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Design Commission gives feedback on Fiesta Gardens vision

Thursday, February 25, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

On Monday, the Design Commission reviewed plans for Fiesta Gardens, a city-owned events center in East Austin that is set to receive extensive renovations within the next two years. 

The venue, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, includes a dining hall, a grandstand overlooking Lady Bird Lake and a Parks and Recreation Department facility. Since the space became part of the park system in the late ’60s, it has hosted family reunions, quinceañeras, weddings, and larger events and festivals. 

The project includes a full interior and exterior renovation of the buildings, as well as new landscaping, sidewalks, street trees, and bike racks. The project will be completed in two phases. Below are plans for the full buildout. More detailed plans can be found here

Though the project is funded through the design phase only, Ellen Colfax with the parks department said that getting construction funds has been a “top priority.” The best bet for construction financing, she said, comes from the Hotel Occupancy Tax. No cost estimate has been released so far. 

At the meeting, Commissioner Jessica Rollason questioned how the facility will interact with the nearby Butler Hike and Bike Trail and wondered if new trails or points of access for the public, particularly along the lake, are in the plans. 

Project architect Marc Toppel said a new trail along the waterfront would not work. “We’re really trying to limit new development along the shoreline,” he said. Colfax said free public access to the venue would not work either, since it will stay fenced off. Opening the venue to the public when it is not rented would require more funding for PARD to staff it, she said.  

Commissioner Aan Coleman also worried about the facility’s relation to the surrounding public space. “I feel like the public realm – the access via sidewalks, even those parking pocket parks and bicycle racks – to me are woefully inadequate for the volume of visitors and just everyday use by the neighbors.”

Commissioner Evan Taniguchi wanted to make sure the renovated space still serves East Austin residents as it has for years. “Neighborhoods and the families who grew up in that area, should they have priority?” he asked. “Maybe they shouldn’t even have to pay anything.” 

Colfax said PARD does not plan to raise the facility’s rental prices after renovations. “It’s currently considered pretty affordable,” she said, “but that may make it more popular too.”

After the discussion, commissioners decided that the plans needed tweaking to better address concerns about the venue’s relation to the public realm and its compliance with the city’s Urban Design Guidelines.

The project will return to the Design Commission in the coming months once the project team addresses the commission’s concerns. 

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