Council Backs Parkland Preservation in Vote for New Dougherty Arts Center Site

Austin's oldest community arts venue would relocate to new facility in Butler Shores' southeast corner

Council's approved site plan, dubbed Option 1A, clusters the new DAC facility closer to the other buildings that share Butler Shores Park, including the ZACH Scott Theatre and the Parks and Recreation Department's main office, with an underground parking garage beneath the new DAC's footprint. (images courtesy of City of Austin)

The Dougherty Arts Center's new pad is one step closer to its long-awaited Butler Shores Park homecoming, following City Council's unanimous approval of the DAC's site plan. Funded by $25 million from a 2018 city bond proposition, the new DAC is moving out of its beleaguered facility on Barton Springs Road, now more than a decade after a 2010 conditions assessment first deemed the converted Naval Reserve Station as "beyond repair." In 2019 Council approved the DAC's relocation to the nearby city-owned parkland, a high-profile site off of Lady Bird Lake that also happens to pose several design constraints, with underground utility easements, lease boundaries, and heritage oak trees.

However, Council's pick last week wasn't the scenario preferred by city staffers working on the DAC's redevelopment. One of the four potential site plans put together by the project's design team, Studio8 Architects and Overland Partners, the approved Option 1A envisions Austin's oldest community arts venue in a new facility just west of the Zach Theatre in Butler Shores' southeast corner, with a new three-level underground parking garage beneath it. The preferred choice of the Parks and Recreation Department, Option 1B, proposed a very different location: adjacent to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail that bounds Butler Shores to its north. That would place the DAC in Butler Shores' northwest corner as the visual terminus for West Riverside Drive, and a two-level underground garage would be built under parkland closer to the Zach.

In Option 1B preferred by PARD staff, the DAC is adjacent to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail and catty-corner from the ZACH. That plan proposed a two-level underground parking garage built under parkland closer to Toomey Rd.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, whose Dis­trict 5 includes Butler Shores, championed Option 1A at Council's meeting on Thursday, May 20. The plan minimizes the DAC's footprint by clustering the buildings that share the Butler Shores space, like PARD's headquarters, a midcentury mod­ern building eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Option 1A also preserves more green space and avoids additional impervious cover on parkland, said Kitchen. To the buildings' west – where two Austin ISD softball fields now stand – would be open parkland stretching south from the trail to a small surface parking lot on Toomey Road.

“We need to be preserving every square foot of green space in the central city that we can.” – Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch

Along with the Zilker Neighborhood Association and the owner's association of the Barton Place condominiums across Toomey, the Save Our Springs Alliance supported Option 1A. SOS attorney Bobby Levinski and Executive Director Bill Bunch urged CMs to forgo 1B on the grounds that 1A did a "better job" of preserving a greater amount of parkland and green space along Lady Bird Lake.

"We need to be preserving every square foot of green space in the central city that we can," said Bunch. Austin ranks 37th on the Trust for Public Land's 2020 ParkScore index evaluating park access and quality in the 100 largest U.S. cities. (The 2021 ParkScore index results will be released today, May 27.)* "Then certainly, as our central city population skyrockets, we need to be figuring out how to add green space rather than pave it."

In February, the Council-appointed Parks and Recreation Board endorsed PARD's preferred 1B, but changed its mind a month later, with members explaining that Winter Storm Uri, among other reasons, impacted their ability to make a considered decision. As it recommended 1A instead, the board cited concerns about 1B's potential impact on parkland space, as did the city's Environmental Commission.

Despite PARD's early preference for Option 1B, PARD Executive Director Kim­ber­ly McNeeley told Council the department was "very amenable" to Option 1A after Kitchen's motion to approve it. Her motion also directs city staff to include in the site's traffic impact analysis (TIA) the goal to reduce auto traffic on Toomey. Austin Transportation Depart­ment's Curtis Beat­ty told Council the TIA will analyze the impact of DAC events on local traffic, as well as simultaneous events at the DAC and the Zach Theatre. According to PARD's project manager Kevin Johnson, the department has secured an agreement to reserve some parking spaces for PARD and DAC staff at the nearby Schlotzsky's redevelopment on Lamar. Construction on the new DAC is expected to begin in late 2022.

*Editor’s note: Austin ranks 45th on the Trust for Public Land’s 2021 ParkScore index; check out the full ranking here.

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Dougherty Arts Center, Butler Shores Park, Ann Kitchen, Studio8 Architects, Overland Partners, Parks and Recreation Department, Kimberly McNeeley, Bobby Levinski, Zilker Neighborhood Association, Barton Place condominiums, Save Our Springs Alliance, Bill Bunch, Curtis Beatty, Austin Transportation Department, Kevin Johnson, Zach Theatre, Trust for Public Land, ParkScore index

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