Republic Square, the both storied and neglected civic space at 422 Guadalupe Street downtown, just east of the U.S. Federal Courthouse, is about to get its long-awaited makeover.
On May 23, the city’s Parks and Recreation Board reviewed a management plan for the park, presented by Downtown Austin Alliance partnership and development director Mandi Thomas. The DAA, the city, and the Austin Parks Foundation are partnering on the project.
Currently under construction, the park is scheduled to reopen with new amenities, daily programming, and a full-service café. The goal of the renovation is to revive it as an active, vital green space in the city, one with a unique history to convey.
According to a May 26 Austin Monitor report on Thomas’ presentation, the park will be managed by the nonprofit Downtown Austin Parks; its first-year operating budget is $730,942. In addition, the Square will generate revenue by renting the park, or parts of it, for events.
The renovation is also meant to tell the story of the park’s history. Blackbird, a new public artwork designed by local artist Holly Young-Kincannon, is already in place; artists will stain the work black to resemble Oaxacan pottery of Mexico (as well as to give a shoutout to the city’s grackles).
The sculpture is a reference to the square’s history. Originally one of four planned squares for Downtown Austin—Brush, Hamilton (now Republic), Bell (now Wooldridge), and one that now longer exists—in the early 1900s, the square was identified with and used by residents in the largely Mexican-American neighborhood that was then located west and south of the square. Due to the presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, one of three churches in the area at the time, it was often referred to as "Guadalupe Square."
Those traditions waned with the City Plan of 1928, which legislated segregation and essentially sent the city’s Latinx population east. By 1950, the square was being used as a parking lot, but in 1976 it was revived, at least in theory, as public space.
The restored park will included daily programming, native landscaping, and modern amenities.
Food was part of the park’s early history. Early on, residents would make tamales and Mexican candies to sell, while later nearby Walker's Austex Chile Company employed residents from nearby neighborhoods.
That tradition was revived some years ago with the Sustainable Food Center’s Downtown Farmer’s market, which has operated during construction and will remain after. Culinary tradition will be expanded upon as well, with a new, full-service cafe in the park.
The Sustainable Food Center, Austin Parks Foundation, Austin Community College, and the Thinkery are among the organizations being considered to work on park programming, according to the Monitor. The park has been designed to allow events, classes, and other organized activities in different zones—ranging in size from the Grove, containing 1,500 square feet, to the 17,625-square-foot Central Lawn.
There will, however, be a few events that will require the whole park to be closed to those who don’t attend the events; Downtown Austin Alliance has asked that these be limited to 20 days per year, according to the Monitor.
Republic Square’s reopening is scheduled for this fall. You can get more details here.
• Parks board embraces plans for Republic Square [Austin Monitor]