A diamond in the rough and a relic of San Antonio’s early water engineering, San Pedro Creek is stagnated along its narrow banks today in need of repair, advanced flood control, and new design.
One in-progress concept plan of the new San Pedro Creek Improvements Project – the Salon de Alameda Option B View – would provide an Arneson Theater and Sunken Gardens-like fusion of water, vegetation, theater, and interactive seating.
Citizens and community leaders gathered early Saturday morning, Dec. 6, to review several concept plans during a public input meeting hosted by Bexar County and the San Antonio River Authority (SARA). Overall, the project will include flood mitigation, natural habitat and water quality rehabilitation, and the reimagination of the creek as a linear urban park.
“San Pedro (Creek) used to be a natural live stream, with freshwater shrimp and fish, and it was that way for many years,” said Steven Land Tillotson, principal with Muñoz & Co. architectural firm, which is spearheading the two-mile project design through the Westside Creeks Restoration Project in partnership with SARA, the City of San Antonio, the State of Texas, and Bexar County.
The City dredged the creek banks in the 1920s when it was subjected to disastrous flooding. The San Antonio River and urban creeks have seen many transformations over the years, and the new project marks a “cathartic” moment for the water, land, and people of the area, he said.
Urban architecture and design is best when it begins to heal something – in this case, the divide that San Pedro Creek once created between eastern and western San Antonio and its contrasting cultures – and expresses the melding of cultures and societies happening in the city, Tillotson said.
Round table participants studied maps of different branches of the creek, from the Canal Principal-Camino Branch to El Merodeo, The Meander, the latter of which would alter the course between Dolorosa Street and Nueva Street to swing in to the City property along the east bank. They discussed constraints or problems the architects should consider in incorporating the final design, which is expected to be issued at the end of 2015.
Each participant filled out a comment card, which each roundtable facilitator will give to the project design team to be presented to the San Pedro Creek Subcommittee in January. A report will be compiled within a week of the presentation.
The Meander is the only substantial area in all of the City Center where the creek will feel more like a natural stream and provide some relief to the otherwise straightedge course, the study stated.
The remodeling is sure to be a game changer for business and property owners along the creek, who stand to witness rising property values and increased traffic.
The hydraulics of the San Pedro Creek project are controlled by downstream backwater conditions beginning at IH-35 downstream of South Alamo Street. The Westside Creeks Restoration of San Pedro Creek is outside the current project limits, however, and is included as a separate entry, the study stated.
The 100-year floodplain upstream of South Alamo Street cannot be reduced without making downstream flood control improvements, which would be separate from the overall project cost for San Pedro Creek, estimated at $175 million.
Once the Westside Creeks Restoration is complete, people will be able to travel creekside from Fox Tech High School to Mission Espada, Tillotson said.
Bexar County Manager David Smith said the city would like to begin opening the branches of the creek by May of 2018.
“This creek is every bit as historic as the River itself, and people like to locate where they have two reliable water sources,” he said. “The founding of the city took place on the San Pedro Creek … its history runs right through the heart of downtown.
“I view this as the River Walk of the 21st century,” he added.
Saturday’s workshop was the second of three gatherings designed to provide publication information, outreach, and publicity for the various project phases. The meeting held Aug. 23 drew 93 people and focused on desired uses and activities including the emerging “Little Italy” and the Piazza Italia, as well as connectivity and concerns about neighboring organizations such as Haven for Hope.
Part of the study involves investigating the feasibility and cost of recirculating water through the San Pedro Creek Tunnel system. Water can be circulated using the pumps in the San Pedro Creek Tunnel System, and base flow from San Pedro Springs can be diverted from the tunnel inlet to the creek by raising the water level in the sedimentation basin on the upstream side of the inlet structure during wet periods, the study stated.
Project planners’ strategy involves widening and/or deepening the existing channel to take advantage of the park area south of Travis Street to Dolorosa and capture the flow of water.
The project will incorporate eight new street bridges and one new railroad bridge and will open the box culverts south of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Guadalupe streets for Canal Principal, a highly-structured environment for the creek and paseo, the study stated.
Project planners also want to create ponds of water throughout the creek to provide a visual and irrigation source with water for plants. A ‘Tree of Life” concept might extend the branches of a tree down to the trunk, providing a place for people to enjoy the Linear Park and festivities and have a sense of place and destination–a rendering that is open to change, Tillotson said.
Concept Plan B for the Campo Abajo, the lower field, would offer a wider channel width with plenty of walking and seating.
Tillotson said the architects seek to elevate public art at San Pedro Creek, too, and that the project will continue to explore architectural craft and culture in San Antonio. Other ideas include more interaction with water and pedestrian bridges.
“This is a drainage improvement and beautification project, but that understates our vision and leadership in the world on really working with people, land and water,” Tillotson said. “People come from all over to see how the River Walk works.
“We want to create a world-class linear park that represents the cultural identity of the community and inspires the people of Bexar County,” he said.
For more information about the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, visit www.spcproject.org.
The next meeting will be held in late February or early March when the 40% design phase is due to collect final comments on the project.
*Featured/top image: Participants in the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project shared ideas and concerns about the proposed project. Photo by Katherine Nickas.