Historical Republic Square Park getting $5.8 million facelift

Republic Square Park is one big construction site at the moment. The popular and historic green space is being restored.

"I remember back years ago when I was mayor we actually invited the community to come, we put couches and chairs and we referred to it as the front yard of our living room which is downtown," said former Austin Mayor, present Senator Kirk Watson.

Watson says the park is owned by the state but the City of Austin is its steward.

These days we may "Keep Austin Weird" but in the early 1800's we were "Keeping Waterloo Weird" -- that was the name of the city until it was changed to honor Stephen F. Austin. This city literally began in Republic Square Park under the old oak trees.

"1839, the original 306 lots that made up the new Austin, Texas were auctioned under the oak trees in Republic Square," said Colin Wallis, the Executive Director of the Austin Parks Foundation.

Wallis says the park and others like it in town haven't been well-taken care of in the past but that's changing.

"It's been a parking lot at some point in its history, it's now home to the Sustainable Food Center Farmer's Market and it's just sort of the last of the dying breed of downtown green spaces," Wallis said.

The newly renovated park will have a circular pathway for pedestrians, seating, public restrooms and a permanent food kiosk for a local vendor.

The cost: $5.8 million, which...seems like a lot.

"Doing business in downtown Austin is really expensive is the short answer," Wallis said.

Wallis says it's a public-private investment.  Donors are helping out. They're about $700,000 away from the goal.

"Money from bonds and parkland dedication fees and money from the GSA and then a campaign to raise the shortfall," Wallis said.

And a million is for an endowment fund to help keep the park looking nice.

"We wanted to make sure that we didn't build a beautiful park that would then just go into disrepair so by creating a million dollar endowment we're going to ensure that every year there's a significant amount that gets spun off to take care of that space," Wallis said.

The park will be closed for the next year.  It's expected to open back up next summer.