According to the recommendations of the Austin City Council’s Parkland Events Task Force, the city should seek to reduce the number of events hosted at its three major downtown parks — Zilker, Auditorium Shores, and Festival Beach — in order to reduce wear and tear on the facilities, as well as ease noise and traffic in the dense downtown region.
Okay, so Austin City Limits and the Trail of Lights aren’t leaving Zilker. Yet.
We might revisit that issue in a decade or so, but for now, any discussion of relocating these local traditions has folks dusting off their pitchforks and torches and writing essays about the death of Old Austin.
The city’s reasoned alternative is to reduce event numbers through attrition instead, limiting the number of festivals parks like Zilker are allowed to host — a measure intended to encourage future festivals to book at other parks, namely the spaces available to the east of downtown. Moving large festival-style events to deep East Austin is a critical move for the city’s future, bringing much-needed economic development to District 1 as the city’s demographic center shifts eastward.
Don’t underestimate District 1.
This is literally Austin’s city limits. It’s a sprawling, largely rural area containing huge swaths of undeveloped land and equally boundless potential — which is why I sympathize with District 1 Council Member Ora Houston for telling county representative Genevieve Van Cleve where she could stick it after Van Cleve described the district as “the middle of nowhere” during last year’s debate over relocating the county courthouse to East Austin. There’s a reason they built Circuit of the Americas out there, and you’d have to be blind to ignore Austin’s overwhelming eastern development trend.
As subdivisions spring up and property values increase, the need for park improvements in the district will become unavoidable, so why not get a head start and make these parks attractive spaces for future festivals?
The city’s task force recommends moving certain events like the Zilker Relays, the Austin Pride Festival, the Austin Food + Wine Festival, the Urban Music Festival, and the TriRock Triathlon.
The task force also recommends improvements to Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park, Bolm Road District Park, Onion Creek Metropolitan Park and John Trevino Jr. Metropolitan Park. Two of these spaces, both in District 1, seem ideal for hosting future fests: Walter E. Long Metropolitan Park and John Trevino Jr. Metropolitan Park.
Hundreds of acres of city-owned land around Walter E. Long Lake are simply inaccessible at the moment, and the only major development currently in discussion is a golf course — a proposal that would only be more out of touch with the needs of the district if it included a gigantic open-air prison.
Festivals like the up-and-coming Sound on Sound Fest wouldn’t have to seek venues outside city limits like Sherwood Forest if the attractive lakefront areas of Walter E. Long were developed to accommodate them. Fun Fun Fun Fest having space issues at Auditorium Shores? Fix up the 330 acres of parkland at John Trevino Jr. Metropolitan Park and send them there.
If it were improved, the park would be one of the best potential outdoor music fest locations in the city, with ample space for parking, stages, and even camping. It worked for the many recent festivals at Carson Creek Ranch, south of the district — if the county doesn’t regulate them out of existence, that is.
Of course, the issue of where to acquire the funds to accomplish these improvements remains up in the air. Once the city responds to the recommendations of the task force, we’ll figure out whether increases in park fees or a bond election is in our future.
Until then, we’ll keep dreaming of the perfect festival venue, somewhere out east, where the space is ample and the neighbors don’t hate us.