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Inside the $800M plan for East Austin’s Walter E. Long Park

Parks department approves 3,700-acre overhaul

Idealized drawing of a lake with lawns and trees around it, and a long pier, at dusk
Drawing of Lake Walter E. Long by Halff Associates

An ambitious master plan to transform 3,700 acres of public land in East Austin was approved unanimously by the Austin’s Parks and Recreation board at last week’s meeting, the Austin Monitor reported Monday.

The plan for Walter E. Long Park would be carried out in five phases and would likely take more than 20 years to complete, at total cost of more than $800 million. It includes the 1,200-acre Lake Walter E. Long, which was created to be a provide water for turbines at a power plant in the area.

According to a June 11 Towers story by James Rambin, the parks and rec department presented plans that could include such diverse components as protected natural areas, recreation areas, a cultural arts center, a boardwalk, hiking and equestrian trails, a sculpture garden, a ropes course, disc golf, an amphitheater, rentable cabins, and an event lawn.

A plan to build a PGA-level golf course on the property was nixed after the input that the surrounding community was underwhelmed by the idea. The plan does call for a new Travis County Expo Center—perhaps the one in these plans commissioned from Bjarke Engels in 2017—and the development of the area around it into lawns and outdoor entertainment sites.

Where funding for the projects will come from hasn’t been determined, but the presentation to the department proposed that $394 million (48%) of the project be privately funded, with the other $422 million (52%) coming from the city. Parks and Recreation Department representative Greg Montes and consultant Tim Bargainer with Dallas’ Halff Associates (consultant on the plan) pointed out that plans could be broken into small projects funded through different sources and partnerships with local nonprofit and recreation groups, according to the Monitor. Local and state rowing clubs and other boating types are also in the potential-ask mix. The department hopes to work with city councilmembers and staff on funding options and other specifics needed to carry out the plan. The first phase of the plan is expected to cost $144 million.