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Photo by Jo Clifton

Approval of Prop B allows for potential land swap between city, Oracle

Wednesday, November 3, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

Voters strongly approved a ballot proposal Tuesday that allows the city to begin the process of trading a small piece of parkland for a much larger parcel, along with receiving other significant financial commitments from technology company Oracle, which recently relocated its headquarters to Austin.

As of late Tuesday night, Proposition B was winning with 87,152 votes in favor to 31,664 votes against. Voter approval was required for the proposed deal because the public has to OK any transfer of parkland, in this case 9 acres on South Lakeshore Boulevard that currently serve as the home of a maintenance complex for the Parks and Recreation Department.

The Oracle campus sits just to the west of the park property that is expected to be used for the company to expand its local footprint.

Per the ballot proposal, in return the eventual recipient of the parkland would have to give the city 48 acres of waterfront land that has to be next to a current public park; pay for or build a new maintenance facility for PARD on a different piece of city land; and partially or fully pay for the removal of the maintenance facility at Fiesta Gardens and its restoration to parkland.

The 48-acre property identified to complete the deal, which will soon be put out for a request for bids, is located inside John Treviño Jr. Metropolitan Park and is currently the location of Driveway Austin Motorsports. The bidder for the parkland would need to have that parcel under contract for the deal to be considered for completion.

Mark Littlefield, a consultant with the Grow Austin Parks political action committee that supported Prop B, said Oracle was told it would have to “overpay with a strong offer” for the public to support the land deal.

“Austinites have always believed that parkland is sacred and not something that should be traded, sold or leased, or otherwise taken from the public unless there is something of great value that is returned,” he said. “This allows the city to start a process for a bid to be submitted for the 9 acres on Lakeshore Boulevard, and outlines the minimum requirements to do so.”

Oracle provided $250,000 toward the PAC’s funding, representing almost its entire budget for the campaign.

Littlefield said the land swap will potentially let PARD bring new activities such as road races and farmers markets to the park area.

“If Prop B had not passed, that 48 acres was going to be lost to development. Anytime you can secure this much land that already has infrastructure on it, has utilities on it and is along the river, you have to grab it,” he said. “The good news is it’s not going to sit there unused for a great length of time because the track is there and the utilities are there and it can be put to use almost immediately for Austinites.”

Parks supporter Ted Siff said his early reaction to a potential loss of parkland was to vote against it, but after examining the proposed minimum requirements he became a supporter.

“I would always be interested in a vote to alienate parkland, and obviously my first take on anything like that would be no. Once I learned about it, it’s the exception that proves the rule because it’s a good deal for all concerned, including the voters,” he said. “The 9 acres have never been used as parkland in any way, so it’s almost been that way thanks to a clerical error of some kind.”

Siff said the acquisition of the property in Treviño Park will let the parks department conduct a more extensive master planning process for the area, with City Council having control over approving the bids and deal structure as well as any development Oracle proposes for the 9-acre parcel.

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