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Fun Fun Fun Fest Fights for Space

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
Parks Department staff says festival use of Auditorium Shores' off-leash dog area is something they specifically set out to prohibit during redesign. the Austin Monitor: The battle rages bloodless over a 3-acre tract of dog park.

The Parks and Recreation Department and the organizer of Fun Fun Fun Fest, Transmission Events, are ensnarled in a dispute over festival planning. At the center of that dispute is the new off-leash area at the renovated Vic Mathias Shores, formerly Auditorium Shores. If there isn’t a resolution by this Thursday, City Council may intervene.

According to the Parks Department, Transmission Events submitted its original request for festival approval in March. As a festival that has taken place on parkland for at least three consecutive years, the organizer was guaranteed the dates it requested.

But because festival needs change every year, the city could not necessarily guarantee the setup Transmission asked for: in this case, use of the breadth of the park, including a main lawn, the transitional area between the lawn and the dog park (which sometimes doubles as an additional dog park area) and the off-leash area.

City staff agreed to the first two items. But when it came to permitting use of the off-leash area, they refused to budge. Parks Department staff says festival use of that part of the park is something they specifically set out to prohibit during redesign.

“To go beyond (those barriers), that’s where our department draws the line,” Terry Jungman, a project coordinator with the city of Austin, told the Austin Monitor

But Transmission’s general manager, Bobby Garza, said denying Fun Fun Fun the use of the off-leash area would cut the festival’s usual acreage by roughly 20 percent.

“This isn’t like a birthday party that can be relocated,” Garza told the Monitor. “This is a multimillion dollar festival that we’re planning.”

When former Council members approved the Auditorium Shores Improvement Plan in December 2013, it came with seemingly conflicting directives: instructing the Parks Department to accommodate the needs of Fun Fun Fun Fest while making three sections of the park unavailable to festival organizers.

At the time, former Assistant Director of the Parks Department Jesse Vargas described how the park’s new transitional area would accommodate festivals. He said a temporary movable barrier could be put up to section the dog park off from the transitional area and the main lawn, freeing up an additional acre for festival usage.

“Now, it’s important to note that the only event programmed to happen in this area is Fun Fun Fun (Fest),” Vargas told Council members at the time. “It only happens once a year, and including load-in, load-out and the event days, you are looking at this movable barrier residing in this more reduced location for roughly six to seven days a year.”

Vargas stressed that throughout the other 358 days of the year, the dog park would be increased to its normal size.

Garza said he understands the department’s priorities, but that former Council members had very clearly directed city staff to work with and negotiate with Transmission. Drawing a hard line when it comes to a dog park is not negotiating, he said.

“We’re not asking for special treatment,” Garza said, adding that the city has offered some alternatives, including lawn area along Palmer Drive, but would not make up the space lost. “We’re asking for the promises made in 2013 to us that we’d still be able to negotiate with staff and find a footprint that works for us without losing 20 percent of our space.”

Garza reached out to current Council members, prompting Council Member Greg Casar to draft a resolution for Thursday’s meeting. While the resolution asks the city manager to help in negotiations between city staff and Transmission, Casar told the Monitor that the resolution is a placeholder. Should the two bodies not reach an agreement before Thursday and need Council action, members will have to put time aside to act on it.

“I’m not going to forecast on Thursday what’s going to happen if there’s no solution,” said Casar. “Council could consider on our own what solutions there might be.”

He said he understands the delicate balance set up by former Council members.

“Last Council approved this with this balance in mind, and now that renovations are complete, how do we achieve that?” Casar asked.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.