Debate over Zilker Vision Plan draws packed crowd at City Hall Monday night; Parks board votes 7-3 to recommend

Zilker Park
Photo credit Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

AUSTIN ( -- In a scene reminiscent of some notable Austin City Council meetings, it was another packed house at CIty Hall on Monday night - this time, as the city's Parks and Recreation Board debated the future of the Zilker Park Vision Plan.

According to city officials, the plan, which has been under discussion in some form for more than five years, aims to establish a framework for the restoration and future development of Zilker Park - including the park's full 351 acres and all of its associated facilities.

Board members listened to four hours of public testimony Monday night, with many speaking against the draft plan. At 12:45 a.m., the board voted 7-3 to recommend City Council members approve the plan, with some amendments.

Next, the plan will head to Council, who is scheduled to take up the plan for a final vote on July 20.

Opponents are concerned that the plan could give greater control over the park to commercial interests, including C3 Presents and its parent company, Live Nation (and co-owned Ticketmaster). C3 is the presenter of the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival, which has called the park home since 2002.

The draft plan makes reference to a "Zilker Park Umbrella Organization" - a "unified nonprofit that can serve as a main point of contact for [PARD], acting as a liaison and coordinating body between the many active organizations and interested parties."

City officials have repeatedly pushed back against those concerns. In a joint statement released Monday morning, several City Council members, including Mayor Pro Tem Paige Ellis, echoed those sentiments. "The draft plan, in no way, sets out a path to privatization of this beloved public green space," the statement reads.

Among the controversial elements included in the plan is the relocation of the current Zilker Hillside Theater. According to the draft plan, a new amphitheater with a capacity of 5,000 on the park's Great Lawn would replace the current venue. The current venue is used to provide free public performances by community organizations; city officials say that would continue at the newly relocated venue.

Opponents call the amphitheater development a "slippery slope" that could turn it into another concert venue, similar to the Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park.

Another controversial aspect of the draft plan is the proposed building of three parking garages; currently, the park has an estimated 2,450 parking spaces, including some 1,300 paved parking spots and another 1,150 spots in gravel lots and other grass areas. The plan would call for potentially replacing all of that existing parking with 2,450 guaranteed spaces across the three garages.

According to the draft Vision Plan, 54% of survey respondents said access to parking was one of the deterrents keeping them from coming to Zilker Park.

Barton Springs Road, which bisects the park, would also potentially be reduced to a single lane in each direction, rather than its current two-lane configuration.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Sara Diggins/Austin American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK