After a successful effort to remove Austin’s Butler Shores Metropolitan Park from consideration as the possible site of a Major League Soccer stadium, community activists took a stand Saturday against using another potential parkland site.
More than 60 demonstrators calling themselves Friends of Austin Parkland gathered at Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park in Southeast Austin to protest the use of public parkland for private development.
Neighborhood groups, environmentalists and other activists held signs reading, “Protect our parks” and “No public land for private profit developer.” They chanted “Hands off Guerrero Park!” and “All our parks are sacred!”
Precourt Sports Ventures, which is looking into moving its Ohio-based soccer team Columbus Crew SC to Austin, had once considered Butler Shores Metropolitan Park its dream stadium site. Then last month, it winnowed down a list of five potential city-owned stadium sites to Guerrero Park and McKalla Place near the Domain. Guerrero is a public park while McKalla is not parkland.
The company nixed Butler Shores after its selection evoked public outcry, which is exactly what activists hope happens again with Guerrero Park. Activists also started an online petition about two months ago to push the City Council to preserve Guerrero.
But it will likely be months — late spring or early summer — before they know whether they’ve been successful. City officials in a memo Friday delayed a full vetting of any stadium site for an additional three months.
City staff members said they would use the time to “commence with a robust community engagement,” according to the memo.
Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, whose District 3 includes Guerrero Park, told the American-Statesman last month that he would like to keep that park under consideration to explore the possibility of private dollars helping with environmental improvements.
Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez, one of about a dozen people who spoke at Saturday’s rally, said she has for years supported public parks such as Guerrero and pushed for improvements.
“It really is a shock to me to think that we are now going to say that we can give some of our parkland away,” Gómez said. “No way. We’re paying taxes for that land, and we want to keep it for families in this community.”
Gómez said if the park were to go to a private company, it would be the “further gentrification of East Austin and Montopolis, and to me, that is absolutely unacceptable.”
Others raised concerns about the harm to the environment that a 20,000-capacity stadium could do.
“If (the wildlife) is run out of here, there is no place for them to live,” said Jane Rivera, chairwoman of the Austin parks and recreation board. “It’s not appropriate to think about putting a commercial venture in a wildlife preserve.”
Jim Canning, a parent of South Austin Baseball Little League, which is based at Butler Shores, was among the protesters Saturday. Canning had successfully protested against Butler Shores being considered and came Saturday hoping to help get another park off the list.
“We just wanted to show our support and show that it’s not just our park (that needs protection) — it’s public parks in general,” Canning said. “I’ve been here … 20-something years, and I love the growth, but I think it’s OK to let your environment breathe and have a place for families to go and create memories.”
McKalla Place, with its proximity to the restaurants and entertainment of the Domain, would be a much better option, he said.
“I mean, look, as we’re talking, two red-tailed hawks flying around,” Canning said. “They’re here to protest as well.”