Parks board tries to negotiate impasse over use of Republic Square
Tuesday, October 1, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki
Managers of the weekly farmers market that has taken place at Republic Square since 2003 have expressed frustration that the Downtown Austin Alliance’s use of the space for special events has started to negatively impact some of the more than 60 vendors.
At last week’s meeting of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, a representative from the Sustainable Food Center, which manages the market, said the setup for DAA-managed events has caused occasional reconfiguration of vendors, which impacts their business and has caused some vendors to move to other markets.
The issue came up while the board was considering an amendment to the city’s agreement with the Austin Parks Foundation at Downtown Austin Parks LLC, the entity formed by DAA for its role in handling the maintenance and programming of Republic Square. The amendment didn’t specifically address closures of the property for special events, but the board voted unanimously to delay action on the amendment so that Sustainable Food Center and DAA can continue their talks regarding the impact of events on the popular market that attracts roughly 2,000 visitors each week.
“The increasing amount of disruptions are leading to impacts on the farmers’ sales and also causing some vendors after those displacements to choose not to come to the market for the following next couple of weeks,” said Adrienne Haschke, a director with Sustainable Food Center.
“We’ve seen that even if there’s not a full park closure there are other DAA-sponsored park events that will cause us to reorient the market and change where the vendor stalls are, and doing that quite frequently can confuse the customers.”
Part of the rift between the two entities comes from the fact that the contract for the market is administered through the city’s special events office, rather than directly with DAA, but the city has its own agreement with DAA that covers many aspects of the management of the park.
Last year City Council spent several meetings working out how many days the park should be allowed to close for revenue-generating special events, finally settling on 20 closures per year.
Haschke asked the board to push the city to reconsider that number, or to impose a limit on the number of Saturday events to minimize the impact on the market, which is estimated to bring in more than $1.7 million in revenue for local farmers each year.
Mandi Thomas, director of strategic partnerships for DAA, said the group has tried to move as many events as possible away from Saturdays, with 10 total over the past two years affecting the market.
Kim McNeeley, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, reminded the board multiple times that the amendment under consideration didn’t specifically relate to the number of closure dates. Staff noted that the one-month delay would also delay the city paying $14,000 to DAA to cover utilities and other expenses for the park.
Still, board members were concerned enough about the ongoing impact to delay the item and gave staff direction to help DAA and Sustainable Food Center come to an agreement, possibly through creating a new contract between the two that removes the special events office altogether.
“It seems to be (Downtown Austin Parks LLC) needs to have a direct relationship with SFC. If we’re going to send this amendment to Council I’d rather it be fully baked. It looked fully baked as it came in, but as we looked inside the middle it’s a little doughy. I want the agreement amongst the two,” Board Member Rich DePalma said.
“It feels like the revenue share should be with the partnership with DAA since they are doing the maintenance and operation of the park. They are vested in keeping Council and the board happy with the relationship they have with SFC, and it makes sense to be working something out so (the market) becomes an additional revenue stream for the maintenance.”
Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.
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