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Task force report recommends moving popular events to different parks

Tuesday, December 13, 2016 by Chad Swiatecki

Parks facilities in East Austin are likely to become host sites for a variety of large events in the coming years as the city looks to reduce the event schedule at its major urban core parks.

A move toward utilization of parks such as Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park and Onion Creek Memorial Park is one of the many recommendations in the final report from the city’s Parklands Events Task Force, which was formed in 2015 to prescribe ways to balance out park uses and minimize the wear and tear caused by large gatherings such as the Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park.

The report will be presented Wednesday to City Council’s Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee, and its recommendations are expected to be taken up, one by one, by appropriate departments of the city government.

David King and James Russell, co-chairs of the task force, said Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley has started work on an implementation plan for the actions recommended in the final report, but that plan is not yet available for review.

The contents of the final report are largely in line with a preliminary slate of recommendations made public in September. Noteworthy items include a call for a master plan for events at four East Austin parks, promotion of environmentally friendly practices during events, a study of possible fee increases to reflect the impact events have at parks and the transition of some long-standing events – such as the KGSR Blues on the Green concert series – away from Zilker Park in coming years.

Other events recommended for relocation include the Zilker Relays, the Urban Music Festival, the Austin Food & Wine Festival, Austin Pride, the Cap Tex Tri Triathlon and the Tri Rock Triathlon.

The most substantial section of the report focuses on the impact of events to parks and surrounding neighborhoods. Several actions would lessen or reroute car and pedicab traffic, add more scrutiny to sound impacts and streamline the setup and tear-down processes for stages and other event infrastructure.

King said the year-plus of hearings and input sessions the task force held to generate and finalize the report should keep anyone from being surprised by its final form.

“There will be questions and some decisions to be made where people will to have figure out a different way to go about conducting their business,” he said. “Some others will have concerns, but I don’t think there’s anything they can call unreasonable or untenable.”

The co-chairs also stressed that residents around the four East Austin parks designated as spots for future use will be heavily involved in determining which improvements need to be made and which events will make the most sense for their communities.

The master plans for those parks would have to be funded through a budget amendment on the current city budget or included in the next budget cycle.

“That part of the process is important. When you look at alternate sites, you have to ask questions about what types of events and how many of them make sense,” King said. “Who am I to say what goes where? We want to bring the events there that folks want, and make sure they’re part of any decision that’s made.”

Photo by Steve Hopson made available through a Creative Commons license.

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