Cities developing new parks and amenities

Central Plaza

Central Plaza

Officials in Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto are crafting plans for the expansion of parks facilities in their respective cities. Officials cite a growing demand from residents for green space as well as recreation facilities provided by parks for the surge.

Round Rock Mayor Alan McGraw said parks are becoming more critical to communities because of a nationwide migration toward cities throughout the country.

“I grew up in a smaller town, and our parks were going down the street and playing in a big yard,” McGraw said. “That’s not open to everyone in an urban area.”

Pflugerville Mayor Jeff Coleman said surveys by the city have consistently shown that quality parks are a priority for Pflugerville residents.

“I think Pflugerville at its core is a family-oriented community, and people see parks as a place to take their toddlers to their teenagers and enjoy the outdoors with them,” Coleman said. “[Parks] allow families to be families.”

Hutto Mayor Debbie Holland said 12 years ago her city did not have a single park—now it has four community parks, and the city passed a Parks Master Plan in December to plan for further growth.

Round Rock

Expanding facilities

The city of Round Rock broke ground on a new, 60-acre multipurpose fields complex at Old Settlers Park in January, but that is not the only expansion to the city’s sports-centric park officials have in mind.

Round Rock Parks and Recreation Department officials are gathering feedback on a new adult sports complex that will be housed in Old Settlers Park.

“[The complex] is going to be one of the main projects where we’re truly focusing on adults,” Round Rock Parks & Recreation Director Rick Atkins said.

Atkins said the complex will feature fields to host games for soccer, softball and baseball as well as TVs playing sports and lounge areas for residents to socialize.

“We want to make it very similar to a local hangout spot,” he said. “We want this to be someplace people will be comfortable at for three to four hours.”

Atkins said the adult sports field complex would probably break ground at the earliest in 2018.

The multipurpose fields complex, which is expected to be complete in spring 2017, is a $23 million project that will feature two championship fields to host tournaments as well as eight regular fields, all featuring a mix of natural grass and synthetic turf.

Tourism and local use

The multipurpose fields complex is expected to attract sports tournaments and support the “Sports Capital of Texas” brand as well as host local players. However, the adult sports field complex is intended for residents’ recreational use, Atkins said.

“Balancing [use of] parks for tourism and residents: I take that part very seriously,” Atkins said. “If I’m having that discussion internally or externally I’ll ask, ‘Can our residents use it?’”

McGraw said the city looks at a new facility’s use when deciding on funding mechanisms. For example, he said the Round Rock Sports Center, which caters mostly to traveling sports teams from outside the city, was funded entirely through hotel occupancy tax, or HOT tax, revenue. McGraw said the new multipurpose fields complex, which will host a mix of local residents and traveling sports teams, used bond funds to be paid back with local tax dollars as well as the HOT tax revenue.

“Yes, we are trying to find the right balance,” McGraw said.


Highland Community Park Practice fields[/caption]

New regional parks

Coleman said he wants Pflugerville’s parks to serve as a regional draw, instead of developing neighborhood-focused parks.

“We’ve seen in other parts of the community what larger parks will do to form community in a neighborhood and the city,” he said.

The new regional park Pflugerville is looking to build is called Highland Community Park. It will be a 105-acre park off Kingston Lacy Boulevard in the Highland Park and Highland Park North neighborhoods. It will include a playground, splash pad, hike and bike trail, garden, dog park and sports practice fields.

James Hemenes, Pflugerville’s Parks and Recreation director, said at 105 acres, the park is a “huge undertaking.”

“It’ll have amenities people drive from other cities for,” he said.

Hemenes said it will also have a “hefty” price tag. He said it will be built in phases, with the first phase costing about $2 million and the preliminary cost estimate for the whole park costing $6 million.

The second park the city is looking to build is the 11-acre Stone Hill Park located across from Stone Hill Town Center. Possible amenities include a playground, splash pad, sand volleyball courts, rain garden, dog park and sports practice fields.

Hemenes said the Stone Hill Park is significantly smaller than Highland, but it will cost about $2 million because of the number of amenities.

Pflugerville also recently selected land to serve as a new sports complex. Coleman said the new complex will also be a destination park.

“That park will truly turn into the gem of the city for the next 75 years,” he said.

Expanding amenities

Hemenes said with new parks, the department is getting more requests for diverse amenities.

“Ten years ago shade over a playground was almost unheard of, but a lot of folks coming to the area just have different expectations,” he said. “Now we have one or two [playgrounds] that don’t have shade out of 20.”

Hemenes said for a community park, the standard used to be swings, a slide and benches. Now, he said Pflugerville’s minimum standards include a playscape, amenities for various ages, a picnic area, walking trail, drinking fountain and pet waste stations.

“We spend a lot of money on bags for pet waste stations. We go through cases and cases and cases per year,” he said. “That’s something that’s expected now. We find out real quick if we’re out of bags.”

Hemenes said the city strives to accommodate a wider range of sports as well. He said Pflugerville parks accommodate not only established or emerging sports such as baseball, football, lacrosse or skating, but also lesser-known sports such as gaga ball, which is similar to dodgeball and is played in an octagon ring with a softer foam ball.

“Things are always changing, but what doesn’t change is we want to provide diversified parks facilities. That’s our overriding goal,” he said.


Hutto Lake Creek park[/caption]

Master Plan

The master plan approved in December includes recommendations for up to $37 million in parks projects. However, funding for specific projects is yet to be determined, Hutto Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hemker said.

“It’s a very thorough document,” Holland said. “We have to have something before we can move forward [with parks projects]. You go with a master plan so you have a big-picture plan.”

Hemker said the plan serves as a “road map” for further parks development.

“As our community continues to grow it’s important for us to be able to try to stay ahead of the curve and identify needs and address those needs before we get too far behind,” Holland said.

Listed in the master plan are high priorities such as a dog park, outdoor swimming pool, indoor recreation center and sports complex.

Dog park

One item of high priority in the parks master plan is a city dog park, and council took the first step toward developing the park by approving a long-term property lease at Starmark Animal Behavior Center.

Starmark Animal Behavior Center, a local dog training business, agreed to allow the city to develop about 8 to 10 acres of its property into a city dog park. The city will not pay for the land, but will need to provide structures for the park, Hemker said.

A coalition called Friends of Hutto Dog Park has been lobbying for the dog park for the past year and is raising donations to help fund the project. He said a local girlscout helped design some of the equipment for the dog park as well.

“We waited so, so long for this,” said Sandy Rizzo, a member of Friends of Hutto Dog Park. “We are just so happy now we can move forward.”

Hemker said the next step is to formalize plans for the dog park and raise funds. He said the Friends of Hutto Dog Park is a nonprofit, so it can raise funds for the park to help it be developed.

Additional reporting by Emilie Shaughnessy