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Tuesday, September 20, 2016 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin’s ‘big three’ parks to see fewer events

The number of festivals and large events at Austin’s highest-profile public parks could decrease in the coming years if City Council follows through on recommendations expected from the Parklands Events Task Force.

Shifting usage away from the city’s “big three” parks – Zilker Park, Auditorium Shores and Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach in Town Lake Metropolitan Park (or “Festival Beach”) – that tend to draw the most intense usage was one of the charges of the task force, which was formed in March 2015.

That goal shouldn’t alarm organizers of events such as the Austin City Limits Music Festival or the public concerts during South by Southwest, since the group supports reducing the event load in the urban core parks through attrition, meaning that new events would not be allowed to take up the event days freed up by gatherings that stop taking place.

The stated, though not final, goal of the group is to bring the annual number of Auditorium Shores events down from 25 to 17.

A likely new home for Fun Fun Fun Fest and other gatherings could lie in East Austin, as the task force roundly supports making Walter E. Long Metro Park, Bolm Road District Park, Onion Creek Metropolitan Park and Johnny Trevino Jr. Metropolitan Park more hospitable for events.

James Russell and David King, co-chairmen of the task force, told the Monitor that events organizers seem mostly unaware of those large parks that they said could be made hospitable for major gatherings with gradual infrastructure improvements. Those projects could be funded in part through any increases in parks usage fees that would result from a comprehensive study of the fee schedule at parks, to more accurately reflect the cost of events and other park activities.

King said the drive to decrease the use of the core parks is motivated by a combination of neighborhood considerations, traffic and the general wear and tear of thousands of people congregating for days at a time.

“Our parks are being loved to death, and so while focusing on the impact of Zilker, Auditorium Shores and Festival Beach, we also looked at other parks that could be utilized for more special events,” he said. “We are suggesting (the four East Austin parks) be considered as possible alternative sites by going through a review process – look at the kinds of events the community around them would like, and see what work would need to be done to get them ready.”

The task force has passed a number of individual recommendations that have been forwarded to City Council over the past 18 months, and it is also nearing completion of a comprehensive list of actions that could alter the social calendar of a city known for its events and festivals.

Other moves that could soon come up for Council consideration include creation of a standing committee to coordinate events at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, Palmer Events Center, Vic Mathias/Auditorium Shores and Butler Park as well as an increase in sustainability efforts at parks throughout Austin.

Individual recommendations that have already made it to Council include putting stricter limits on rentals of the property immediately surrounding the Long Center and asking for a study of the economic impact of events at all parks.

One politically loaded recommendation up for consideration at Tuesday’s task force meeting comes from task force member Rick Cofer, who suggested prohibiting event organizers and their related interests from providing Austin officials with free or reduced-cost passes to events in city parks.

That issue comes up at a potentially inopportune time for politically connected music fans, since Austin City Limits is less than two weeks away. If adopted in a hurry – the chances of which are exceedingly slim – Cofer’s motion would force anyone who had planned on getting gifted passes from promoter C3 Presents to venture over to StubHub or TicketCity to buy passes for the nearly sold-out three-day festival.

This story has been corrected. Though we initially reported that the recommendations could impact Fun Fun Fun Fest, due to its one-year hiatus from Auditorium Shores, that is not the case. Organizers have negotiated a 10-year agreement to host the festival at Auditorium Shores, starting in 2017.

Photo by SteveHopson at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14977004

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

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