On 8/7 Austin officially halted the Zilker Vision Plan!
The Zilker Vision Plan was a $200M development plan which included:
- 5,000 seat amphitheater on the Great Lawn
- Underground parking garage next to Barton Springs
- 3 parking garages
- Turning Barton Springs Road into single-lane traffic for parallel parking
- A welcome center and terrace above the Barton Creek spillway
- Removing Lou Neff Road
- Concessions on the Great Lawn
- 3 new bridges over the lake and spillway
- An unprecedented privatization of the park
- Further monetizing the park under an umbrella nonprofit
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To avoid claims of misinformation, here are the sources for our claims around the Zilker Park Vision Plan:
Page 134, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Page 187, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
The Moody Amphitheater is a 5,000 seat amphitheater 3 miles from Zilker at Waterloo Park. Moody Amphitheater cost over $88M to build, and is currently operated by…Live Nation. Many feel the City should utilize this venue as it is so close to Zilker, already run by Live Nation, and an already privatized park.
The Zilker Vision Plan’s own surveys report 87% of the public do not want the theater on the Great Lawn
Zilker Vision Plan (pg. 174/254)
Public polls shows 83% of the public wants the Great Lawn left alone:
Stakeholders are arguing that this structure in the Great Lawn is not a new amphitheater, rather a renovation of the existing Hillside Theater.
A renovation would mean fixing the existing structure. This is indeed constructing a 5,000 open-air seating area around a stage; where there is currently grass.
Page 130, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Page K, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
- Current parking is 2,450 spaces.
- Proposed parking is 2,450 spaces.
- The plan exchanges parking along Lou Neff Rd. and the landfill (MoPac) for garage parking.
- If Barton Springs Rd. is not converted to single-lane traffic to allow for parallel parking, the # of parking spaces is actually reduced, as these numbers are included in the 2,450.
Page K, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Page 30, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Page 138, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Public Polls show 91% of the public is opposed to building parking garages within the park. Instead, many believe the city should utilize surrounding parking garages.
The Zilker Vision Plan does not include or refer to a traffic study to understand the impact of reducing Barton Springs Rd. to single-lane traffic, removing Lou Neff Rd., or consolidating parking.
There are widespread concerns for daily traffic, as Barton Springs Rd. is a key east/west throughway off Mopac.
Importantly, there are concerns for emergency vehicles able to access visitors within the park.
“WHEREAS, the recommendation for a unified non-profit partner and recommendations for the partner’s role, the change to concessions structures, and other operations and management recommendations would be a significant change to the management of Zilker Park and unprecedented for a municipal park in the City of Austin”
Page 230, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Page 230, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
The Vision Plan proposes a nonprofit (Zilker351) to oversee various improvements, concessions, and development projects in the park.
Zilker351 is directly tied to ACL with inclusion of Austin Parks Foundation who is:
- the owner of Austin City Limits Music Festival (Austin Parks Foundation Consolidated Financial Statement (2021) pg 12/21),
- which is produced by C3, which is owned by Live Nation.
- In 2021 Austin City Limits was 67% of Austin Parks Foundation’s revenue (Austin Parks Foundation Consolidated Financial Statement (2021) pg 21/21).
- Parking garages are an enormous money generator. By moving the park away from free surface-lot parking and into paid garage parking, someone has the opportunity to make a lot of money off public park land.
- Because parking garages are a large revenue operation with insurance, safety, and financial items to manage, the Design Commission recommends a P3 Advisor facilitate the parking garage portion of the plan.
- P3 Advisors works with communities to create public private partnerships that transform stranded and under-utilized land into innovative redevelopment. P3 Advisors LLC
Pg. 86 of the ZVP suggests examining current park protections to allow for more development.
The Vision Plan has CO2 impact calculations for leaving the park as is vs. the proposed plan. The plan suggests the CO2 impact is better if we go with the Vision Plan.
A Stanford engineer ran the CO2 calculations through the same tool (Carbon Conscience by Sasaki) and found the data presented in the Vision Plan is grossly incorrect. Either the consultants, Design Workshop, don’t understand how to calculate CO2 impact, or they are lying.
- Consultants calculated calculated the CO2 impact for leaving Zilker as is, as if building today’s park from scratch. Instead of 21,872 tCO2… it’s 0.
- CO2 is emitted during production, mixing, and transporting cement.
- The CO2 impact currently in Zilker was emitted decades ago.
- Consultants failed to calculate CO2 impact for demolition required for the new plan.
- Consultants failed to calculate vertical concrete CO2 (such as parking garages), and instead lumped everything under impervious cover. Instead of 10,735 tCO2…it’s at 37,927 tCO2 just from the parking garages alone.
- Instead of 62% better for CO2 impact, the plan is at a minimum 56% worse.
