A Chicago firm, hired by events promoter C3 Presents, has produced a plan that re-imagines the south shore of Lady Bird Lake around Auditorium Shores and Butler Park....The city is expected to be given the plan in October. The changes would cost more than $100 million, Tur estimates. It’s a figure that, experience says, would really serve as a starting point for weighing the project’s true cost.
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Nip Auditorium Shores plan in the bud
A Chicago firm, hired by events promoter C3 Presents, has produced a plan that re-imagines the south shore of Lady Bird Lake around Auditorium Shores and Butler Park. The firm’s vision is ambitious, with a 20-year time-line for all its pieces to come together. It is also, not surprisingly, expensive.
And it is unnecessary. We see no reason why Auditorium Shores shouldn’t be left as is for the foreseeable future. The city has more pressing priorities.
Especially given that Auditorium Shores is in the middle of an extensive makeover, thanks to a $3.5 million donation from C3. The makeover includes new grass, a new irrigation system and a relocated off-leash dog area. The changes should improve the friendliness of a priceless piece of parkland.
As the American-Statesman’s Sarah Coppola reported this week, Chicago-based Tur Partners’ vision for the 74 acres of parkland on Lady Bird Lake’s south shore calls for depressing Riverside Drive through the park or moving it underground and adding pedestrian bridges over it. An underground parking garage would be built south of the Palmer Events Center, with the current above-ground parking garage along Barton Springs Road possibly demolished. A new above-ground parking garage could be built where the Dougherty Arts Center sits, and a new arts center could be squeezed into the space between the Long Center and Palmer Events Center.
The city is expected to be given the plan in October. The changes would cost more than $100 million, Tur estimates. It’s a figure that, experience says, would really serve as a starting point for weighing the project’s true cost.
Tur projects it would cost $42 million to build 1,200 underground parking spaces — a whopping $35,000 a space. Lowering Riverside Drive and building pedestrian bridges over it would cost nearly $40 million, Tur estimates. The firm gave no cost estimate for building a new Dougherty Arts Center.
On its website, Tur Partners describes itself as “a global investment and advisory firm” that “works with businesses, municipalities and government agencies ... to develop strategies for competing and thriving in a global economy.” Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley is Tur’s executive director.
Where designing parkland fits in amid the firm’s buzz phrases about “sustainable solutions” and “global urban markets” is a mystery.
Discussions about how to pay for Tur’s plan haven’t begun to manifest themselves. The plan would be contentious if it were to move from its current what-if realm to reality. Just about anything concerning Auditorium Shores is. At this moment we struggle to see ourselves supporting it, based on the outline of the proposal Coppola reported and its estimated price tag.
C3 Presents paid for Tur’s study, the exact cost of which Tur wouldn’t tell Coppola, though Colin Wallis, executive director of the Austin Parks Foundation, told her it was less than $1 million. For now, consider the plan a self-serving exercise in parkland design by C3, which produces the Austin Food & Wine Festival at Auditorium Shores and the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park.
Not that there’s anything wrong with self-serving exercises when they’re self-paid. But any plan concerning the future of public space should be developed by the city and developed because the public demands it. And it should be a plan that takes seriously worries that the city’s best park space
— Zilker and Auditorium Shores — are slowly succumbing to commercialization. Parks are great locations for wonderful events, but parks belong to the residents of Austin first.
News of Tur’s plan resurrects memories of reports a couple of years ago that urban planners were in Austin to kick around ideas for developing a similar stretch of the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, the 88 acres that run from South First Street to just east of the Congress Avenue Bridge and the American-Statesman building. Some of the options that were floated — A carousel! A miniature golf course! — were sheer fantasy. They had little chance of coming to pass.
But then as now, the design exercise and proposals reflected development salivation over a tremendous city asset, in which the word “functional” is tossed about as sacred. Such talk should generate leeriness, because when it comes to the city’s outdoor spaces, the best function might be found in leaving things as untouched as possible.
Garrett Kotal does sprints up Doug Sahm Hill at Butler Park on Wednesday. A Chicago firm unveiled plans this week for a 20-year, $100 million makeover of the south shore of Lady Bird Lake around Auditorium Shores and Butler Park.
JAYJANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN