Citing a need for better use of space and traffic improvements, the City of Austin recently began a search for a consultant to help produce a master plan for the Zilker Botanical Garden.
Remarkably, the request for proposals filed by the city noted that there has never been an approved master plan for the park. In 1962, the Austin City Council in cooperation with the Austin Area Garden Council launched into a two-year project to create the 28-acre gardens within Zilker Metropolitan Park, including an oriental garden designed and built by Japanese-American farmer and gardener Isamu Tanigushi.
In 2011-2012, a volunteer group partnered with an engineer to create a master plan, but their effort was not conducted at the city’s request and never adopted. As the RFP explains, “it did not include stakeholder input or community engagement, and existing structures and gardens were not taken into consideration. “Rather, the site was treated as if it were a blank slate.”
Nevertheless, the Parks and Recreation Department has been aware of the Zilker Botanical Garden’s shortcomings.
“While the surrounding Zilker Park is widely known and heavily used, the 28 acres that comprise the ZBG are not as well known to the public,” a background statement in the RFP notes. “ZBG offers extraordinary potential for added gardens and programming that would increase visitation and offer a unique new outdoor venue for Austinites and visitors.”
The department wants a master plan that will account for site considerations, current and future needs, and potential opportunities before developing new spaces. Goals for a final design must provide for visitor arrival and flow, effective visitor services for small and large groups, “phenomenal and educational garden venues that attract growing audiences, and revenue potential that will enable the garden to operate sustainably.”
There’s also a list of present constraints the department hopes to solve. For one, parking space is inadequate, and the gardens will need more parking as visitation grows. Another access issue is traffic to and from the gardens. Barton Springs Road is a busy throughway and Stratford Drive, which is park-owned, is used for busy overflow times on weekends and events.
“Options for relocating the entrance in a way that makes access safer and offers more parking options is desired,” the RFP states.
Space for staff and visitors is scarce. Meeting spaces at the Austin Area Garden Center are heavily used and staff offices are inadequate. Parks and Recreation wants additional space to be used for sales and rental venues for meetings and programs. Planners are especially interested in facilities for weddings, including bride and groom changing rooms. The gardens are also known for steep grade changes, and making pathways ADA compliant often represents a challenge.
Proposals are due August 29. Chosen companies will have 12 months to put together a Phase I Master Plan For Zilker Botanical Garden, with required deliverables including a market comparison of ZBG to similar botanical gardens in Texas, a mission statement, and recommendations with cost estimates. A rigorous schedule of meetings with stakeholders, along with community engagement meetings, is expected.