Will the New City Council Be Open to Fewer Zilker Park Closures?

Oct 13, 2014

This year’s Austin City Limits festival is over, but the Great Lawn at Zilker Park will remain closed for about a month, leaving enough time to remove stages, sod the lawn and complete other post-festival maintenance. But, after that, the lawn will close again ahead of the Trail of Lights, and the park will close again in January.

Austinites, especially those living near the park, have often complained about the traffic, crowds and park closures that come with the festival.

But, will a new, geographically-representative city council be as willing to make accommodations for special events?

Currently, Zilker Park is closed until Oct 26. Then it’s closed again in late November for the Trail of Lights, which starts on Dec. 7. In January, the park is expected to close again for the Cyclocross National Championships, which will last from Jan. 7 to Jan. 11. With all those closures, some Zilker neighborhood residents, like David King, say enough is enough.

“If we look at a three month period, most of the park will be closed for that three month period of time,” King says. “That’s wrong and that’s the wrong policy for our parks.”

In a city where affordability is the marquee issue, King says the city isn’t approaching the use of parks the right way.

“That theme is resonating throughout all neighborhoods where we don’t have enough parkland already in some parts of the city and where we do have parkland in urban areas,” he says. “It’s being used more and more for commercial purposes, and pushing out regular park users.”

The new council District 5 butts up to Zilker Park and contains the closest neighborhoods. Most candidates running in the district say the Austin City Limits Music Festival is an important part of Austin, but the next council could handle it differently. One way is through negotiations with the company that runs the festival, C3 Presents.

“The current council probably could’ve bargained a little bit harder with them,” says District 5 candidate Dave Floyd. “Chicago is able to squeeze a lot more out of C3 than we are out of them for the use of the parks for Lollopalooza. I mean, at this point ACL is such a big festival. I know C3 has threatened to take it other places, but, look, it has Austin in the name. It’s identified with Austin. Part of the reason people like to come to the festival is because it’s here in the city. I think we’re in a good place to demand a little more.”

C3 has not publicly threatened to move the festival outside Austin. 

Plus, candidates say the festival puts a strain on the city’s public safety resources.

“We need to understand the cost to the city and consider how we can have that better paid for. We do need to consider the whole city in terms of use of park,” says District 5 candidate Ann Kitchen. “So, I think we need to limit the number of activities like that that occur in our in our parks.”

District 5 candidate Dan Buda says it’s a balancing act, but argues you can’t ignore the economic impact of the festival.

“The economic loss of something like ACL leaving the city would be a huge economic loss,” he says. “But, at the same time, I would like to sit down with neighborhood folks and ACL people to find balance to help ease traffic congestion by providing more shuttles or things of that nature so people aren’t parking in neighborhoods.”

All other District five candidates did not return requests for comment before KUT’s deadline. While changes at City Hall could affect how the city deals with special event organizers like C3, there could also be changes to the promoter. The New York Times reported last week that the ticket company Live Nation may buy a stake in C3, which is based in Austin. Zilker neighborhood resident David King says that’s also a concern.

“That’s given us a caution flag and if that sale goes through we would be concerned and want to find out where they stand on working with neighborhoods,” King says.

In the past, C3 has worked with the neighborhood during the festival. The company even gives the neighborhood association tickets to sell to residents and lets the association keep the proceeds for neighborhood events.

Regardless of how C3’s possible buyout or the upcoming City Council elections go, one thing is for certain: ACL will be back at Zilker next year.

C3 has already announced dates for the 2015 festival – Oct. 2-4 for the first weekend and Oct. 9-11 for the second – and early bird tickets go on sale Oct. 21.