Controversial Zilker Park plan approved by Austin Parks Board

Tensions ran high at Austin City Hall Monday night, as the City’s Parks and Recreation Board took up a plan to transform Zilker Park. The board voted 7 to 3 to recommend the plan to City Council. It will be voted on in the summer. 

Some say upgrades, including a parking garage, are much-needed, while others are concerned about ruining an iconic Austin spot.

Late Monday night, Parks and Recreation Department Program Manager Greg Montes and Design Workshop principal Claire Hempel gave a presentation detailing the recommendations contained in the Zilker Park Vision Plan.

The presentation followed about four hours of public comment, with more than 150 people speaking in support of and in opposition to the Zilker Park Vision Plan. Some sang, others chanted, as audience members cheered and booed. At several points during the evening, the chair had to intervene to quiet the crowd. It was standing room only at the heated meeting, with dozens of people spilling out into the lobby.

"If we don't want the park to fall into neglect and despair, it's important that we have a plan to ensure another century of enjoyment," said Deena Estrada Salinas, who supports the Zilker Vision Plan.

"How many times and how many ways do the citizens of Austin need to tell you that they don't like this plan?" said Tanya Payne of the Zilker Neighborhood Association.

A draft of the plan features a parking garage off Azie Morton Road, a land bridge over Barton Springs Road, and a new amphitheater for live music on the great lawn—along with a welcome center, hike and bike trails and play areas. Supporters say changes are needed to stem environmental damage.

"It's so much love and so much traffic. It's starting to damage the park. So if we don't do anything, the park is going to be destroyed," said Mike Cannatti of the Barton Springs Conservancy.

"I think we all understand that this plan is a hot mess. It’s not a hot mess because people are confused. It's not a hot mess because of misinformation. It's a hot mess because 70 percent of this plan is for totally unneeded new construction," said Robin Rather, who opposes the Zilker Vision Plan.




FOX 7 Austin spent the afternoon speaking with people who spend time here in Zilker Park, and the vast majority of people we spoke to say they're not sure if this vision plan is the best idea.

"I disagree with it. I just think that we need to keep Zilker Park, Zilker Park, what it is," said Geneva White, who frequents Zilker Park.

"It’s working. Why add more concrete?" said South Austin resident Ariana Goodrich.

"There are other ways you can get here that don't involve putting 200 Teslas in a parking garage," said Katy Zabrecchi.

If it moves forward, the $200 million project would rely on grants, bonds and private funding—which supporters say has led to misconceptions.

"The biggest misconception that's really circulating, and it's unfortunate, is that somehow this plan is going to turn the park over to a private interest or somebody is going to take control from the city. And that is not in the plan," said Cannatti.