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ACL Fest announces $369M economic impact, $6.7M parks donation

Wednesday, May 11, 2022 by Chad Swiatecki

Austin City Limits Music Festival released the results of its annual local economic impact study on Tuesday, the same day it announced the lineup for this year’s two-weekend event that takes place in Zilker Park each October.

The study, conducted by AngelouEconomics, put the economic impact of last year’s festival at $369 million, a number that was initially publicized at $345 million but was updated later to correct a “calculation error.” That total was stated as being equivalent to more than 3,500 full-time jobs for the local economy, with the festival accounting for more than $2.6 billion in economic activity since its organizers began tracking business impact data in 2006.

Also Tuesday, the Austin Parks Foundation announced it has received $6.7 million from the festival this year to help fund improvements in parks throughout the city. The annual donation from festival organizers C3 Presents comes in addition to the $100,000 fee paid to the city for using Zilker Park, though it also pays more than $2 million annually to cover all city costs for public safety and restoration of the grounds after the festival.

To date, ACL Fest has contributed more than $48 million to the parks foundation. That annual infusion is a significant piece of the organization’s annual budget that in past years has been around $8 million.

When the festival was canceled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it meant a delay of at least 18 months for some planned parks improvements because of a lack of funding.

“It was such a relief to have the event back last year. During the pandemic, our overloaded parks got even more overloaded because they were some of the only safe places for people to go to. There are lots of opportunities to put that $6.7 million to work quickly,” Colin Wallis, CEO of Austin Parks Foundation, said.

While the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has an annual operations budget of about $100 million, Wallis noted that the identified capital needs for land acquisition and improvement projects are many times that amount.

“We as an organization are trying to think strategically about how we can leverage dollars, because $6.7 million seems like a lot of money but you have to keep in mind that the parks department’s budget is about $100 million and if you look at their capital backlog … $6.7 million is a relatively small amount of money, and we are always thinking about how we can leverage that into the greatest impact.”

Before the pandemic, members of the parks board took a close look at the city’s agreement with C3 and how festival preparation and teardown limit the park’s use to residents for roughly one month every year. That discussion didn’t lead to any changes to the contract, in part because existing ordinances cap the maximum fee the city can charge for park use at $100,000.

Wallis, who presented at that meeting to discuss how C3’s donations are calculated based on a percentage of ticket and beverage sales revenues, said they help to make needed improvements throughout the parks system.

“I welcomed that conversation because, while I may be a total homer about this, I feel like this is a great deal for the fans and parks where everybody wins,” Wallis said. “Could it be better? You can look at any deal and say it could be better, but the festival has always put this give-back front and center and been open to other opportunities. So it stands up pretty well.”

A spokesperson for the Austin Parks Foundation told the Austin Monitor that the 2021 contribution of $6.7 million would be used to:

  • Support installation of security and energy-efficient lighting at Highland Neighborhood Park or Brownie Neighborhood Park (District 4)
  • Support resurfacing and restriping of existing courts at multiple parks across Austin
  • Purchase equipment to create art and historical installations at the Carver Museum (District 1)
  • Replace and add PARD standard amenities at school parks (all districts)
  • Provide modern, eco-friendly field lighting at Govalle Park (District 3)
  • Bring back the Zilker train with the fully electric Zilker Eagle
  • Implement stormwater mitigation measures in Pecan Grove area of Zilker Park (District 8)
  • Fund planning, design and construction of an all-inclusive playground at Onion Creek Metro (District 2)
  • Provide access and implement basic park amenities at undeveloped Earl J. Pomerleau Pocket Park (District 4)
  • Support priority areas of implementation called out in vision plan for Little Walnut Creek Greenbelt (District 1)
  • Fund study to explore alternative ways to fund parks in Austin (all districts)
  • Greenbelt maintenance: Support continued trail improvements and ongoing maintenance (District 5)
  • Provide professional design and permitting support for community initiated park improvement projects (all districts)
  • Provide year-round volunteer project support and park activations during ACL fest, citywide volunteer events like It’s My Park Day and more (all districts)
  •  ACL Fest grants program, supporting community-initiated park improvement projects (all districts)
  • Montopolis Playground: Community engagement and design for park improvements (District 3)
  • Scenic Brook Design Services: Provide professional design and permitting support for implementation of community-initiated vision plan of pocket park (District 8)
  • Brownie Neighborhood Park: Support development of undeveloped neighborhood park (District 4)
  • Doris Miller Auditorium: Infrastructure and equipment to facilitate Notes for Notes music program (District 1)

The city is currently in the input-gathering phase of a vision plan for Zilker Park, with one significant area of concern being the protection of the cap over a long-closed landfill on the property that includes the area used for visitor parking and event staging. That plan is expected to be completed and presented to City Council for approval next year, said Liana Kallivoka, assistant director for PARD.

“What is going to happen to the landfill is not clear,” she said. “People who live nearby the park love it and think of Zilker as their neighborhood park, while for people who live far away the only way for them to access the park may be through their car, and if they are to go they need a place to park. So there is a push and pull and we need to find ways to make the park friendly to everyone since it is a metropolitan park that’s for everyone.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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