Written by Mindy Cooper, Principal
To properly tell this story, I’ll ask you to take a step back in time with me to one year ago today when the vacant historic structure at 220 South Congress Ave was in the midst of being transformed into an iconic flagship retail experience. Our dwg. team was hard at work leading the patio drawings through a complex permitting process. The general contractor was already on site and making changes inside the building. Construction barriers at Congress Avenue and Barton Springs had been rerouting traffic past the right hand turn lane for a few months.
Simultaneously, the South Central Waterfront (SCW) Initiative was championing their long awaited Vision Framework Plan at City Hall, which was adopted by City Council exactly one year ago today on June 16th, 2016. For 220 South Congress, the South Central Waterfront Framework Plan envisioned an urban park at it’s doorstep, at the feet of the Bat Sculpture and smack dab in the middle of the Barton Springs right turn lane.
Fast forward to February of this year when the Yeti flagship store opened it’s doors. The store and it’s outdoor patio were ready for visitors but a remnant of construction remained in place: the yellow and white traffic barrier blocking southbound traffic from making the free-wheeling, high speed right hand turn. This wasn’t an oversight or poor coordination. This was an intentional move to continue the momentum – or more accurately, the lack of momentum – for drivers who had grown accustomed to the turn lane closure. The idea of a temporary 12-month pilot project to bridge the gap between Yeti’s construction and a permanent urban park described in the SCW Framework Plan had been born. Stakeholders and city staff rallied to keep the barricades up while they continued to work behind the scenes to implement a 12 month pilot project.
In coordination with the Congress Avenue Master Plan event on a recent Saturday earlier this month, AIA Austin’s urban design committee organized a pop up event on the turn lane. The Pop up Plaza spurred conversation and gave the public the opportunity to experience the space in a way that felt more like a park than a roadway. With just 2 weeks of preparation, a group of volunteers that included architects, planners, landscape architects, city staff and a healthy sprinkling of dwg.’ers created a vibrant park space complete with food trucks, games and shade canopies. The plaza came to life for several brief but fun hours. Locals, tourists, runners and cyclists all made their way through the pop up plaza and contributed their ideas of what the park could be.
So, what WILL the park be? There’s still much that’s unknown, but what we observed that day is that a place that can host families, games, food trucks and fun is one that serves you – the public – better than an expanse of asphalt ever could. Transforming under performing infrastructure into resilient, equitable spaces is something that we at dwg. hold near and dear to our hearts. We are excited to be a part of the Barton Springs R.O.W. evolution and are eager to see this first step of the SCW Framework Plan unfold.