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Council moves to preserve downtown’s open spaces

Friday, June 6, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The City Council has taken the first step towards developing a plan for the parks, open spaces, and historic landmarks in downtown Austin. Council members voted unanimously Thursday to direct the City Manager’s office to develop a cost estimate for a long-term plan for downtown’s outdoor facilities.


Council Members are concerned that those locations are not being adequately utilized or marketed. They hope that by including a segment within the new Downtown Austin Plan, called the Downtown Open Spaces Plan, the city can convert under-utilized spaces into major downtown attractions.


“We really ought to put some effort behind a project to make this area even better, so people not only want to come here, they feel safe here, and there’s something to draw them to this area,” said Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley during a presentation in front of the Susanna Dickinson House.


While renovations will begin on the Susanna Dickinson House this summer, Dunkerley noted that many other downtown historic homes and buildings are in much worse condition. “They really present a not very safe impression to not only our residents, but visitors,” she told the Council during Thursday’s meeting. “So one of the things we’ll be requesting is a condition report…and teeing this up for the next bond election, some cost estimates on the renovation and restoration of those historic buildings.”


The Council also wants to look at the parks and open spaces within downtown. “A lot of tourists come to Austin, and they actually can not find or do not know about our downtown parks and all that they have to offer,” said Council Member Sheryl Cole, “so we want to have more in them to attract tourists”


There is a natural connection between those downtown parks and historic preservation, said Council Member Lee Leffingwell. “The four squares were part of the original plat of this city back in 1839,” he said. “They still survive today, and now we want them to thrive. The Downtown Plan process gives us a golden opportunity to re-invigorate Republic, Wooldridge, Waterloo, and Brush Squares to make sure that those who follow us know their heritage and their history. And at the same time we’ll preserve additional spaces for all these new residents who will live in all these new condos we’re building here downtown.”


Council Members would also like to see improved signage and markings of historical locations in downtown to assist visitors and residents. Dunkerley predicted that the cost of new signs, the renovation of historic homes, and a new plan for parks and open space could be offset by increased tourism downtown resulting from those improvements.


“What we’ve tried to do is look at how we can incorporate some of these plans into the current funding situation. I believe that both Waterloo Park and Palm Park, we can roll into the Waller Creek Plan. The rest of these historic parks, we could roll into the Downtown Plan. That may require some additional funding,” Dunkerley said. “We have a lot of players, people that are either willing to put up time or money…I’m going to be looking for funding.”


The Downtown Austin Alliance, Austin Parks Foundation, and the Heritage Society of Austin will be key partners in that effort. The Heritage Society is committing $100,000 to help restore another historic home in downtown Austin, the Castleman-Bull House on Red River. “We’re providing some seed money here on the private side to move this plan forward,” said Heritage Society President John Donisi.

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