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Parks board embraces plans for Republic Square

Friday, May 26, 2017 by Sommer Brugal

Ten years after Austin first announced its vision for the remodeling of Republic Square, the space is finally set to make its debut in the heart of downtown Austin this fall.

Mandi Thomas, the partnership and development director of the Downtown Austin Alliance, presented the park’s 2017 Management Plan to the Parks and Recreation Board Tuesday night. Her presentation discussed the park’s history, ongoing management and vision for the park, and financial estimations.

The presentation was met with eagerness from various board members, including Vice Chair Richard DePalma.

“The only thing I want to say is I’m so excited about (the park),” DePalma said. “It’s going to be a fantastic asset.”

According to Thomas, the newly renovated park will be like no other in Austin. Republic Square, which will be managed by Downtown Austin Parks LLC, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, will include daily programming, native landscaping, modern amenities and a full-service cafe that will offer breakfast, lunch, beer and wine.

Despite new features, though, Thomas said the improvements aim to preserve the park’s rich history.

“At different times throughout history, Republic Square was referred to as Mexican Park or Guadalupe Park,” Thomas said, “(and) we want to make sure we’re telling that story to the generations today that may not know the significance of the park.”

To highlight those stories, the Downtown Austin Alliance partnered with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to dive deeper into the park’s history.

Thomas said three themes – or stories – emerged from their research: Austin’s Birthplace, Austin’s Tex-Mex Revolution, which began with Walker’s Austex Chili Company, and the city’s strong cultural ties to its Mexican and Catholic populations.

Not only do the stories properly depict the park’s origin, they also help define future programming, a task assigned to the Program and Events Advisory Group. Thomas said the group’s goal is to develop a multicultural, multigenerational and all-inclusive program plan.

To support the park’s programming efforts, the Downtown Austin Alliance is working with a number of potential partners. Sustainable Food Center, Austin Parks Foundation, Austin Community College and Thinkery are among the organizations listed.

According to Thomas, the park’s programming vision includes both passive programming and active programming.

Passive programming, she said, is designed to cultivate interaction on a day-to-day basis and includes everything from free Wi-Fi at a park cafe to an art sculpture or mobile reading library. Active programming, however, refers to a series of events, like fitness classes and cultural celebrations.

The park’s design offers an added benefit for future programming as well, as it provides the ability to divide and rent various “zones” for events without closing off the entire space. The park’s five zones available for rent range in size from a space called the Grove, containing 1,500 usable square feet, to the Central Lawn, which offers 17,625 usable square feet.

A closed park, or one with zero accessibility to it, is meant for ticketed and invite-only events. Despite the ability to offer such events, the Downtown Austin Alliance is requesting the number of full-park closures be limited to just 20 days per year.

According to Thomas, the park’s first-year operating budget is $730,942. The budget also supports an enhanced operations and services management plan that includes services such as landscape maintenance, waste management and additional contract services, like electrical or plumbing needs, for example. Thomas said these services help ensure the park is safe, well maintained and comfortable for daily users.

Today, Republic Square is the result of a partnership between the city of Austin, Austin Parks Foundation and Downtown Austin Alliance. Thomas said the three entities came together in 2015 to establish a public-private partnership to develop the plan and vision she discussed.

“The idea (was) that we want to preserve the space and enhance the space,” said Thomas.

Thomas said construction is expected to finish by this summer, with the anticipated opening of Republic Park slated for this fall.

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin.

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