AUSTIN (KXAN) — An ambitious park project a decade in the making is getting a major boost in public funding.
The Austin City Council voted Thursday night to extend Tax Increment Financing or TIF for Waller Creek.
The amendment approved $110 million in projected tax revenues from new developments in that area to new parks and trails to be built along Waller Creek.
“It’s a huge day for us,” said Peter Mullan, CEO of Waller Creek Conservancy. “It provides a financial roadmap for us to be able to complete the entire project.”
The project will change the landscape along Waller Creek from Lady Bird Lake to 15th Street.
“The idea is that investment in the parks and service are going to catalyze new development,” said Mullan. “So the additional tax revenue from that new development can be used to pay to actually support the investment in the first place.”
At Waterloo Park at 15th and Red River Streets, work has already begun.
The Conservancy has partnered with HOPE Outdoor Gallery to have artists decorate the fence surrounding the construction site.
Ayla Erdener was working on her artwork Thursday. She welcomed the idea of having more green space in downtown. “If our motto is ‘Keep Austin Green,’ as many green spaces as we can get, as big as we can get it, I think we should do that,” she said.
The new Waterloo Park is expected to open in 2020. The entire Waller Creek project is expected to be done by 2025.
Some businesses along Waller Creek said the project has dragged on for years already. Many are ready to see it come to life.
Some people, however, are critical of using TIF to fund a project like this.
“We also have to think about our priorities in this community,” said activist Bill Bunch at the city council meeting. “We’re telling folks we don’t have money to take care of our neighborhood swimming pools.”
Jacob Asmussen with Empower Texans told KXAN, “The Waller Creek initiative is already off to a bad start with the disastrous tunnel project, where the city spent $140 million over budget for a flawed tunnel. That is an astronomical cost to residents. Should we be entrusting the city with even more of our money when it is handled like that?”
Former city council member Don Zimmerman said using TIF is risky because the actual cost of the project and tax revenues “are virtually impossible to accurately compute.”
The Conservancy does need to match the TIF funding by raising money on its own. They said they already have $46 million raised.