Now that we’re out of the 100º weather, C3/LiveNation closes Zilker Park’s Great Lawn beginning 9/23 in preparation for Austin City Limits (ACL). Austinites can expect most closures to remain through the rest of the year for Trail of Lights.
This summer we had 78 days over 100º.
For those counting, that is 4 months the public will lose access to Zilker Park‘s Great Lawn for private events, during the city’s 4 most enjoyable months weather-wise.
To add insult to injury, the city only allows Zilker to be closed for private events for 24 days/year. So how can it be closed for 120 days? The City only counts the physical event days, not set-up and take-down days. Meaning, they consider ACL closing Zilker Park for just 6 days, and the Trail of Lights for 14 days.
Interestingly, even by their math, the City closes Zilker Park for 29/24 days for special events.
One of the big contention points with the Zilker Vision Plan, a $200 million development plan that was unceremoniously shut down by the public, was the public felt the plan put private events and monetization above the public’s use and desires for the park.
The City argued the plan was to ensure equity and accessibility for all.
Let’s talk equity and accessibility
General admission tickets to Austin City Limits start at $375/person. It kicks the public out of Zilker Park beginning at the end of September, and they won’t get it back until the new year.
From a public standpoint, this is neither equitable nor accessible for Austinites.
Let’s talk numbers
The City rents Zilker Park to C3 for $100,000. C3 pays the city reimbursements for infrastructure and security, such as EMS, fire, police, and transportation to the tune of $2.4 million, but remember this is reimbursements.
State law prohibits the city from making a profit, so the workaround is a nonprofit called Austin Parks Foundation (APF). Part of the agreement between the City and ACL is that Austin Parks Foundation receives a % of ticket sales. While they all market this as a donation, it’s really not. In fact, Austin Park Foundation’s financials outline that APF owns ACL. Last year this ticket % payout to APF was $7.2 million.
Austin Parks Foundation is a private organization and has no requirements to disclose what they do with that $7.2 million. Even if we assumed that the $7.2 million directly made it into Austin parks, $7.2 million is really not a lot. It’s historically about 5-7% of what the City allocates to parks.
Let’s talk economy
This brings us to the cherished boost in economy. Every year the City and ACL tout the boost to the economy brought on by ACL. 2022 reported a $447.9 million economic impact. This is money spent on hotels, bars, food, transportation, sunscreen…you name it.
Now $447.9 million is a big deal, and while there are gig workers and small businesses that certainly benefit from the boost, this isn’t $447.9 million falling off the rooftops into the hands of Austinites trying to fight housing costs and rising grocery bills. We’ve been in this world long enough to know who gets richer and who gets poorer.
That said, does moving ACL to another part of town affect this economic impact? Does it potentially help boost money into parts of town that might need it more? Could moving it allow the festival to grow, bringing in even more money?
Let’s talk public opinion
During the Zilker Vision Plan, the consultants, Design Workshop, conducted 6 surveys — and we read all of them.
One thing we found, that they certainly didn’t note was the public seems to want ACL out of Zilker.
In Survey 1, 4,061 participants were asked the multiple-choice question“What are your favorite recreational amenities or activities?” Only 348 people (8.5%) selected ACL in their top 3 favorite things. Likewise, 874 people (21.5%) put the Great Lawn in their top 3.
Then we reviewed every comment pertaining to “ACL”. Across all 6 surveys, there were 675 comments mentioning “ACL”, and exactly 80% of them were asking to remove ACL from Zilker Park.
Let’s talk environment
One of the big arguments behind the Zilker Vision Plan stakeholders made was that “Zilker is being loved to death”. It’s true. The ground is being trampled, trees are dying, and the fragile limestone aquifer beneath the surface is getting…rocked.
According to the Texas Monthly, 1.3M people go to Zilker every year. 450,000 go to ACL and 400,000 go for Trail of Lights. That’s 850,000 people coming to the park for private events.
If we were gambling people, we’d bet this isn’t ideal for an environmentally sensitive ecosystem and habitats.
Let’s talk nostalgia
Austin City Limits Festival began on the Great Lawn in September of 2002. It started with 25,000 attendees over 1 weekend and has since grown to 450,000 attendees over 2 weekends, gobbling up the entire month of October and beyond.
Once you’re inside ACL, the only thing to remind you you’re at Zilker is the nightmarish logistics of leaving. Behind the fencing, stages, and mass of tank tops this festival could be anywhere. Heck, it could even be somewhere with better infrastructure.
Survey results suggest people are more nostalgic for the days they could use the Great Lawn during enjoyable weather than they are another headline from the Foo Fighters or Mumford & Sons.
What are your thoughts?
The goal of Save Zilker is to give the public a voice, whatever that voice may be. We’d love to know your thoughts on ACL and Trail of Lights at Zilker and have created a survey to collect your insights.
A healthy community requires healthy conversations — and that’s all we’re starting here today.