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Waller Creek design to bring added value to urban space project

Wednesday, March 7, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The manager of the Waller Creek Conservancy design competition, which will produce a redesign of the 1.5-mile stretch of city parkland and urban space along Waller Creek in downtown Austin, assured Council members last week that the project is a sound investment.


The city partnered with the Waller Creek Conservancy in order to undertake the massive overhaul along the Waller Creek downtown corridor, kicking off the design competition late last year. Nine teams were chosen as semifinalists in late January, with the final four teams to be named in April. The conservancy will select a winning design in October.


Competition Manager Don Stastney said the money invested by the city would see a return of many times its original value.


“For every dollar that is spent on public realm improvements, we can guarantee – guarantee – four to seven times that amount coming back in private investment. And for something well done, we’ve been able to leverage that ratio up to 11 to 15 times,” said Stastney. “If we are able to put bond money into Waller Creek, that is going to have a bigger impact than just the creek itself.”


In terms of pacing, Stastney had some suggestions about how the project could best attract interest, confidence, and money from the onset.


“What we need to do is have the first phase not just kind of a fix-up, clean-up. It has to be a game changer. So it has to have a magnitude about it that will begin to make people… people being developers and others, take notice of what is going on,” said Stastney. “My sense is that you do a section of it very, very well to start out… as opposed to trying to spread money throughout the corridor from the very beginning. But there will be a need to have a major start to this of major kind of dollars which hopefully could be a combination of bond money as well as other monies that might come in from certain grants.”


In response to questions from Council Member Bill Spelman, Stastney said that the development of a public realm, such as the one envisioned at Waller Creek, can offer developers the kind of certainty they look for when deciding to build. He explained that an established investment in the city, and increased public engagement are the initial dominos that incentivize growth.


“I can honestly say today, that from what I’m hearing, this is the project that people are looking at around the nation,” said Stastney. “I think because there is this unique opportunity to change the face of a city through the design competition.”


“The ability to take this creek and build a district around it, and to be able to influence that and change the face of the city, that’s why it’s getting this kind of attention,” said Stastney.


The design competition is now in its second phase, and the field has been narrowed to 9 designers. So far, everything has proceeded on schedule, and the designers will be narrowed to four in mid-April, and announced on April 16.


The final winner will be announced October 16.


“This could truly be a transformative kind of project and the reason we’re going at it so methodically is really to find the right answers. Then we can start building from this point on,” said Stastney. “As we went through the initial part of this, we found out that people weren’t participating, for example, in the National Mall competition… because they were waiting for this. It’s pretty heavy stuff.”

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