Austin City Council approves vacating Red River Street for new University arena

Graysen Golter

The Austin City Council approved an ordinance last Thursday to vacate a portion of Red River Street for its realignment and the construction of a new University arena.

The University and the city of Austin agreed in February to narrow Red River Street from four lanes to two lanes and adjust it according to its historic alignment, according to the interlocal cooperation agreement. Council member Kathy Tovo said the new arena will replace the Frank Erwin Center and host sporting events, graduations and other large-scale community events. 

Darren Hale, the interim associate vice president of Campus Planning and Project Management, said construction will most likely begin this December or January and end in 2022. He said Robert Dedman Drive will be improved and used as a connection between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and east Dean Keeton to replace the vacated part of Red River Street.

“As a partner, the city of Austin is working … to make sure that we’re facilitating that process and making sure (the University has) the ability to construct and implement their vision,” Tovo said. “I see it as net benefit for our community because … UT will have the ability to hold those large sporting events, as well as be a place that some of those large events that are appealing to … the community can take place as well.”

Council member Natasha Harper-Madison said she is excited for the project’s potential benefits. She said she is concerned about the difficulty traffic commuters will have navigating the area, particularly bicycle and scooters riders, when they are rerouted during the construction period to streets like San Jacinto Boulevard.

In response to these concerns, University representative Richard Suttle said the University will take all possible action to accommodate commuters, including adding bike lanes on both sides of the new Red River Street.

“The University of Texas commits to working with the city on a safe bicycle path during construction,” Suttle said.

Eric Wang, a shop coordinator at the Orange Bike Project, said bicyclists such as himself have great difficulty navigating streets such as San Jacinto Boulevard. He said narrower roads will increase the risks bicyclists face while commuting, such as when they are wedged between large vehicles and curbs.

“The more you put motor vehicles and bikes in close proximity, operating next to each other, the more prone you are to see accidents,” public health junior Wang said. “It’s kind of just an accident waiting to happen.”

Council member Alison Alter said she would have preferred to postpone the item to allow additional time to review the agreement. She said she was unsure of what value the city would receive in return for the agreement.

“I’m not convinced that our negotiations have led to sufficient benefits to the community,” Alter said. “As a community, we simply cannot give up our leverage time and time again
in negotiations.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article had an incorrect title for Darren Hale. The Texan regrets this error.