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Intel halts construction, apologizes

Intel Corp. officials apologized to residents angered after the company halted construction on its $124 million chip design building in downtown Austin, Texas. Because of an economic downturn that has shrunk demand and cut prices for its computer chips, Intel recently decided to stop construction on its chip design and parking garage about a mile south of the Capitol. Intel says it can’t afford to abandon the project. “We don’t have a great track record in Texas,” said Bill Westmoreland, Intel’s Austin site manager. Intel abandoned a chip factory in Fort Worth during a downturn in 1996-97. “Texas is too good, too big and has too big of a brain trust to walk away from,” Westmoreland told the Austin American-Statesman. Some found Intel’s apology hard to swallow. “It’s been handled terribly,” said former City Council Member Brigid Shea. The city offered an incentive package of $10.6 million, including about $2.5 million in waived fees and $7.4 million in deferred construction costs. “You need to do a lot more to convince us we weren’t taken for a ride. You guys had a big old party and you sent us the bill,” Shea told Intel officials at a meeting with residents last week. Company officials said they preferred to finish the building, but said that they would also consider selling it. Intel officials said they expect to decide on a revised construction schedule by December. In the meantime, Intel is considering ways to minimize the impact of the concrete skeleton. Options include displaying arts projects by community groups, creating a pavilion for arts and music festivals or masking the building with a colorful mesh screen. The Austin site — the company’s first at a downtown location — has taught Intel a lesson. “We’re learning we don’t have the flexibility we would have in a rural or suburban site,” said Intel spokesman Fred Shannon. Intel has spent $12 million on the building so far. Only six of the building’s planned 10 stories have been built. An additional $25 million is needed to complete the shell and add an exterior finish.