The long-awaited first phase in a slate of upgrades to Brush Square in downtown Austin is moving forward after receiving the approval of its construction contract from City Council late last month, meaning it could soon be much less of a stretch to call this area “Brush Square Park.” These improvements aim to bring the square forward as a better public space and event venue, as a number of surrounding developments and upcoming transit improvements raise its pedestrian profile — not unlike the recent transformation of Republic Square into a more active downtown park.
The Parks and Recreation Department first kicked off the planning process for the future of this city land in 2018, seeking community engagement and determining priorities for the site’s improvement as a public space, before adopting a vision plan formed in response to this input by local planning firm Asakura Robinson in 2019.
That plan has plenty in mind for both Brush Square and its historic on-site fire station once those firefighting operations are eventually relocated elsewhere and we can reclaim the building’s parking lot, but for now, phase one is simply about bringing more people into the square — while continuing to protect the site’s heritage trees and increasing the accessibility of the several museums on the property, including the O. Henry Museum, the Susanna Dickinson Museum, and the Austin Fire Museum.
As seen in the plan above, this first phase of improvements will upgrade sight lines and pedestrian circulation with new walkways through the property, additional lighting, seating, bike parking, and an event lawn space to better accommodate programming like the O. Henry Museum’s yearly Pun-Off. Improved access from the southern end of the square is likely the most critical for its public use, due to the pedestrianization of East Fourth Street west of the new downtown MetroRail station, along with the adjacent Lance Armstrong Bikeway passing north of the Austin Convention Center — a critical transit hub which will only grow in prominence with the implementation of Project Connect’s further plans for this part of downtown.
The implementation of phase one improvements at Brush Square, which could start construction as soon as next month, will be carried out by Muniz Concrete & Contracting, Inc., the successful bidder for the city’s $2.79 million contract. The project is funded by the Historic Preservation Fund of the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax, along with the parks department’s share of a successful 2018 bond proposition.