The final opportunity for public comment on reducing the off-leash area at Auditorium Shores is happening Tuesday night, October 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Dougherty Arts Center. More info here.
Story is from the Austin Post, http://www.austinpost.org/outdoors/dogs-be-banned-auditorium-shores-lawn
It’s been heralded in the Statesman, the Chronicle, the Daily Texan, on KUT and on local TV news as the greatest thing since F1 came to town: C3, the concert promoter that puts on ACL Fest, recently donated $3.5 million to the City of Austin for the restoration of Auditorium Shores. All but one report failed to mention, however, that C3’s plans mean that the current use of the park’s six-acre lawn as an off-leash dog park will end. In fact, when the lawn re-opens, dogs will no longer be allowed on it at all – on or off the leash. Dogs at the park will be relegated to a narrow corridor along the waterfront, west of their current access.
Although the park is known for events like Fun Fun Fun Fest, it is used for events just over 5 percent of the year. The rest of the time, for thousands of dog owners, Auditorium Shores is the premiere amenity in the city. Its wide lawn with access to Lady Bird Lake has provided one of the few designated off-leash areas in Austin for decades.
While C3’s gift is sorely needed, these changes are unwelcome and shocking to some dog owners, who have mostly heard about them by word of mouth because the media has focused on praising C3 for providing the funds for improvements to the dog park without detailing the actual plan.
Anyone who has watched the formerly green park lawn turn into six acres of hardscrabble dirt during the current drought is likely to assume that “improvements to the dog park” mean that the dog park will be improved. In reality, they are losing half the acreage of the current site—a wide, rectangle of uninterrupted lawn—and trading it for a narrow space along the water. At C3’s request, once restored, the lawn will be completely off-limits to dogs and will not be replaced by any comparable open space.
Of those dog owners who have caught wind of the change, the clear majority are unhappy. At two meetings so far—a small gathering of 20 dog owners at the park in July and an angry gathering of 60 just last week—the feedback has been overwhelmingly negative from dog owners, who are the majority users of the Auditorium Shores park for the over-300 days of the year when there are no events. Parks Department staff is playing defense, saying that dog owners should have known that restriction from the lawn was imminent.
True, improving waterfront access for dogs has been planned for over ten years. A seemingly endless paradeof public design processes, stakeholder committees and architectural competitions have each identified moving water access west and adding dog-friendly features as key park upgrades—always assuming, however, that such improvements would be additions to the off-leash lawn, not a replacement of it.
Public Planning at the Speed of Private Business
So, if these plans have been around so long, how has this new development managed to take dog owners (to say nothing of event planners) by surprise? It’s a long, convoluted tale that starts with a bond election in 1998 that approved funding for four stages of redevelopment to the Palmer Events Center-Auditorium Shores area. Stages and I and II went forward, and we got the whimsical, though half-realized, Butler Park and the parking garage along Barton Springs Road.
Stage III was set for Auditorium Shores to see a host of improvements including irrigation, new turf and mitigation of the awkward intersection between the hike-and-bikers heading east–west on the trail and the off-leash dogs running north–south from lake to lawn. Most plans for the area posited moving the trail and expanding the lawn area by closing Riverside Drive, but that was not to be. With the majority of the features proposed in Stages I and II still not built, the City announced in 2003 that there was not enough money to execute any more of the master plan that voters had approved.
(What happened to the cash from car rental taxes, which was supposed to be filling coffers daily? The City said it needed the money to pay salaries for the operation of Palmer. However, critics—who include a broad coalition from neighborhood activists to former city council members to designers of the park itself—point to millions in bonuses paid to City employees in the department that manages Palmer. No other City employees are eligible for such bonuses, over $5 million of which have been paid out from the rental-car fund since 2001.)
As controversy roiled over Butler Park, Palmer and Auditorium Shores, years ticked by and park improvements waited. And waited. In the meantime, event attendance, city population and, most importantly, daily use of downtown parks, has skyrocketed. Enter C3, which has built its events empire by leveraging city parks, events that have drawn over $150 million per year in business to Austin. Rather than suffer through another year of hosting events on dusty Auditorium Shores, C3 chose to step up and offer to fulfill the park’s master plan—with one change: no dogs allowed on the Auditorium Shores lawn.
As a C3-backed project, the redevelopment is now proceeding at lightning speed compared to any other development on city land in living memory. C3’s gift was announced less than six months ago, public input is still being collected and impact studies are still being done, but construction on the waterfront dog park is set to begin this month, and bids for the construction are already out.
As noted above, several events that use Auditorium Shores—most notably Fun Fun Fun Fest (which is not a C3 event)—have been forced to scramble to relocate. This is public planning at the speed of private business. While public-private partnerships are necessary, and C3 is a valuable partner—rivaling SXSW in its contribution to business revenue citywide and contributing over $12 million to their venues/our parks since 2006—it is worth asking whether it isproper to so heavily favor one small, private businesswith directing the development and allowed uses of our city’s premiere public parks. Are Zilker’s Great Lawn and Auditorium Shores still Austin parks, or are they really venues that we are allowed to use when the stages are broken down?
One wonders, too, about the off-leash dog park on the Great Lawn, where C3’s ACL Fest is held and where they have donated millions for restoration and upkeep of the lawn. If dogs are okay for Zilker, why not for Auditorium Shores? Or will it turn out to be just the opposite: once C3 succeeds in moving dogs off of the Auditorium Shores lawn, can Zilker’s Great Lawn be far behind?
If you’re itching to make your voice heard on this matter, the last opportunity for public comment is happening Tuesday night, October 8, at 6:30 p.m. at the Dougherty Arts Center. Or, you could always email city staff, the Parks Foundation, the Parks and Rec board, or C3.