Paying for Waller Creek
The flood-control tunnel, and the surface improvements such as parks and trails, are two separate projects, with separate funding strategies.
• The total budget was estimated at nearly $150 million as of late spring. This includes construction costs of $146.5 million and $3.25 million of bond money spent on preliminary reports. In June the city authorized another $5.6 million to keep work on the Waterloo Park inlet structure going while it resolved legal negotiations with the engineer and contractor about the building's design flaw.
• Most of the funding comes from the tax increment financing (TIF) reinvestment zone adopted in 2008 and lasting until 2028. In a TIF, the city estimates the increased property tax revenue that will result from improvements being made in a specific geographic area. It then dedicates a percentage of the additional tax revenue from the enhanced property values to the project, and can borrow against this future revenue to fund the improvements. An intergovernmental agreement between the city and the county establishes that the city will contribute 100% of its increment and Travis County 50%.
• Additional funding comes from a 1998 bond election, in which voters approved $25 million for the project.
• Operations and maintenance are paid for through an increase to the drainage fee, authorized in 2011. These costs currently represent 23 cents of the drainage charge.
• The Waller Creek Conservancy estimates the entire park and trail project – from 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake – will cost $220 million. The price tag for the first phase, which includes Waterloo Park, Palm Park, and the creek mouth, is estimated at just over $120 million.
• In 2012 Austin voters approved $13 million in Parks & Rec bonds for Waller Creek redevelopment.
• An additional $27.8 million from the Watershed Protection department is designated for the project.
• Parkland dedication fees from new residential development in the district will be channeled into improvements at the creekside parks. Currently $650 per dwelling, the fees will probably total several million dollars, says Marty Stump, assistant director at the city's Parks department.
• The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department awarded Waterloo Park an Urban Outdoor Recreation Grant in the amount of $849,518, which the Parks department matched with 2012 bond money.
• The conservancy's Meredith Bossin says the group has received "significant gifts from private donors."
• No policy obligates private developers along the creek to contribute to the surface improvements, but the conservancy's Melba Whatley notes that "they're our partners, just as the city's our partner. We want to establish a way in which they recognize that this work that's being done by volunteers and by the city, for the public space around their development, enhances their development enormously, and that in turn they have to contribute to help us create that space." The 38-story, $370 million Fairmont Austin hotel, under construction at Cesar Chavez and Red River and slated to open in 2017, will face Palm Park and connect to the Convention Center with a skybridge over the creek and Red River. Developer Manchester Texas Financial Group has already committed $750,000 to Palm Park improvements and the care of historic homes on the park's perimeter as a condition of the hotel's zoning approval. "We're going to be successful in our business and provide a lot for the city of Austin, but we also realize it's because of the location we're in," MTFG President Doug Manchester says. "We need to nourish that and respect that. It's everyone's collective responsibility to do our part."