Michael Butler Park has been a fixture of Austin’s green spaces for the past 20 years. With all kinds of activities for Austinites to enjoy and Austin’s stunning skyline as a backdrop, it's a perfect spot to enjoy the outdoors right in the center of our city.
In November 1998, the City of Austin enforced a motor vehicle rental tax. This money was used to fund the development of the Palmer Events Center, including the space where the Alliance Children’s Garden is now located.
Despite the money being available to improve Alliance Children’s Garden, this area did not become a development priority for many years. Instead, attention was turned to the wider Butler Park area, where various improvement projects were completed from 1999 to 2007, pushing the project to the back-burner.
Alliance Children’s Garden’s time to shine eventually came, and could not have been achieved without the community members who were adamant that the garden be brought to life. Their tenacity to finish the promised project was the final step and the kickstart it needed!
Plans and Development
The master plan for the entirety of Michael Butler Park was completed in 1999, but community engagement for this specific project involved two community meetings in late 2015 and early 2016.
In these meetings, PARD highlighted existing play areas in other cities that they wanted to model the new space after, such as the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and Woodland Discovery Playground in Tennessee.
The purpose of these meetings was also to hear comments from community members on what they wanted to see in the new park space. In the end, they included many of the components that the community wanted, creating a park that offers something for everyone to enjoy! With the community's feedback in mind, PARD presented the final plan in March 2016. Construction began in February 2019.
A Premiere Park Space
Alliance Children’s Garden is a charming 2-acre space that intends to do something uncommon for many playgrounds by offering a multigenerational play space. Traditional park elements for kids are incorporated into the existing landscape, and activities that adults can enjoy while their kids are playing at the garden were implemented right alongside.
Community feedback made clear that the park should include space for experimental and creative play, be connected with nature and feature PLENTY of shade.
Armed with these ideas, designers separated the park into four major thematic areas of play, the art and culture garden, the skyline view garden, the rock and slide valley and the hill country. This way, there is a place for everyone in the family to find an activity perfect for them, all within one park.
Austin Parks Foundation's Role
Although APF was not originally involved in this project, our close relationship with PARD allowed us to provide help when needed. Using board-designated ACL funding, APF contributed about $450,000 to close the gap for the project and see it through to fruition.
The ideas for this project were so wonderful, and the community had been waiting for so long. For that reason, we wanted to make sure the specialty pieces that make this park so unique weren’t abandoned due to a lack of funds.
One of our favorite elements is the musical feature wall at the south side of the park! It is not only visually beautiful, but allows for Austin’s future musicians to rock out and experiment with music. We completed this with collaboration from Texas artist Jim Estes and Music of the Spheres. We can't imagine the park without it, and we're so proud to have been able to fund this installation!
Additionally, APF wanted to pay homage to the original community members who put in incredible effort and time to push for the completion of the park plan. Artist Judd Graham created the ant sculpture that is displayed near the south entrance of the park. Each of the seven ants represent a different community member who played an integral part in getting this space to its current glory. Kids can climb on and interact with the sculpture, capturing the true spirit of enjoying Austin’s green spaces that local community members encouraged.
The money donated by APF also went to signage and way-finding and to complete the climbing wall in the middle of the park. Additional funding went toward renovations on the Liz Carpenter Fountain, which has been a source of entertainment for Austin families for many years.
Opening and Community Impact
Construction for the park officially ended in Spring 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the space was not yet open for the public to enjoy.
In June 2021, the ribbon-cutting ceremony was finally held in front of the musical equipment in the park's amphitheater! The APF team joined PARD, TBG Partners, representatives from the City of Austin, the Urban Forestry Grant and many of the community members who devoted their time and efforts to this project.
This is a people's park, spurred almost entirely by its neighborhood citizens. I want the public to know that this park exists only because of the dogged, unpaid, grass roots efforts of the Town Lake Park Alliance in the 1980's, to save the tract from private development and secure it as parkland. Their effort was inherited and carried forth by neighborhood and parks advocates who have pushed against powerful forces to bring the park and the garden to realization.
Akers also wants to thank every member of the Town Lake Park Alliance for all the significant contributions they made throughout the development of this park. We cannot express enough gratitude to everyone who had a hand in contributing to the completion of this magnificent park, and we are excited to encourage more Austinites to spend their time outdoors.
Even in the few months since the ribbon-cutting, Akers said that "there has been a stark increase in the number of families with children visiting the park."
Due to unique amenities, this premiere parks space will be adored by community members of all ages for generations to come. This project was made possible by the hard work of dedicated community members, partners and supporters like you!