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Photo by Pease Park Conservancy

Council OKs Pease Park public-private partnership

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

City Council on Thursday approved a public-private partnership between Pease Park Conservancy and the Parks and Recreation Department, making the conservancy the official private steward of the park.

Initially, the conservancy will oversee event programming, capital improvements and maintenance to Kingsbury Commons, a 7-acre section of the park that has undergone extensive renovation. As the rest of the improvements outlined in the park’s 2014 Vision Plan get built, the conservancy will also take over maintenance and programming for those areas. In the meantime, PARD, which still owns the 84-acre park, will remain in charge of most maintenance. The park, established in 1913 on land donated by Texas Governor E.M. Pease, is one of the oldest in Austin. 

Public-private partnerships are a common way to leverage private donations for public parks. Many prominent parks and trails in the city have nonprofit stewards, such as the Trail Foundation, Waterloo Greenway and Shoal Creek Conservancy, that make plans, fund improvements, conduct maintenance and program events.

The $15 million Kingsbury Commons project is scheduled to open in June. According to the conservancy, improvements include:

repurposing of the Tudor Cottage as a community gathering space with new terraced seating, a unique nature play area, a state-of-the-art water play feature, an innovative treescape, safe and inviting park gateways, an improved basketball court and baseball field, a new volunteer plaza, enhanced restrooms, a new bocce court and numerous new native plantings

The signature element is the Tree House, a large sphere with a net that suspends visitors 15 feet above the ground. The improvements, Mayor Steve Adler said, are “mind-blowing.” 

The public-private partnership will also allow the conservancy to hold private events in the park occasionally, which would close certain sections to the public. Council Member Kathie Tovo wanted to ensure that the park would remain as open to the public as possible during events.

“When we enter into these use agreements with a private partner, I want to be sure that we know exactly when and how much of the park space can be cordoned off at various times of the year for private use,” Tovo said.

“The trails will always be open,” PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley said, “and there will always be at least some access to the park at all times.” 

The areas that could be rented out include the Historic Tudor Cottage and adjacent patio, the park’s picnic tables and the Tree House.

All funds from events will go directly into park improvements and maintenance. The only event that will close off most of the park is Eeyore’s Birthday Party, an annual spring festival with body painting, drum circles, music and food vendors. The conservancy will also provide many free public events such as family activities and all-ages nature-based programming.

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