The Past, Present and Future of Downtown Austin

It seems that along with every new high-rise condo or hotel redefining the downtown Austin landscape, there’s a counter-movement to preserve the city’s history. A relatively young town as far as the United States on the whole is concerned, Austin nevertheless has a past that deserves to be honored and, in some cases, revitalized. If you’ve had trouble keeping up with Austin’s urban renewal plans, here’s a quick snapshot of what’s happening with some of the city’s most revered landmarks:

Republic Square Park

The Past: In August of 1839, the original 306 lots of a burgeoning, young Austin were sold at auction. Four unnamed public squares were excluded from the sale in order to be preserved as public gathering spaces. Known as  “Courthouse Square,” “Hemphill Square,” “Guadalupe Park” and eventually “Republic Square,” the space is one of only three downtown historical squares.

The Present: Currently under construction, Republic Square Park sits adjacent to the new Federal Courthouse and is best know for the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) Farmers’ Market Downtown, which operates every Saturday from 9am – 1pm. Aside from special events, the park sits widely unused.

The Future: Plans to renovate the park are based on a circular promenade that connects its four corners while leaving the central space open for a community lawn. The project’s goal is to revitalize the park as an active green space in downtown Austin. The reopening, which is scheduled for the fall, will showcase a space with modern amenities (including a full-service café and public restrooms) and daily programming. The SFC Farmers’ Market will remain open during construction and continue to operate after the work is complete.

Waller Creek

The vision for the future of Waller Creek Park.

The Past: Waller Creek begins north of the University of Texas and winds its way downtown where it flows into Lady Bird Lake. For years the area has been subject to severe flooding.

The Present: Through the help of the Waller Creek Conservancy and years of city planning, the area is undergoing revitalization that will establish a chain of connected parks in downtown Austin from 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake.

The Future: In total 37 acres of green space will be restored along Waller Creek, which includes more than three new miles of hike and bike trails, a new park space between 7th and 9th Streets and a pedestrian bridge crossing Lady Bird Lake. On the northern end of Waller Creek, the transformed Waterloo Park will include an iconic outdoor amphitheater, the Moody Theater, which will serve as a performing arts venue holding up to 5,000 patrons.

Seaholm Power Plant/Water Intake Structure

The Past: The Seaholm power station was built along Lady Bird Lake in the 1950s and served as Austin’s main power source until 1959. In 1989, however, it stopped providing power to the city and the building sat dormant for years. In 2004 the Austin city council sought proposals for redevelopment, which finally got underway in 2013. Construction started on the interior of the turbine generator building—the largest building on site—and tenants began occupying the spaces in 2015.

The Present: “An urban oasis on the Southwestern edge of downtown Austin,” you may be familiar with Seaholm Power as the home of downtown Trader Joe’s. It’s a mixed-use space including offices, retail shops, restaurants, condos and a stunning plaza with public event spaces along the shore of Lady Bird Lake. However, plans for the Seaholm Water Intake structure and surrounding parkland are still under consideration.

The Future: The collaborative planning phase for Seaholm Waterfront will conclude in the fall with community engagement opportunities taking place over the summer. For more information or to sign up for Seaholm Waterfront Updates, click here.