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Transportation

Austin will move Waller Creek Boathouse to make way for a new transit line. Here's where it could go.

An aerial view of the Waller Creek Boathouse at 74 Trinity St.
Nathan Bernier
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KUT
The Waller Creek Boathouse at 74 Trinity St. is slated to be demolished to make way for a light-rail line that's part of Austin's $7 billion Project Connect transit expansion.

A vacant youth hostel on South Lakeshore Boulevard has emerged as the leading site for relocating the Waller Creek Boathouse — a popular water recreation center on the shores of Lady Bird Lake.

In the decade since it opened, the city-owned boathouse has served people looking to relax on the lake in a rented boat and been a homebase for some of the city's top competitive rowers.

But the Waller Creek Boathouse has fallen in the path of one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Austin's history: Project Connect, a $7 billion transit expansion that includes a light-rail line aimed directly at the 10,800-square-foot facility.

The Blue Line is set to travel from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Republic Square Park downtown. The light-rail line will cross Lady Bird Lake over a yet-to-be-constructed transit bridge and enter an underground tunnel near the boathouse's location at 74 Trinity St.

The location at 2200 South Lakeshore Blvd. is one of six places identified by city staff as possible new sites for the boathouse.

The South Lakeshore Boulevard site was the only location that met all the city's criteria, including being big enough and close enough to the shoreline. The site is also sufficiently far away from other water recreation facilities to help reduce congestion on Lady Bird Lake, staff said.

A city-produced map showing the six sites considered as alternatives for the boathouse
City of Austin
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This city-produced map shows the six sites considered as alternatives for the boathouse.

Sites one and two are just west and just east of the MoPac Bridge, respectively. Both are on a former landfill and would not easily be developed. They're also considered risky because the locations might conflict either with long-term plans under development for Zilker Park or the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority's MoPac South toll lane project, which could enlarge the MoPac bridge.

The third site presented is a baseball field used by Austin High School through an agreement between the city and the Austin Independent School District. That field is near the Texas Rowing Center and a popular boat launch. Going with that location would require finding a replacement site for the ball field, staff said.

The fourth location is closer to the Waller Creek Boathouse. But the Trail Foundation, in cooperation with the city, is in the permitting phase of a plan to build family-friendly park amenities in that area. Construction is slated to start later this year.

The fifth potential boathouse site is near the former Holly Power Plant at Festival Beach. But there's already a long-term plan for that area dating to 2009. Changing the "vision plan" to include a boathouse would require a new round of community engagement and a vote by the City Council. The site also lacks sufficient utilities right now, staff said.

That leaves the sixth site: a youth hostel that went out of business during the pandemic. The building is currently vacant and would require significant renovations, but could accommodate a 7,000-square-foot facility, city officials said.

A city-made map showing key locations around the youth hotel site
City of Austin
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City staff presented this map highlighting existing facilities around the old youth hostel.

The site has a canoe rental business right now that could be incorporated into the new boathouse. There's a small nearby parking lot and on-street parking along South Lakeshore Boulevard.

The location at 2200 South Lakeshore Blvd. also meets the city's desire to distribute water recreation facilities more evenly along the waterfront of Lady Bird Lake.

The process to choose a new location for the boathouse is still in the early stages. The city says it will consider public feedback when making a final decision.

You can watch the city's presentation of the six options below.

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