The future of the Dougherty Arts Center, Austin’s favorite community theater and art gallery operating out of a converted Naval Reserve Training Center at 1110 Barton Springs Road, will first require a building that wasn’t built in 1947. Despite its abundant character, the structure that’s housed the center since its opening in 1978 is falling apart at a level the city describes in its own reports as “beyond repair.”
After more than a decade of conversations on the center’s future and a 2018 bond package punting $25 million towards a relocation effort, the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department is moving forward — and as a member of Austin’s charming public, you’ll get your first chance to see more details of what’s planned at a community engagement meeting taking place tonight at 5 p.m. via Zoom.
The new building will radically expand the DAC’s ability to carry out its mission of supporting arts access for all. Like the current DAC, it will be a hub of creativity and Austin’s cultural living room. But it will be an enhanced room, efficiently calibrated to its function, healthy and full of light, with expanded programming. It will be sustainable model of Austin’s park network, interpreting the mission of the Parks and Recreation Department to create community through the arts.
— City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department
But even before tonight’s meeting, we still have a vague but compelling idea of what’s happening here. The plan, outlined at least in broad terms last year, is to replace the center with a new facility in the same general area but on the west side of North Lamar Boulevard at the city parkland known as Butler Shores, just next door to the Zach Theatre — the benefit of placing these similarly-minded arts facilities directly adjacent to one another is that they’ll be able to share some amenities, such as the new parking garage structure seen on the map above.
The plan also provides an incentive for improving the rest of the parkland at Butler Shores adjacent to the new center, likely improving access to its section of the Hike-and-Bike Trail not to mention the insanely cool public workout equipment we looked at earlier this year. Two of the five ballfields at the site will have to go to make room for the new Dougherty facility, but last we heard this has apparently been worked out with the South Austin Little League so everyone still has a place to play.
The future of the existing DAC site itself is more unclear — we’re relocating the Center because redeveloping the existing site is apparently off the table due to its location over a former landfill and existence inside a 100-year floodplain, not to mention that building something new here would require the outright closure of the center for several years. With the completion of the Alliance Children’s Garden next door to the old center, we’re sure the site could host something park-related, but the various constraints listed above might keep any plans fairly grounded.
Anyway, due to the restrictions placed on city events by the pandemic, we’re more aggressive than usual about encouraging participation in these newly-online public engagement processes. Without in-person events, there’s an even smaller chance that a wide selection of Austinites will engage with the new design and provide their feedback. Go sign up for the event or at least fill out their survey questions — what else are you doing on a Wednesday night? Netflix? C’mon.