Assistant City Manager Misrepresents Town Lake Park Donations

Among the parade of misrepresentations about Town Lake Park Venue Project finances that City administration is feeding the media is the weakness of public support for the project as measured by its supposed lack of philanthropy.  Marty Toohey’s American Stateman feature reported, “About $500,000 has been donated, well short of the $7 million hoped for.”

Aside from the fact that the eventual goal for private contributions was $3.4 million, not $7 million, the figure of $500,000 is completely wrong and is known to be so.

In fact, actual contributions accepted by the City to date total $1,730,000. Here is an inventory:

Ranger Excavation: $700,000 for digging the wet pond and building the
  Observation Hill, the amount bid for the same work in response to a
  City RFQ and for which the City was willing to pay
Long Center for the Performing Arts: $640,000, relocating trees from their
  lease site elsewhere within the venue
TBG in-kind services: $220,000
  Re-design of Liz Carpenter Fountain: 110k
  Redesign of Children’s Garden in wake of artists revolt: 50k
  Design of Bloch Foundation Cancer Survivors Memorial: 30k
  Design of Live Strong feature for Lance Armstrong Armstrong: 15k
  Town Lake Park donation booklet: 15k
  Total: 220k
Riverside Center tree relocation: $75,000 from multiple sources in
  cash and in-kind services
36 commemorative benches: $72,000
Susan Toomey Frost: $20,000 for Toomey Pecan Grove (via Friends of the Parks)
Outdoor clock (donated for TLP but later placed at PARD HQ): $3,000 purchase
Total: $1,730,000
Yet even this amount is less than the donations the City has actually turned away.  When Toby Futrell unilaterally delayed the Butler Park construction by over three years, she declined a generous donation of $480,000 from the Junior League of Austin intended to fund features in the Alliance Children’s Garden.  (The Garden has yet to be built, thanks to the City’s having passed up the opportunity to build Butler when construction prices were low and builders needed jobs.)  The City also declined the A. F. Bloch Foundation’s $1 million donation to revitalize the neglected pond area north of the Palmer Events Center.  The Bloch Cancer Survivor plaza which would have been another cornerstone attraction in the park.  The Lance Armstrong Foundation offered yet another $1 million for a Live Strong feature in the park that would have been another architecturally and artistically distinct attraction. But the City’s unfortunate commemorative naming of various park features introduced a thematic clash with the endeavor, and the offer was withdrawn.

Rejected donations:
Junior League: $480,000 (declined without thanks when Phase II was postponed)
R. A. Bloch Foundation: $1,000,000 (Cancer Survivors Park declined)
Lance Armstrong Foundation: $1,000,000 (project died with naming of Doug Sahm Observation Hill)
Total: $2,460,000
Finally, a handful of donations are being held by the Friends of the Parks of Austin, waiting for the day when the City finally gets around to the next phase of the park.

Pending donations, held by Friends of the Parks of Austin:
Town Lake Park Alliance: $9000 for Town Lake Ant Alliance in Children’s Garden
Akers/Wynns families: $500 Robert M. and Lena Mae Wynns Akers memorial tree
Total: $9500

$1,730,000 donations accepted
$2,480,000 donations refused
$    9,500 donations pending
$4,201,500 total philanthropy

The source of the $500,000 quote, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza, was supposedly was passing along information from a 2007 memo from Chief Financial Officer Leslie Browder.  Garza should have been aware that Ms. Browder issued a correction to the memo, Cc-ed to the Assistant City Manager’s Office, just days after the original, incorporating many additional donations and boosting her total substantially.  Both memos are linked from

No mere miscounting could be so grossly incorrect as to represent the total sum of donations to be $500,000.  Given the other defenses, obfuscations, misrepresentations, and outright fabrications the City Manager and Law Department have issued regarding the park, one must wonder whether this is yet another attempt to undermine the park development and justify the de-funding of park construction in favor of subsidizing Convention Center Department operations.  Is it to make a case that since the public does not care for the park, then the City need not honor its commitment to fund its construction?  Since the public is not holding up its end of the deal (a “deal” in which the City merely expressed its hopes, not its requirements), neither should the City be required to uphold its end?

The bare fact is that generous philanthropists in the City, despite a nearly complete absence of City outreach, have already surpassed the full donation goal for park construction costs, while the City has met less than half its own funding commitment.  Rather than demeaning these philanthropic efforts by grossly understating them, the City ought to celebrate the unsolicited outpouring of private donations.

A great big Thank You from the City to its philanthropists would be more appropriate.

Larry Akers
Friends of the Parks of Austin Stakeholder Representative
Town Lake Park Venue Project

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