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City unveils plans for upgrades to Festival Beach park area

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 by Kimberly Reeves

The city unveiled its first conceptual renderings of the 90-acre Festival Beach area on Monday night, taking care to emphasize the importance of public input.

 

Of the neighborhoods across the city, those on the East Side around Festival Beach and the decommissioned Holly power plant are some of the hardest to please with longest memories of how the city had failed them. Neighbors are vocal, and frequently mistrustful, even when the city is doing something on their behalf.

 

So the fact Monday night’s unveiling of the Festival Beach conceptual plan went so well probably speaks to how careful the Parks and Recreation Department and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates have been to gather input. On a night of high winds, the cafeteria at Metz Elementary was crowded with residents, many standing on chairs to get a better view of the renderings.

 

The group also was vocal in its feedback of what it liked. Judging by the applause, the neighborhood was especially pleased that the lagoon, described as “often stinky” would be filtered and joined with the fresh water lake. Neighbors also were pleased to see streets reconnected, wheelchair accessible paths added and baseball fields upgraded with land reclaimed from the power plant.

 

Architect Chris Matthews of MVVA, who ran through the plans with residents, said he was eager to see feedback on the proposals.

 

“I want to keep this quite brief because what we want to do is the same exercise as we have done before,” Matthews said. “I want you to make a comment on these stickies and stick them all over this plan. If you see a spot you really love, write on a stickie. If there’s something we missed in the plan, let us know that, too. That allows us to record all the comments in their specific locations.”

 

The series of sketches shows significant changes to the area around Festival Beach and the site of the former Holly Power plant.

 

More effort is put into capitalizing on the lagoon, which is often hard to see and lacks proper water flow back into Lady Bird Lake. Trenches are dug to improve circulation into the lake, a boat slip is added for access to the shore and the events pavilion is moved to minimize sound complaints from neighbors.

 

Fiesta Gardens is upgraded to be “a better version of itself,” Matthews said. Fences are taken down, trees are added and a city maintenance yard moved. New paving, new planting and more trees would open the area.

 

Park playgrounds, located between Fiesta Gardens and the ball fields, would be a focal point for the park. Matthews envisions an area that draws families to the park for various events and activities. A slope would be added to extend the park all the way down to the shore of the lagoon.

 

The nine-acre Holly plant site is incorporated into the area of the ball fields. That additional space will allow the addition of trees and park amenities. Two Austin Energy substations would remain on the site, but most of the land would be available for some type of public use.

 

Wetlands would be developed along the shoreline, Matthews said. Such efforts would create bird habitat on both sides of Lady Bird Lake. It also would help filtrate runoff water into the lake. The idea of steps down to the lake in this area also was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

 

Roads truncated by the Holly power plant site would be reconnected, providing better connectivity and about 250 street-side parking spaces for the area. The wall alongside Metz Park would come down, to be replaced by a mural across the street. Such moves would create more open space.  

 

And the trail, which has been soft and sometimes difficult to navigate through the area, would be upgraded. Part of the trail would still be easy for runners to use. But some type of upgraded trail through the area would make it easier to navigate wheelchairs and bikes also that portion of the trail. That drew applause from the audience, especially some of the older attendees.

 

Shuronda Robinson, who served as facilitator for Monday night’s discussion, asked for residents to answer three questions: Did the plan, as presented, reflect public feedback? How should the concepts be incorporated into a master plan? And how should public art be incorporated into the project?

 

Council reallocated Holly Good Neighbor Funds for park development back in 2009. The next step is a public review of a master plan, which is expected to happen sometime this summer.

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