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Brush Square Master Plan gets wholehearted approval from HLC

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Brush Square may be the least memorable of the four original squares designed as part of the 1839 Waller Plan. Today, thanks to a new master plan, that may be about to change.

Kim McKnight, a planner with the Parks and Recreation Department, came to the Feb. 25 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission to present the Brush Square Master Plan, which has swept through the commissions with glowing approval. The master plan is set to go before Council this month for final approval.

If Council approves the design, McKnight said there are some immediate improvements that the city will implement. “We do have funding for design development for that phase one,” she told the commission.

Increased security and visibility are among those improvements; McKnight described the security issues at Brush Square as “very real.” In phase one of the plan, additional lighting will be installed and lines of sight around the park will be increased to allow for safe passage around the square and the surrounding streets.

Commissioner Kevin Koch expressed his support of prioritizing safety, especially as the park becomes a more appealing place to visit. “My main concern would be overnight security,” he said. “An attractive place can become an attractive place for the wrong reasons.”

In addition to increasing safety, the first phase includes more trees, relocating parking spaces and constructing a water feature at the southeast entry. The total cost for this initial phase will run $3.1 million.

Phase two, McKnight explained, will bring even more cultural relevancy to the square and remove the parking lot entirely. This, however, is contingent upon relocating the downtown central fire station. While there are currently no plans for relocating the fire station, McKnight said it was an eventuality that the station would be relocated to a state-of-the-art facility more in line with the needs of the growing city. Once that occurs, the old fire station is slated to be transformed into a visitors center.

The total cost of phase two is expected to be $2.7 million.

McKnight explained that this master plan was created in “a very dynamic planning context” and took into consideration Capital Metro’s efforts to improve the downtown Red Line station, the conversion of East Fifth Street into a two-way, the public restroom pilot, the Austin Convention Center Long-Range Master Plan, and the Waller Creek District Master Plan.

“There are a lot of different things happening in this district,” she said.

In a show of support for the effort to revitalize one of the historic squares, the Historic Landmark Commission recommended the plan unanimously for approval with commissioners Emily Reed and Emily Hibbs absent. The Parks and Recreation Board also recommended the plan unanimously at its Feb. 26 meeting with Chair Jane Rivera absent and Commissioner Michael Casias away from the dais.

Photo by Jack Craver.

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