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Dougherty arts center

City seeks input to tee up Dougherty redevelopment at Butler Shores

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Voters will decide in November if the city will receive bond funds to build a replacement for the Dougherty Arts Center, but a public forum next week is intended to give city leaders input on their plan to build a new arts center on Butler Shores.

The open house, 5:30 p.m. next Thursday at Dougherty at 1110 Barton Springs Road, is the next move in what could be a three-year process to open a new space for local artists in a roughly $25 million facility that would have around one-third more square footage than the current building.

Housed in a naval reserve building constructed in 1947, the Dougherty has long been identified as being beyond its useful life. Its position in a flood plain and atop a landfill make it impossible, according to multiple city assessments, to be renovated or modernized.

A 2010 report estimated that rehabilitating the site would cost $6.9 million and could prove hazardous. “No ‘substantial improvements’ to the existing building, as defined by the building code, would be permitted in order to ensure that no proposed rehabilitation would result in either an increase in the existing risk to public health and safety posed by the building itself, or an increase in the corresponding risk to property,” it says. “Accordingly, any permissible rehabilitation would by code have to include significant improvements to the flood resistance of the building.”

A 2015 assessment of possible redevelopment sites looked at the feasibility of rehabilitating the current facility, building a new center on the other side of Dawson Road from where Dougherty currently sits, or using the Butler Shores property behind ZACH Theatre that currently features athletic fields. The third option has been agreed upon as the only site under consideration for the 36,000-square-foot center that will add space for classrooms, a small second theater, and more arts and crafts uses than what is provided currently.

Kevin Johnson, a project manager for the Parks and Recreation Department leasing the Dougherty redevelopment, said lack of modern heating and cooling and the presence of hazardous materials combined with spaces not designed for arts uses make the creation of a new arts center long overdue.

“The setup for the theater at DAC is problematic for arts groups in the way they have to load in and load out, and there are inadequate spaces for what they want to accomplish there,” he said. “The studio spaces could be better designed to be more flexible and accommodate multiple uses, and retrofitting an old naval building is a bit inflexible because it was designed for a military shell.”

Johnson said if the bond election is successful, PARD would open a request for qualifications for a design firm to draw plans for the new building, with completion coming approximately three years from this fall. There is currently no timetable for when or how the old Dougherty building would be decommissioned.

Laura Esparza, manager of the History, Arts and Nature Division for PARD, said the Dougherty’s lack of space has created an ongoing shortage of space for students young and old, with long waiting lists for children’s programs and more for more than a decade.

“There has always been a waiting list for registration for programs for the last 11 years, and currently our waiting list for child programs was 376 children waiting to get in,” she said. “Most of our adult programs fill up and sell out as well. Moreover our crisis is about the need for theater space, rehearsal space and studio space. These are the kinds of facilities we would like to provide in the new DAC.”

Arts and theater groups throughout the city are increasingly feeling the pinch of inadequate space as previously affordable venues and studio facilities increase their rents or face redevelopment pressure.

Adding more space to the city’s major arts center will ease some of the pent-up demand there, but it is unlikely to provide much relief for the larger arts community, said John Riedie, chief executive officer of Austin Creative Alliance.

“It’s hard to get into because it’s packed, and every time there is some space open it’s gone in a flash,” he said.

“Even if Dougherty becomes twice the size of the current one, there’s still a huge hole in the market. There’s almost bottomless demand for this kind of space, and as soon as anything comes up it’s taken, so no, the Dougherty is not going to fill in that need. But it will add some capacity to a situation where we’re still very short.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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