Revamping Waller Creek part of Mayor’s “downtown puzzle”

Waller Creek parks run from 15th street to the Colorado River. Austin City Council will take up revamping the area in 2017.

AUSTIN (KXAN) – In 2017 the Austin City Council will attempt to revitalize the east side of downtown. To many it’s an area full of homelessness, underutilized properties and facilities in disrepair.

Mayor Steve Adler hopes to inspire city leaders to take advantage of an area with great opportunity but not the best reputation: Waller Creek.

Flood prone and in disrepair, the park space around Waller Creek east of downtown is empty to most but homeless. But, a partnership between the city and non-profits could bring people out to enjoy the space.

“It’s a project whose time has come. This is the moment to do this. This is an investment by the city for the city’s future,” said Peter Mullan from the Waller Creek Conservancy. He supports the Mayor’s proposal of dedicating future property tax revenue in this area to 37 acres of new and improved park space. This would happen by extending the Waller Creek tax increment finance zone already in place to pay for the flood control tunnel.

“We will be creating spaces for people and family and kids to come together that doesn’t currently exist downtown. We will be providing something that the city has not yet seen before,” said Mullan.

The upgrades would go from 15th street to the Colorado River. The Waller Creek Conservancy expects the projects to cost $220 million. $100 million in bonds according to the mayor’s post will be used to try and match funds from the philanthropic community. The goal would be to phase in construction on the several parks, the first being completed in two to three years. The entire project complete in between five and ten years.

Improving Waller Creek is just one of Mayor Adler’s possible solutions to what he calls the “downtown puzzle.”

Other missions include addressing homelessness in downtown Austin and The Arch. He says “rightsizing” The Arch and housing the homeless would promote downtown safety.

Mayor Adler also wants to look into whether or not expanding the convention center would benefit the economy before deciding to support a possible expansion. City council members started looking into the possibility several months ago. The mayor advocates increasing the hotel occupancy tax in an area of downtown Austin to generate revenue that could be used to expand the center.

The city council will vote on a one year pilot program to extend live music hours at outside venues at the red river district.

The mayor’s office says tackling all of these projects at once would be easier than addressing these issues one by one. He hopes the council takes it up in their first few work sessions and meetings in January.