The Austin Chronicle

Downtown Puzzle: Waller Creek’s Chain of Parks

What’s happened already with the ambitious park and trail project, and what might happen next

By Robyn Ross, September 22, 2017, News

The Waller Creek park and trail project stretches from 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake and is managed by the nonprofit Waller Creek Conservancy, which estimates the project's total cost at $230 million. Funds already accrued include $13 million in Parks & Recreation bonds approved by voters in 2012, some of which has been spent on design work for Waterloo and Palm parks; $27.8 million from the Watershed Protection Department, most of it earmarked for projects where the creek meets Lady Bird Lake; and almost $850,000 from the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's Urban Outdoor Recreation grant program, which will go toward Waterloo Park construction. In addition, future parkland dedication fees from several planned residential developments along the creek will be directed to park improvements.

The nearly completed tunnel between 12th Street and Lady Bird Lake diverts water from Waller Creek during floods, lifting 28 acres of Downtown land out of the floodplain and making it ripe for development. The tunnel has been paid for through a tax increment financing (TIF) zone, and City Council is considering whether to extend the TIF's length from 2028 to 2041 and direct its funds to park and trail construction. These changes would generate $110 million for the park system, to be matched by philanthropic donations secured by the Waller Creek Conservancy. Council will also consider establishing a public improvement district or other mechanism in which properties that benefit from the parks fund their maintenance.

The Conservancy broke ground this week on $64 million in improvements to Waterloo Park, including the 5,000-seat Moody Amphitheater funded by a $15 million grant from the Moody Foundation. Planning is underway for phase two of the project, which includes Palm Park and the stretch of trail between Fourth Street and Waller Delta at Lady Bird Lake.

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