6 sites identified in Waller Creek Boathouse relocation efforts

Austin

As plans develop for the city of Austin’s $7.1B Project Connect transit overhaul, the Austin Rowing Club is left searching for a new home. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department has identified six potential relocation sites under consideration for the Waller Creek Boathouse. The city-owned boathouse is expected to relocate to a yet-to-be-determined site amid construction plans for the upcoming Project Connect transit overhaul.

Austin voters approved Project Connect in the November 2020 election, a $7.1 billion transportation overhaul aimed at adding a light rail and expanding the city’s current bus and rail services. As part of those preliminary designs, the Waller Creek Boathouse will relocate to make way for construction on the new blue line. 

The blue line is a light rail service that will extend from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to the North Lamar Transit Center, with construction of its Rainey/MACC Station planned in the same area as the Waller Creek Boathouse.

During a community engagement forum Wednesday evening, PARD staff provided public analysis of the six proposed locations. These preliminary locations were analyzed based on each’s ability to support a minimum 7,000-square-foot facility; accommodate docks and boat traffic; access necessary electricity, water and wastewater resources; require minimal vegetation clearances or slope adjustments; and that do not conflict with active projects or vision plans in development.

(Courtesy: Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin, Project Connect)

Liana Kallivoka, PARD’s assistant director, broke down the following locations:

  • Site 1: Located west of Zilker Park’s Rowing Dock concession and west of the MoPac Expressway bridge, a former landfill that would require remediation efforts if selected. Parking and docks can be accommodated as needed; however, Kallivoka said the location might be impacted by the future MoPac South project that’s part of the Zilker Vision Plan.
  • Site 2: Located east of the MoPac Expressway bridge and across from the Texas Rowing Center, this site is also the location of a former landfill and would need to be remediated to host a new facility. This area could also accommodate parking and docks as needed, but is also a site that could be impacted by the future MoPac South Project incorporated into the Zilker Vision Plan.
(Courtesy: Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin, Project Connect)
  • Site 3: The site serves as a PARD ballfield currently used by Austin High School via an agreement with Austin ISD. If the boathouse relocates to this site, PARD would be required to identify a replacement location for the ballfield. This location is next to the Texas Rowing Center and a public boat launch at a neighboring spillway site. Currently, there is limited parking availability, due to Austin High and Butler Trail traffic.
  • Site 4: This site is currently part of a permitting phase the Trail Foundation is involved in, regarding parkland improvements that will provide child and family-friendly amenities in the Rainey Street and downtown corridor. Both traffic and elevation challenges have been identified at this location, staff said.
(Courtesy: Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin, Project Connect)
  • Site 5: Located near the former Holly Power Plant and within the Holly Shores/Edward Rendor Sr. Park at Festival Beach, noted concerns include limited utilities near the waterfront. The park’s current vision plan does not incorporate a boathouse facility, which could lead to delays in implementing the boathouse.
  • Site 6: There is an existing building currently housed at this site, which is a former hostel that has since closed. Staff said the location could be able to accommodate a large-scale facility, and an existing canoe rental concession stand is already in place. There is a small parking lot and neighboring on-street parking available, and staff said the location would provide more water-related recreational activities on the eastern side of I-35.
(Courtesy: Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin, Project Connect)

Of the six sites identified, PARD staff said the sixth option, where the closed hostel is currently situated, is most ideal at diversifying where recreational activities are offered while also minimizing the amount of environmental rehabilitation needed to accommodate a facility.

(Courtesy: Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Austin Transit Partnership, Capital Metro, City of Austin, Project Connect)

Following Wednesday’s meeting, next steps include city and project staff consolidating public feedback as part of Project Connect’s environmental impact statement draft. This draft will be made available this summer for public review — a process that will include a public hearing.

Following approval by the Federal Transit Administration, initial design processes will begin once that new alternative site has been identified and approved.

The boathouse’s undetermined relocation has been of high interest for organizations currently utilizing the facilities, including the Austin Rowing Club. In an interview with KXAN in advance of the community meeting, ARC executive director Kevin Reinis said it’ll take a collaborative effort to ensure the Austin institution continues its operations along Lady Bird Lake.

“There should be a plan with the boathouse and its services to the community,” he said. “It shouldn’t just be wiped out, wiped off the face of the earth.”

For Reinis, he said his hope for the future of ARC is combining the vision of both organizations. He commended Project Connect’s efforts to diversify transit offerings for residents and expand on equity initiatives, and said he hoped those same sentiments, and resources, will coexist with ARC’s future home.

“It’d be wonderful if we could tie in [ARC’s] services and amenities into the bridge, and leverage the investment being made in Project Connect for diversity, equity and inclusion,” he said. “My dream and vision is, let’s take advantage of this opportunity that’s disruptive and create a generational opportunity to impact the connectivity of people to the water.”

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