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Michael Barnes

Salute the stunning new Dell Seton Medical Center

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The Austin parties are picking up again. We attended three fine ones recently.

Dell Seton Medical Center Big Reveal

Have I mistakenly entered a luxury hotel? That’s the first impression one receives in the ground-level guest areas of the new Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas.

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Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

For the Big Reveal at the $300 million teaching, charity and research hospital, which goes fully operational in May, numerous top citizens sipped bubbly, nibbled on delectables, then set those aside to tour the seven-floor state-of-the-science facility that will take the place of University Medical Center Brackenridge.

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Pete and Tomi Winstead at the opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Fortuitously, among our first contacts in the comfy cafe was Pete Winstead, the Austin power broker who led the charge to raise $50 million for the hospital, along with his charming wife Tomi Winstead. By the way, as State Sen. Kirk Watsonauthor of the 10-point regional health plan that includes this new medical center, pointed out: No taxpayer money was spent on facility. Jesus Garza, retiring CEO of Seton Healthcare Family, and Christann Vasquez, president and CEO of the medical center, were also on hand to salute the sleek new building, filled with natural light and brightened with fine art.

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Cafe at this charity hotel feels like Four Seasons Hotel. Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

This whole series of medical structures along Waller Creek are so much more pleasing than the old Brack complex and the blocky government buildings that bank up against them. But it’s how the hospital works that keeps one transfixed with such wonders as a hybrid cath lab and OR and a design that will facilitate care of the worst-off patients that impresses the most.

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Hybrid cath lab and OR. Opening of Dell Seton Medical Center University of Texas. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Too much spent on the hotel look? Vasquez explains that they chose less expensive materials for the backside and inside of the place, but they wanted people to feel relaxed and at home during traumatic times. And after all, Dallas spent $1 billion on its charity hospital redo and San Antonio $500 million. So Austin’s $300 million looks like a bargain.

Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive

As promised, the Tailwaggers “non-gala” or “neo-gala” for Austin Pets Alive at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum was gloriously liberating. A perfect April evening. Unhurried strolls through the lovely gardens to find stations with drinks, animal welfare info or pledge options.

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Mike and Catherine Kaviani at Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

Almost every top social in town — thanks to chair Mary Herr Tally and her team — was present, along with young couples who we’d never met before. Plus some pets.

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David Kurio’s floral genius at work during Tailwaggers for Austin Pets Alive. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

The program was short. The Big Band music was romantic. An errant buffet line put the only crimp in the evening, although once self-served, the fresh, healthy food was excellent. I’m not even going to try to list the social movers and shakers who attended, because the list would go on into next week.

We’ve got another signature Austin event on our hands.

Ribbon Cutting for Briscoe Center

“We are not a museum,” said longtime director Don Carleton about his research archives, the Briscoe Center for American History. Well, just a little bit. Along with a first-rate reading room and new gathering spaces, the renovated ground floor of the center — located across the plaza from the LBJ Presidential Library — is quite a bit of exhibition space. As Carleton says: “Now we can share some of our treasures.”

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Patia Sandifer and Stephen Bedsole at the grand reopening of the Briscoe Center. Michael Barnes/American-Statesman

And we are grateful for it. We’ve been digging around the Briscoe since it was named the Barker Texas History Center in the 1980s. It’s a superb collection overseen by top-notch professionals. And it always bugged me that its historical shows were staged in the hallway to the restroom. (I have the same problem with the admittedly lovelier hallway at the Austin History Center.)

At the recent ribbon cutting for the refabricated center, Carleton welcomed UT bigwigs such as President Gregory Fenves and Provost Maurie McInnis, who said that archival material: “Makes the past real in a way that just reading about history does not.” He also thanked major donors, such as the family of late Gov. Dolph Briscoe and expert on early UT history, Clyde Rabb Littlefield. Also present were Dan and Jean RatherKathy CronkiteBen Sargent and former U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

We’ll deliver at fuller report on what’s inside the new Briscoe very soon.