After years of planning, work on the series of parks and trails that will become a 37-acre chain of green space through downtown kicked off.
A groundbreaking at Waterloo Park, the northernmost point in the project, took place on Sept. 20. The $64 million revitalization of that park will include a “great lawn” area, an amphitheater, gardens, a water feature, and a restaurant. Waterloo Park’s transformation is the first phase of the overall Waller Creek Project, which aims to connect new and renovated parks and trails from Waterloo Park at Trinity and 12th Streets to Lady Bird Lake near Red River Street, where Waller Creek runs into the lake.
The work in Waterloo Park should be done in late 2019.
The Waller Creek Project is being led by the nonprofit Waller Creek Conservancy and the City of Austin. Funding is coming from the city, private donations, and fundraising by the conservancy. Once completed, city leaders say it will bring new public spaces to the areas around the Dell Medical School and the Red River district, and will connect South Austin and Central Austin trails.
Landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) is heading up the multi-disciplinary team responsible for the overall Waller Creek transformation. Austin-based BIG RED DOG Engineering is providing engineering services for the project which will transform a dilapidated creek into a vibrant urban waterway complemented by dynamic parks, bridges, and open and interactive spaces that engage the public.
While plans for the parkland have been years in the making, work on the parks and trails couldn’t begin until the flood control tunnel was rebuilt. The Waller Creek Tunnel, which has been under construction since 2011, is nearing completion. It will restore the Waller Creek system, keeping the creek flowing during dry conditions and helping safely manage quickly-rising water during rainy weather. Waller Creek has had problems with severe flooding in the past.
The tunnel project has been beset with challenges; costs rose from an initial estimate of $25 million to $163.1 million when design problems for the intake building emerged. But dreary as the tunnel work has been, city officials point out that the fun aspects of the Waller Creek Project hinge on it.
“Nobody likes to talk about the tunnel because it’s only bad news,” Waller Creek Conservancy CEO Peter Mullan told the Austin American-Statesman. “But, the reality is, the tunnel is making all of this possible.”
The second phase of the project will revive green space near Fourth Street along Waller Creek, and expand Palm Park. Subsequent phases will include replacing the concrete walls along the Creek with natural slopes near Sixth Street, and eventually turning land that the Austin Police Department’s headquarters now occupy into parkland. A floating pedestrian bridge will eventually connect the trail system across Lady Bird Lake to the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike train on the lake’s south side.