Austin Embraces Private Funds to Beautify Parks

It takes a community to raise a child. It also takes a community to build and maintain beautiful public parks where those kids can build muscles, experience nature and meet new friends.

But it often takes more than tax dollars to beautify existing parks and create new ones for a booming population of families and active young adults. That’s where the city’s innovative and independent community spirit comes in.

Groups like the Austin Parks Foundation have rallied residents and local businesses to raise money and pick up where city tax dollars leave off. The Foundation, for example, has raised more than $5 million since 2007.

Charitable contributions have smoothed tennis courts, built butterfly gardens, added shade at basketball courts and built dozens of benches and water fountains. That, paired with volunteer projects and clean-ups, helps keep Austin’s 266 parks and 200-plus miles of trails in great condition. And community buy-in and advocacy helps encourage more investment in parks.

Public-Private Partnerships 

In 2013, the Austin City Council increased the Parks and Recreation Department budget by 15 percent, a move intended to improve maintenance after years of tight budgets during the recession. It was the biggest increase in a decade.

Often, the most affluent neighborhoods generate the most funds for their local parks. Pease Park is a prime example. Nearby affluent neighborhoods, including Old Enfield, Old West Austin, Tarrytown and the UT Area have helped fuel big fundraising campaigns.

The result: Pease Park Conservancy, which raised $247,000 to hire a consultant to work on a master renovation plan in conjunction with the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. They set up public meetings for input and expect to have a fresh plan in the fall for the city council to review.

The Conservancy has been at it since 2008, raising money to plant 500 new trees and restore historic parts of the park, including a Tudor Cottage built in the 1920s. And, since Pease Park is one of the city’s most popular parks, the improvements benefit almost everyone.

Richard Craig, founder of the Conservancy, grew up in the area and has enjoyed the park his entire life. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he saw the park slowly declining as trees died and the turf became eroded. Craig took action, helping band together neighbors and friends to change its course. In a video, Conservancy Board Member Jill Nokes said the community couldn’t just let it decline. “The city will never be able to replace this incredible asset,” she said. “It was at a tipping point where it was going to crash.”

The Conservancy has since set up an endowment for ongoing maintenance and projects at the Austin Community Foundation. “We’re in it for the long haul,” Nokes said.


In it for the Long Haul

Another example is the Friends of Dick Nichols Park group, which gets huge turnouts to paint facilities and pick up litter.

Meanwhile, companies such as C3 Presents, which produces Austin City Limits Festival, have also pitched in. C3 Presents offered $3.5 million for a remodel of Auditorium Shores along Lady Bird Lake in downtown.

The city embraces the community-assist.

“And so for parks and recreation and partnering with nonprofits, the sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned,” Austin Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley said in a video about the park.

Learn more about Pease Park: Click Here