City Council approves new site for Dougherty Arts Center


The Austin City Council has approved the move of the Dougherty Arts Center.

At their May 9 regular meeting, council members voted 8-2 to approve the plan presented by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the city-owned Dougherty, from its current location on Barton Springs Road to a parkland site on Toomey Road next to Zach Theatre.

District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan and District 3 Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria voted against; District 4 Council Member Greg Casar was off the dais. Three city advisory boards — the Planning Commission, Arts Commission and Design Commission — had already recommended that council members approve the proposal.

“There’s probably not another building in this city that needs to be moved on more than the Dougherty — it’s literally falling apart,” said Mayor Steve Adler.

However, Adler added, with the Austin Independent School District slated to announce the closure of some its schools in August, considering those sites for the new Dougherty should remain a possibility.

“I’m going to vote for this, but if there’s something that comes out of (AISD’s closed schools) I would engage in that,” the mayor said.

Council Member Renteria also said he was disappointed that the city did not wait to consider the possibility of available AISD sites. He specifically mentioned Zavala Elementary School in his East Austin district.

“I think we should wait and postpone this until after August,” Renteria.


Butler Shores site plan for new Dougherty Arts Center
The current conceptual plans of the new site of the Dougherty Arts Center. Rendering courtesy: City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department/RVi Planning and Landscape Architecture/Studio8

District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents the area where the Dougherty would be rebuilt, introduced an amendment requiring the city staff to come back to council after the schematic design phase and prior to beginning construction. At that time, the council could address any concerns raised by neighborhood residents and community members about traffic and parking.

Traffic in the Toomey Road area is already greatly impacted by the many festivals and events at nearby Zilker Park such as the ACL Festival.

Austin voters approved bonds in November and in 2012 for the $28.5 million needed to relocate and build the arts center. Zach Theatre also sits on city parkland and was built with $10.8 million of voter-approved city bond money.

The preliminary plan calls for the current Toomey Road site to be reconfigured to create two new acres of parkland in addition to the new Dougherty facility. Two AISD ballfields currently located on the parkland would be moved closer to Barton Creek. A 200-space parking garage would be built between Zach Theatre and the new Dougherty.


A conceptual rendering at the new Dougherty Arts Center
A conceptual rendering of the new Dougherty Arts Center building from the west, with the Toomey Road entry on the right. Rendering courtesy: City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department/RVi Planning + Landscape Architecture/Studio8

The conceptual designs for the new arts center show a 40,000-square-foot building  which is roughly 50 percent larger than the current facility. The plans were created by planning firm RVi and Austin architects Studio8.

The current center is housed in a former U.S. Navy and Marine reserve facility built in 1947. The aging, flood-prone building now has a theater, a lobby gallery and classrooms and studios for art programs. Rebuilding is not option because the site sits on landfill and within the 25-year flood plain. Currently, part of the center is closed for repairs due to water damage from a leaky roof.

City staff report that in 2017 the Dougherty had 66,000 visitors and generated over $640,000 from class fees and rental fees, making it among the Parks and Recreation Department’s top revenue sites.

The Dougherty Arts Center opened in 1978 after attorney Chrys Dougherty purchased the building and donated it to the city, naming the center in honor of his wife, Mary Ireland Graves Dougherty.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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