Funding shortfalls, the price of underground parking is a scourge for the DAC project

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Photo by Overland Architects via City of Austin

Friday April 29th, 2022 by Kali Bramble

The team behind the Dougherty Arts Center replacement project unveiled the design plans for the Butler Shores facility to a room full of applause last Monday. However, the mood following a side reveal at the Design Commission wasn’t quite as celebratory.

Citing concerns over funding for the project, the Design Commission deferred approval of the site in a 7-1 vote, with Commissioner Evan Tanaguchi against. Most alarming for the commission was the proposed underground parking lot that could cost up to $15 million, currently not accounted for in the project’s $28 million budget.

“So the parking lot is currently unfunded, but we are building the Dougherty Center above the parking lot,” Commissioner Samuel Franco said. “Until we figure out how to fund the rest of this project, we’re literally building on air.”

Efforts to relocate the aging Dougherty Arts Center to Barton Springs Road have been underway since a 2010 assessment deemed the building irreparable and at high risk of flooding. Voters approved bond funding for reconstruction in the 2012 and 2018 elections, and City Council approved its move from the Parks and Recreation headquarters to the Zach Scott Theater in 2021.

The new facility, designed by Studio 8 Architects and Overland Partners, would consist of two floors of art studios, classrooms, galleries and theater spaces as well as a rooftop terrace. With its transparent facades, open-air lobbies, balconies and shaded courtyards, the building is designed to welcome the public, connect indoor and outdoor spaces, and overlook a new and improved park to the west.

“The intent behind the design scheme was to maximize the amount of open park space and create what could be considered an arts plaza,” said PARD Project Manager Kevin Johnson. “The DAC strives to be Austin’s cultural hall and a hub of creativity.”

While curators praised the facility’s above-ground design, they were less enthusiastic about the ramifications of its underground parking lot. Parking has been a contentious issue since Butler Shore Park site approval in 2019. NOTNeighborhood concerns about traffic on Toomey Road and environmental constraints have prompted the city council to require an underground parking solution that some consider prohibitive.

The structure’s current plan has only 130 parking spaces, its capacity limited by council member Ann Kitchen’s directive to restrict garage access to Riverside Drive.

“It’s $115,000 per parking space,” Franco said, citing preliminary estimates from the city manager’s office. “We don’t even pay that much for affordable housing.

Project staff responded that the parking pattern had changed since the preliminary estimates, but still acknowledged that there was a significant gap in funding for the existing project.

“We’ve been involved in conversations with the Department of Transportation and the Budget Office to talk about a revenue-based model that could fund the garage through the company, and those conversations are ongoing,” Johnson said. Still, a cost-effective model would require increasing the dimensions of the garage, which would complicate efforts to protect Toomey Road from traffic and likely elicit backlash from the community.

With their case deferred to next month’s meeting, the Dougherty Arts Project team will take the next month to strategize more to address its funding shortfalls. In the meantime, those interested in a detailed look at the schematics of the facility can check out the community update, available to watch here.

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