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C3 to give $3.5 million for Auditorium Shores overhaul; work to start this fall

The city of Austin plans to close Auditorium Shores to big events for about a year to revamp the popular park with a $3.5 million donation from the company C3 Presents.

The work will include creating a smaller, new off-leash dog area on the west end of Auditorium Shores and installing new turf and sprinkler systems to spruce up the heavily used, deteriorated grass in the main expanse.

Construction will start on the off-leash area in September and on other areas in November, parks Director Sara Hensley said in a memo Thursday. The hike-and-bike trail that runs along the shoreline will stay open during construction, with detours, the memo says.

The large main lawn at Auditorium Shores would close from February 2014 to February 2015, the memo says. So the many events held there each year, from Fun Fun Fun Fest to free concerts during South by Southwest, would have to relocate or cancel.

C3, an Austin-based event production company, began talking with the city about donating money last year, after hot, dry weather and already worn-out grounds at Auditorium Shores resulted in a dusty experience at the Austin Food & Wine Festival, which C3 produces.

At the same time, C3 was seeking the city’s permission to hold a second weekend of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, another event it produces, in 2013 and future years. The city approved the extra weekend, but it hasn’t signed a deal yet to secure the donation.

C3, the parks department and the nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation have agreed on the donation amount of $3.5 million and the plan for Auditorium Shores, Hensley said in her memo. The parks board will discuss the plan at a meeting Friday. The City Council is expected to vote on it on May 23.

It’s not clear if C3 will donate the money before the work begins, or if the city will pay for it and C3 will reimburse the city later. City officials didn’t answer that question, and a call to C3 wasn’t returned.

Charlie Jones, a partner with C3, said in a statement: “We are excited about the strategic partnership … that will enhance the grounds at Auditorium Shores, part of our continued commitment to improving parks around Austin.”

A tally provided to the American-Statesman last year showed C3 had donated more than $6 million since 2006 to improve Austin parks. The city closed Zilker Park’s Great Lawn for about a year in 2008 and 2009 to restore the patchy grass there, a $2.5 million overhaul paid for by C3.

Auditorium Shores “has been loved to death,” said Colin Wallis, executive director of the Austin Parks Foundation. With C3’s donation, “Auditorium Shores will hopefully look more like the way the Great Lawn does now: a nice, green lawn year-round.”

C3 moved the Food & Wine Festival to Butler Park this year after concluding that conditions at Auditorium Shores still weren’t suitable.

Currently, the full span of Auditorium Shores is a popular, off-leash dog area, but it’s also traversed by the Butler Hike and Bike Trail, which is used by walkers, runners, bikers and tourists. That creates a traffic jam of people and pets that can pose safety problems, said Ricardo Soliz, a parks department division manager.

“Improvement of the (grass) is really our number one goal,” he said. “But another goal is to lessen the conflict between the movement of dogs and other trail users. … If we spend some money on an off-leash area and some on the event lawn, it should create a better experience at Auditorium Shores for everyone.”

The trail will be routed to the south of the new, 3.2-acre off-leash area. The dog area would still run along the water and wouldn’t be fenced in, Soliz said. It could remain open when big events are held at the east end of Auditorium Shores, he said.

Parks officials also plan to allow dogs on-leash in the middle section of Auditorium Shores, he said.

About $1.1 million of the $3.5 million would be spent on the off-leash area, including features to prevent erosion along the shoreline and to create access for dogs into the water, Soliz said. The area might also have some seating for owners or features for dogs to climb and play on, he said.

Most of the remaining money will be spent on improvements to the other parts of Auditorium Shores, such as new grass and irrigation systems, Soliz said. Some might be set aside for long-term planning efforts for the park, he said.

The city already had planned to revamp the trail head on the east end of Auditorium Shores with more parking and restrooms as well as better spots to sit, take a water break and stretch. That work will start in November, Hensley said. It will be paid for with a $1 million state grant and $1 million in parks department money.

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