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Photo by Overland Architects via the city of Austin

Funding gaps, underground parking price tag plague DAC project

Friday, April 29, 2022 by Kali Bramble

The team behind the Dougherty Arts Center replacement project unveiled design plans for the Butler Shores facility to a room full of applause this past Monday. However, the mood following a parallel reveal at the Design Commission was not quite as celebratory.

Citing concerns over the project’s financing, the Design Commission postponed approval of the site in a 7-1 vote, with Commissioner Evan Tanaguchi against. Most alarming to the commission were plans for an underground parking garage that could cost up to $15 million, currently unaccounted for in the project’s $28 million budget.

“So, the parking garage is currently unfunded, but we’re building the Dougherty center on top of the parking garage,” Commissioner Samuel Franco said. “Until we figure out how to fund the rest of this project, we are quite literally building on air.”

Efforts to relocate the aging Dougherty Arts Center on Barton Springs Road have been underway since a 2010 assessment ruled the building beyond repair and at high risk of flooding. Voters approved bond funding for reconstruction in the 2012 and 2018 elections, and City Council approved its relocation between Parks and Recreation headquarters and the Zach Scott Theater in 2021

The new facility, designed by Studio 8 Architects and Overland Partners, would consist of two stories of art studios, classrooms, galleries, and theater spaces along with a rooftop terrace. With its transparent facades, open-air lobby spaces, balconies, and shaded courtyards, the building is designed to welcome the public, bridge indoor and outdoor spaces and overlook new and improved parkland to the west.

“The intention behind the design scheme was to maximize the amount of open park space and to create what could be considered an arts plaza,” PARD project manager Kevin Johnson said. “The DAC endeavors to be Austin’s cultural living room, and a hub of creativity.”

While commissioners lauded the facility’s above-ground design, they were less enthused about ramifications of its below-ground parking. Parking has been a contentious subject since the Butler Shore Park site approval in 2019. Neighborhood concerns over traffic on Toomey Road and environmental constraints pushed City Council to demand an underground parking solution that some deem prohibitively expensive.

The structure’s current plan accommodates only 130 parking spots, its capacity limited by Council Member Ann Kitchen’s direction to restrict garage access to Riverside Drive. 

“That’s $115,000 per parking spot,” Franco said, citing preliminary estimates from the city manager’s office. “We don’t even pay that much for affordable housing.”

Staff with the project responded that the parking schematic had changed since the preliminary estimates, but still acknowledged that there was a major gap in existing project funding. 

“We’ve been involved in conversations with the Transportation Department and the Budget Office to talk about a revenue-based model that could fund the garage via enterprise, and those conversations continue,” Johnson said. Still, a profitable model would require scaling up the garage’s dimensions, complicating efforts to shield Toomey Road from traffic and likely stirring up community backlash.

With their case postponed to next month’s meeting, the Dougherty Arts project team will take the next month to further strategize ways to close their funding gaps. In the meantime, those interested in a detailed rundown of the facility’s schematics can check out the community update, available to watch here.

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