Waller Creek represents the largest urban creek in the nation to undergo the level of transformation the conservancy envisions. This project will completely transform how disconnected entities and interests relate and interact with each other. While the impact area at hand is 28 acres, the conservancy is encouraging designers to pay special attention to key links and passages connecting people and the environment to the targeted redevelopment zone.
In soliciting a design for the Waller Creek area, the conservancy seeks a conceptual plan that accomplishes all of the following:
- Creates a healthy ecosystem for the creek and surrounding areas. This includes the rehabilitation of two city parks as well as a variety of other open spaces.
- Inspires diverse interests — from higher education to live music — to act cohesively.
- Bridges two parts of a city now divided by an imposing interstate highway.
- Creates a riveting destination attracting citizens from throughout Austin and visitors from around the world.
The conservancy believes these ambitious goals can be accomplished through innovative, collaborative and novel urban design.
Waller Creek begins north of The University of Texas at Austin campus and meanders throughout downtown, with its tail waters ultimately connected with Lady Bird Lake. The focus of design and revitalization efforts will run from approximately 15th Street to Lady Bird Lake. This scope touches the following areas:
- Approximately 20 city blocks — equivalent to 1.5 miles in length and 28 acres in size that was previously encumbered by a floodplain. This land represents 11 percent of downtown Austin.
- Boundaries of The University of Texas at Austin, the Capitol of Texas, Seton Healthcare, the Austin Convention Center, and a myriad of hotels, restaurants, residences, live music venues and other businesses.
- Two city parks - Palm and Waterloo - as well as additional open spaces like Symphony Square and Waller Beach.
- A wide range of biota, including numerous types of fish, ducks, trees, plants and more.
Waller Creek is the key, connecting tissue that can and should bind many independent entities into a single, workable landscape that rests on the bedrock of extraordinary design.
The Waller Creek Tunnel
The Waller Creek corridor has historically been located in a floodplain that lets the creek widen to 800 feet, which has occurred at times during the 100-year floodplain. Construction on a new, mile-long tunnel approximately 24 feet in diameter began in April 2011. It took 30 years and $146.5 million for the City of Austin, in partnership with Travis County, to reach the historic groundbreaking ceremony. Completion of the tunnel is anticipated in 2014.
When finished, the tunnel will maintain constant water flow throughout the creek, improve water quality and prevent further erosion. The tunnel will also provide the potential for additional amenities within the 28 acres surrounding the region, which is located on the eastern edge of Austin's downtown urban area.
The Waller Creek Tunnel makes the conservancy's surface project possible. The conservancy wishes to acknowledge the fine work done by city staff and advisory council who created a land use plan - The Waller Creek District Master Plan - in conjunction with the tunnel project. This plan contains valuable information for everyone interested in this project.
Cost and Funding
The conservancy will vigorously pursue all types of funding, including individual donations, public funds, and foundations. The project was launched with seed money provided by the conservancy's founding members and the City of Austin.
The conservancy anticipates remaining in place long beyond the initial launch, design competition and implementation of city policies that support the selected concept. In addition, the conservancy intends to provide for maintenance and upkeep to insure that Waller Creek is safe, clean, vibrant, and inviting for years to come.
On November 8, 2011, the conservancy launched an international design competition. The winning design will be presented to the city, October 2012.
The winning design will likely include the creation of an overlay that will govern development within the 28 identified acres, and coordinate planning efforts and the approval process for specific projects that comply with the new design.