Improvements are on the horizon for Wooldridge Square park in the Civic District — but at present, the city can’t quite agree on what improvements it actually needs.
For years, the issue has been the concern of the Downtown Austin Alliance and Friends of Wooldridge Square, but late last month, the Austin Design Commission voted 7-1 to not recommend the preliminary plan for the park’s improvements presented by the Parks and Recreation Department and landscape architecture firm dwg. Their reasoning?
The project does not address microclimate, circulation, seating, visual and special complexity, plantings to enliven the space, interactive art, or safety.
– Design Commission Meeting Minutes, November 28th
Ouch. So what are these improvements? The principal concern regarding the site is its accessibility, due to the park’s unique grading, which descends on all sides to contain a historic bandstand at its center, a stage that’s hosted the likes of Booker T. Washington since its construction in 1909.
In addition to its difficult slope — reportedly accused by at least one person of being far too treacherous to navigate in heels, shutting the space out from any potential galas — the pavilion lacks sufficient handicapped access, necessitating the installation of a wheelchair lift.
The preliminary plan, assembled by dwg after several meetings with stakeholders and the public, includes traffic calming measures, a larger seating area, increased walkability through larger paved areas, and handicapped access via a new sidewalk path and wheelchair lift at the center bandstand.
The plan’s most interesting detail is the potential placement of a relocated moonlight tower in the upper left corner of the park — potentially the tower at the corner of Guadalupe and 9th Street on the opposite side of the square, but also possibly one of the dismantled towers the city already has in storage.
For the most part, these improvements are fairly mundane, similar to the more than $300,000 worth of improvements carried out from 2012-2013, preserving the square’s original simplicity while adding necessities like navigability. It’s unclear what the city would prefer for the space, in terms of “complexity” or “interactive art,” but hopefully they don’t include too many drastic alterations of the historic location.
It’s a shame the plan doesn’t include 3D renderings of the site’s potential improvements — it’s harder to visualize the changes when all we’re given is a flat map, but maybe further imagery will emerge as the project develops.
For years, Wooldridge Square was considered a gathering place for the city’s homeless population, at least in part due to the service of the Mobile Loaves & Fishes nonprofit, which served food and provided clothing to those at the park. The organization has since moved on to work in other locations, but the general impression of the park remains — a place low on the list of the city’s priorities for improvement.
The preliminary plan makes a point to emphasize its funding is not secured beyond the current stage, and it’s unclear whether the design commission’s rejection of this early proposal will slow the project even further. It’s probably best to keep an eye on Wooldridge Square, but maybe don’t expect huge changes anytime soon.