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Planning Commission picks favorite Dougherty design option

Thursday, March 11, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission weighed in on preliminary design options for the relocated Dougherty Arts Center, adding an important recommendation to feedback already collected from other boards, commissions and community members.

The community arts center is currently located in an aging circa-1959 building at 1110 Barton Springs Road. “Dougherty is, as I’m sure everybody knows, in sore need of rehabilitation and needs a new space,” Commissioner Robert Schneider said. The new building at Butler Shores will replace two baseball fields.

The new facility will join the ZACH Theatre complex to create a unified arts district on some of the city’s most prominent parkland. The design team presented four potential building arrangements, shown below:

Photo courtesy city of Austin.

Commissioners voted unanimously to endorse option 1B – the choice of current Dougherty staff – but not without reservations.

The large amount of roads encircling green space proved a main sticking point. “It does seem like some of that green space is caught up in the middle of the traffic circle, which is just useless,” Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson said.

Kevin Johnson, project supervisor with Parks and Recreation, said option 1B, despite having more roads, actually has the most green space due to a lawn atop the underground parking garage.

Some commissioners were also uneasy about having the building close to the trail. Commissioner James Shieh recommended that the “architecture has to become part of the site versus dominate the site.”

Schneider preferred option 1B because it would “make things a little more grand” and would offer “pedestrian spaces and public spaces for art and gathering that are useful and are large enough to take us to when we have the next however many million people in Austin.” Shieh concurred, saying 1B, with its large promenade, would be more “iconic.”

By the end of March, preliminary plans will have received feedback from several boards and commissions. While the Design Commission couldn’t agree on the best option last month, it recommended that as much parkland as possible remain contiguous. Last week, the Environmental Commission expressed its preference for option 1A for its compact, clustered buildings set back from the trail. 

Johnson told the Austin Monitor that City Council will discuss next steps for the project soon, likely at its April 22 meeting. Final design will follow, and construction is scheduled between fall 2022 and spring 2024.

Photo by Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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