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Zilker Great Lawn green, ready for thousands of music fans, Austin says

Officials say lawn has been settled, is better able to handle rain.

Sarah Coppola

Zilker Park's Great Lawn is green, lush and ready to host thousands of music fans at Austin City Limits Music Festival starting Friday, city officials said.

It's a far cry from the lawn's appearance last fall, when the rain-soaked music festival turned newly installed turf into a muddy mess.

The weather outlook is brighter for this year's festival, but should that change, city officials say the 46 -acre lawn has a better chance of withstanding heavy rain, partly because of a revamped drainage system.

"Last year, (the grass) wasn't really settled yet. It was new turf. This year, it has settled in; it's more compacted and stable," said Charles Vaclavik, acting division manager over central parks for the parks department. "We think it could handle more rain than it could in the past."

ACL organizers C3 Presents reimbursed the city $25,528 last year for time city employees spent restoring the lawn. That does not include money C3 spent on private crews and equipment to help revive the lawn, city officials said.

This year, C3 agreed to pay the parks department up to $500,000 to improve the lawn's drainage system. The city spent about three months reshaping and re-sloping sections of the lawn and adding vaults and pumps underground where rainwater can collect and more quickly drain out of the park, eventually reaching the lake, Vaclavik said. The city will bill C3 for that work, which cost nearly $400,000, he said.

Rain "gathers more efficiently, then is pumped out rather than us counting on gravity to get it out of there," he said. "Before we would have a lake out there, and it would sit for a week. Now water gets out of Zilker within a day or two."

C3 also agreed to elevate the festival food court, a roughly 380 -foot-by-20-foot area on the lawn's north side, onto a platform to avoid wearing down the grass, Vaclavik said. C3 crews are also bringing in festival equipment on a decking material that workers temporarily lay over the grass to prevent damage, he said.

Before last year's festival, the city installed an irrigation system and new sod on the Great Lawn, at a cost of $2.5 million. The system draws water from Lady Bird Lake and has more than 300 sprinkler heads. C3 is reimbursing the city $500,000 a year over five years for that expense. It has paid $1 million so far.

After the 2009 rains and crowds turned the lawn into mud, crews at first tried hosing and scraping off the mud, but then more rain fell. The city finally decided to let the lawn dry out, then aerate and fertilize it. The grass is a hardy Tifway variety that held up well and is now in good shape, Vaclavik said.

scoppola@statesman.com; 912-2939