PROPOSED CARBON IMPACT:
The Zilker Vision Plan identified 70 protected trees. A partial survey conducted by an arborist found over 300 protected trees. A full survey is estimated to have closer to 750 protected trees.
You can find the full findings here.
Page 38, Zilker Vision Plan (May 2023)
Concrete is one of the largest contributors to CO2 emissions in the world. This is directly against Austin’s Climate Equity Plan which aims to be net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Only 20% of the Vision Plan goes towards restoring the ecosystem, whereas 80% goes for unneeded and unpopular construction that will increase CO2 emissions.
Concrete can also increase the temperature in the area by 22º.TIME “Feeling the Heat? Blame Concrete”
There are 3 primary environmental concerns regarding parking garages:
- Air Quality – The air quality trapped inside parking garages and emitted into the surrounding neighborhoods of parking garages are found to contain even higher pollutants than standard urban air. Even typical urban air is not well studied for its hazardous effects on humans. Additionally, increased idling coming into and leaving the parking garages will increase vehicle CO2 emissions.
- Aquifer- Zilker is on top of the Edward’s Aquifer recharge zone. Beneath the surface is very delicate and porous limestone. Vibrations, weight, excavating, and polluting could have irreparable consequences
- Concrete – again, as a leading contributor to CO2, the emission footprint of these large-scale construction products are detrimental to the city’s carbon neutral goals.
The Vision Plan’s own surveys show 4% approval for a Welcome Center (Page 113, Zilker Vision Plan). The Welcome Center would be in the heart of the protected salamander’s critical habitat.
The consultants did not conduct their own environmental studies to determine a baseline of what is even feasible in the park. Instead they relied on previous studies. One study, was performed by the Zilker Working Group, which was led by James Russell. James Russell is the director of the ABC Kite Festival and Trail of Lights…not an environmentalist.
Now that the city has spent nearly $600k in taxpayer dollars on the plan, they would like more money to conduct an environmental study on what is even feasible. We should have started here.
There are many important elements within the plan that are factually incorrect. For example, the protected tree count was identified as 70, but is actually closer to 750. The plan also positioned its carbon impact to be 62% better than leaving the park alone, when it is at least 56% worse.
Regardless of why the errors exists, whether out of negligence or out of a desire to paint the ZVP in a better light, the consultants have provided a plan that is not reliable and cannot be used to make an accurate decision for the park.
In several cases, the same people required to review the plan via various city-appointed commissions are also people who had input in the plan and people who sit on boards that benefit from the plan.
Evan Taniguchi – is founder of Zilker Botanical Gardens, had stakeholder input in the Zilker Vision Plan and sat on the chair of the Design Commission to review and recommend the Vision Plan, and sits on the board of Zilker351 – the proposed umbrella nonprofit.
In a recent Ethics Review Commission, 5/6 commissioners believed Evan Taniguchi was worth pursuing a formal ethics trial against for his involvement in the Zilker Vision Plan. Unfortunately, because Mayor Watson and other City Council members have failed to appoint there seats, the motion could not pass, despite all but 1 agreeing (Ryan Alter’s appointee, Amy Casto).
Austin Texas Ethics Review Commission Meeting recording
Hanna Cofer – Ryan Alter’s appointee to the Environmental Commission, is the COO of the Trail Conservancy (ZVP stakeholder and member of Zilker351), worked at Hill Country Conservancy (ZVP stakeholder and member of Zilker351) where her father, George Cofer was long time CEO. Cofer’s husband, James Russel, is the events manager of ABC Kite Festival and the Trail of Lifths, which closes Zilker down for a month each year.
In the recent Ethics Review of Cofer, she was 4/6 to have reason to believe she needed a formal ethics hearing. Again, due to lack of appointees on the commission by Mayor Watson and other council members, the motion could not pass.
Claire Hempel – Is the paid “consultant”, vice chair of the City Planning Commission, and sits on the board of The Trail Conservancy, and a key input stakeholder.
Both the Vision Plan’s own research and public polls show little support for the Zilker Vision Plan.
- Less than 13% favor for the amphitheater on the Great Lawn.
- Only 10% find Zilker “unfavorable” as it is
- 82% feel it should be a natural recreation area – not an event space.
- 91% opposed to building new parking garages
Via public information requests, taxpayers have paid Design Workshop $563,788.33 for the Zilker Vision Plan.
There are further information requests out to understand who else has been paid and how much.
Of the firms that interviewed for the role of creating the Zilker Vision Plan, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, a firm from Seattle who recently completed a Vision Plan for Trevino Park in Austin, was found to be the most qualified.
However, after the “Total Points”, a column titled “Interview Points” was added – which gave Design Workshop the advantage they needed to win the contract.
Design Workshop’s Claire Hempel is on the Trail Conservancy, sits on the City’s Planning Commission, and is a stakeholder in Zilker Park.
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We’ve stopped the Zilker Vision Plan, but there is still plenty of work to do to Save Zilker for generations to come!