Zilker Revamp Plan Dead in the Water(shed)

Mayor Kirk Watson calls it off

Showcasing a plan for Zilker back in 2022 (Photo by John Anderson)

After a rapid series of events over the weekend, the controversial and years-in-the-making Zilker Master Plan "will not be on the August 31st City Council agenda, and there is no plan to bring it before the Austin Mayor and Council in the future," according to Mayor Kirk's Watson Wire Monday afternoon. The announcement marks the apparent conclusion of a bitter fight over the plan, during which opponents waged a sometimes misleading campaign to convince the public that the plan would lead to the privatization of Zilker, while not doing as much as it could to preserve it as Austin's most beloved and prestigious green space.

The plan sparked debate over several important issues, but misinformed arguments spread more widely than informed ones this spring. Concerns that ACL's parent company C3 Presents would receive revenues from paid parking and that the nonprofit model would allow Zilker to get disproportionate amounts of money to the detriment of other parks were unfounded, per our reporting. Another argument, that building a new amphitheatre with greater capacity would harm the environment, ignored that the plan moved the existing amphitheatre out of the Barton Creek watershed and would have restored at least 2 acres to woodland. But the presumptive nonprofit partner, Zilker 351, did include an organization that receives a majority of its funding from C3, and community concerns about biasing development to benefit C3 have persisted. In April, the Environmental Commission voted to recommend removing the nonprofit element of the plan, but the whole megillah was due to come to Council at that Aug. 31 meeting.

Last week, documentary filmmaker Steve Mims premiered his 17-minute exposé, "Zilker, Inc: The Plan to Monetize a Natural Treasure," produced in conjunction with some of the ZMP's fiercest critics, including Save Our Springs' Bill Bunch and Rewilding Zilker Park's Robin Rather (both of whom also serve in leadership positions on the Zilker Neighborhood Association). On Friday Mims sent out a press release announcing that the film was on YouTube. The next day it was removed, due to a copyright claim by Design Workshop, the consultants hired by the city to produce the ZMP. By Sunday it was back up, with two images removed (Mims claims he's in the right, but won't bother fighting it), and scathing press releases from both Mims and Bunch. And on Monday, in quick succession, Council Members Ryan Alter, Zo Qadri, and Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis sent out a joint press release saying they wouldn't support the plan, and Watson sent out his final dictum, indicating that planning will resume and will include some elements of the plan that have general consensus (likely not the amphitheatre or parking garages). He concluded, "This plan wasn't the right course and it's time for it to be ended. I'm grateful the Interim City Manager has stopped this process." You can watch the film at youtu.be/5NwJLvfPsYE.

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