AUSTIN (KXAN) — Buried between the canopies of a leafy central Austin park sits a 40-foot treehouse with views of downtown through the trees.
A few yards away, a small amphitheater and remodeled 1920s cottage overlook a new children’s play area, a basketball court and baseball field.
It’s all part of a $15 million facelift for Kingsbury Commons, the southernmost area of Pease Park, which runs alongside North Lamar Boulevard.
The redevelopment plan has been years in the making and is just the first phase of the Pease District Park Master Plan, which will see improvements and installations across the entire 84-acre park.
The most notable installation from the project’s first phase is the treehouse observation pod, an eye-catching metal globe with netting suspended in the air, enabling visitors to lounge among the trees.
“The treehouse has been a huge draw,” said Heath Riddles, CEO of Pease Park Conservancy. “It’s sort of that Instagram moment that a lot of people saw on social media before they visited the park, and I think inspired a lot of people to come out here for the first time.”
But while there are plenty of new additions – from the treehouse to a water play feature where kids can cool off – the park’s soul remains, evidenced by the repurposing of historic Tudor Cottage as a gathering space.
“It is still a borderline wild, storybook, forested oasis where you can go and find something exciting and thrilling around every corner,” Riddles said. “I think people really appreciate that we’ve preserved that spirit.”
Funding for the project totaled $15 million, with the Moody Foundation leading the way with a $10 million donation.
Construction on the Kingsbury Commons phase of the plan began 15 months ago and was completed in time for the area to reopen to the public in July.
“We saw during COVID an exponential increase in the number of people who were visiting Pease Park, probably about five times the usual number of people,” Riddles said.
“We knew that when we opened Kingsbury Commons, we would see a lot of folks coming out who hadn’t been to the park before,” he added.
The master plan will see development gradually moving north up the park from Kingsbury Commons.
Work on the second phase of the project will begin at the intersection of East Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and North Lamar Boulevard, which will be the “front doorstep” to Pease Park, Riddles said.
It will focus on conservancy efforts, as well as recognizing the formerly enslaved people who lived in the area and frequented the park after it was established in the late 19th century.
“It was always the vision that Pease Park would be a celebratory announcement to downtown Austin and it’s not been that in its 145 years of existence,” he added. “After phase two, it will be that.”