Velasquez Park: 'A Model That Works'
If there's one type of parks expansion endorsed by every invested party, it's one in which a public space is created on a previously underutilized plot of land, that simultaneously enhances public life, and that costs the city no money to develop or maintain. That's the story of Roy and Matias Velasquez Plaza*, a multi-tiered pocket park scheduled for installation early next year alongside the Corazon transit-oriented development, currently under construction on the corner of East Fifth Street and San Marcos (Plaza Saltillo).
The park, established over an undeveloped right-of-way and made possible through a private investment from Cypress Real Estate in conjunction with Capital Metro, Austin Energy, Public Works, the Austin Parks Foundation, and parkland dedication dollars "that come from the adjacent development," will be provided a perpetuity of maintenance entirely at the expense of Cypress, something PARD Director Sarah Hensley considers "a win-win-win." It's being hailed as a template for the future, a welcome addition to a rapidly emerging neighborhood, and, according to MPT Cole's Chief of Staff Michael McGill, "a really unique situation ... we'd love to see repeated."
So would Daniel Woodroffe, president and founder of dwg., the Austin-based urban landscape architecture* firm hired to design Velasquez Park. "This is part of the emerging role that, I believe, what I'll call 'the citizens of Austin' need to start to play," he says. "Organizations like the Parks Foundation [of which he's a board member], along with public private partnerships, are able to creatively fund the operations and maintenance of parks without burdening the Parks Department further on their already strapped resources. The goal, amplified at Velasquez as a very real example, is that, with unanimous neighborhood and community support, and the willingness of a developer to change the mold a little bit, and the willingness of the Parks Department, you get a great new space that doesn't take down additional maintenance dollars."
Woodroffe acknowledges that arriving at a legally binding agreement for Velasquez's maintenance has "taken a long time to develop through city legal," making this type of partnership just as much of an administrative headache as any other P3, but its payoffs will prove more valuable. "If the operations and maintenance of Velasquez Park allows the PARD resources to focus more on another East Austin park, I'd say we've won," he says, and indeed PARD's involvement does not require any allocated funding. "It'd be a model that works, and we're sharing the burden."
The project does raise potential questions, such as, is it scalable to larger public areas, or effectively limited to small applications with public/private overlap? Will the private company's responsibility for the park effectively render it a private amenity for its own clients and customers, and not the public at large? Finally, would PARD, which under the contract assumes maintenance responsibilities should current Corazon ownership or its successors go bankrupt or otherwise fail, possess the future resources to take on another green space – one that, in that scenario, would presumably not come under city ownership in the most pristine condition? The answers to these questions could determine whether private partnerships are indeed an adequate solution to sustainable park resources, or simply a financial detour from permanent community obligations.
*In the original version of this story, we referred to the park as the Roy Velasquez Park. The proper name of the park is Roy and Matias Velasquez Plaza. In addition, we referred to dwg. as an "urban landscaping firm." The business is more accurately described as an urban landscape architecture firm.