing market as a result of people working from home and looking for a lower cost of living. And that included Texas in general, with people flooding to various Texas cities.
But it hasn't come with resistance. The "Don't California my Texas" pleas are still alive and well, as Californians are blamed for raising the cost of living by outpricing current residents. The housing market has reached record numbers in the median home price year-over-year since the beginning of the pandemic. Austin was even predicted to be the most expensive city outside of California by the end of the year.
Still, Californians and even New Yorkers can't stay away. Companies and celebrities have followed, leading Texas transplant Elon Musk to label Austin's future as "the biggest boomtown that America has seen in half a century."