Parkland events throughout the city need to be reexamined, according to a task force commissioned to analyze the management and coordination the events.
The Parkland Events Task Force, created in 2015, has been gathering information on how events hosted on Austin park property can be better managed for the benefit of the city.
After more than a year of work that included input from all stakeholders, including neighborhoods, event promoters, and traffic and environmental experts, the task force presented its final report and recommendations Wednesday to the Austin City Council’s Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee.
The committee approved all the task force's recommendations, which included lightening the event load on Auditorium/Vic Mathias Shores, Zilker Park and Festival Beach, a proposal of four alternate event locations, an official financial analysis on the adequacy of event fees, the implementation of an evaluation rubric and an enhancement of policies to protect the green space where many of the events are held.
“This is such a useful body of work,” Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said on Wednesday. “You’ve really exceeded the expectations we set for you.”
A perceived imbalance between public access to parks and the parks’ use by major events such as Austin City Limits prompted the creation of the task force. Because there is such a saturation of major events at some of Austin’s main parks, David King, president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council and co-chair of the task force, said those events restrict the park’s fundamental purpose, which is to provide a place of leisure and recreational activity for the community.
The task force's mission was to conduct an analysis to see how the city can strike a better balance while also looking into how events can be more evenly spread throughout the city, both to alleviate concentrated congestion and so more events can come to the lightly used areas of the city.
Jeff Smith, a political consultant on the task force, said the city needs to begin thinking about how other parts of Austin can be used for events. He said the current model of placing all events in the downtown parks was not sustainable.
The task force proposed four alternate event locations: Bolm Road Park, John Trevino Jr., Park, Onion Creek Metropolitan Park and Walter E. Long Park. However, according to Jason Maurer, events manager at Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, all four of these parks will need major capital improvements before they can be considered as adequate hosts.
Members of the task force said there were several instances where they felt the city was not being adequately compensated for events when considering the costs of park maintenance, parking and traffic management, road and trail closures, and use of emergency response services. The recommended financial analysis of fees, according to task force members, would ensure the city receives proper reimbursement by event organizers for use of the park.
The group also called for an independent reexamination of each annual event. A new grading matrix recommended by the task force would take into account the economic impact, environmental responsibility, collaboration with stakeholders—specifically the neighborhoods that surround the park—and length and management of the event. Maurer said this matrix would be an important tool to use when measuring which events benefit the city.
The task force’s recommendations are expected to come to the full council in January. If the council approves the propoisals, Maurer said the reexamination would start in the spring with the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference4.