In 1998, Austin voters approved funding for the development of the Palmer Events Center and its surrounding parkland, and a year later, the city signed off on an $18.5 million master plan for the development of Butler Metro Park, formerly known as Town Lake Metro Park.
Sandwiched between Barton Springs Road and West Riverside Drive, directly adjacent to Auditorium Shores and containing such wonders as the Butler Pitch & Putt, the aforementioned Palmer Events Center, the Dougherty Arts Center, and the observation hill named for Texan musician Doug Sahm, the park is arguably the most attractive gateway to downtown Austin’s new skyline — in terms of large parks directly adjacent to downtown, this is as good as it gets.
Naturally, this means the final component of the park’s master plan, a children’s play area, has gone unbuilt for going on a decade. The last time we heard about what’s known as the Alliance Children’s Garden was two years ago, when the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and partnered landscape architecture firm TBG Partners held the last in a series of public engagement events to discuss priorities for the design of the roughly three-acre space at the park’s southwest corner.
Despite the delay, the plan for the children’s park appears to be moving forward in earnest, with TBG Partners presenting its most current version of the plan at a meeting of the city’s Design Commission earlier this week. TBG provided me with the images from their presentation, plus a few extra, which ought to give us a pretty solid idea of what to expect if everything goes well on the city’s end.
“This place is to be a children’s garden that will represent the unique culture of Austin through contextual forms, imaginative play, playful elements, and strong aesthetics. The goal will be the creation of a multigenerational play venue that is comfortable, inviting, imaginative, engaging and visually striking.”
— TBG Partners, Alliance Children’s Garden Design Document
The “Skyline View Garden” located in roughly the northwest corner of the space is probably the most visually striking element of the plan, with its twin climbing structures providing what I’d imagine is a kids-eye view of the downtown skyline:
In the background of the above drawing, you’ll see slides and interesting stone blocks off in the distance, so here’s a better view of those — slides, it seems, are a critical component of the park’s design:
TBG’s presentation states that the park’s design must be “imagination driven,” and “enable children to engage through active exploration and creative play to support physical, mental and sensory development capabilities,” but also “provide a comfortable experience for both children and adults to extend the time spent in play.”
As identified in the public engagement process, ample shade is a critical element of these goals — let’s face it, kids don’t mind the heat so much, but their parents certainly do. Though it’s not visible in the drawing above, additional documents and discussion from TBG at the Design Commission meeting show off additional shaded structures, including canopies over at least one slide. (Which, by the way, is made of specially-polished concrete, which is apparently slippery enough for sliding purposes. Seriously, who knew?)
The last drawing shown to the commission includes a view of a large pedestrian bridge and a feature called “The Hill Country,” an area of rolling hills and what appears to be giant ant statues, ready to ride:
Other features not seen in these drawings but discussed at the meeting include multiple swing sets, a sand play area, and an “Art and Culture Garden.”
The Design Commission, for the record, unanimously voted in recommendation of the plans shown here, with two amended conditions — one, that TBG would reconsider the design of the blue climbing structure seen in the “Skyline View Garden” section above, in order to make it more accessible for disabled visitors; and two, that the firm would reconsider the number and location of the public restrooms on site, to ensure their availability was appropriate for the increased load of visitors expected at the upgraded park.
Though PARD hasn’t provided us with a solid target date for groundbreaking or completion of this project, the application documents for the garden’s Design Commission item list a potential start date of January 2019. That seems slightly optimistic, but still possible! The commission’s approval is as good of a sign of progress as we’ve seen on this plan in a while — hopefully it won’t take another decade to see the final piece of the Butler puzzle take shape.