The San Antonio Independent School District board on Tuesday approved an agreement with the San Antonio Zoo for a parking structure feasibility study on 2.4 acres of district-owned land on Tuleta Drive near Alamo Stadium and Brackenridge Park.
The agreement passed 6-0, with Trustee Steve Lecholop (D1) abstaining. One of Lecholop’s law partners serves on the board of the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), which put forth an 11th hour proposal last week to take control of the same parcel.
“Just to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Lecholop said.
UIW’s proposal would have resulted in construction of university-owned parking garage and high-rise student dormitory with limited space for public parking. The Zoo’s proposal, if the construction costs and financing can be worked out, will result in a public garage with as many as 600 spaces available to the Zoo, Brackenridge Park and its cultural and recreational tenants, and when needed, the school district for events at Alamo Stadium.
Monday’s board action means the district chose not to consider a proposed memorandum of understanding that a senior UIW administrator sent via email to all SAISD trustees one week ago without publicly disclosing its existence or sharing it with senior district administrators. UIW President Lou Agnese denied the private Catholic university’s interest in the land in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News last week, but one day later the Rivard Report obtained a copy of the letter. The emailed letter proposing a UIW 99-year lease of the parcel was sent to trustees hours before they met last week in executive session to consider the merits of the Zoo’s MOU.
(Read more: “UIW Sought to Influence SAISD Trustees On Day of Board Meeting”)
Monday’s night decision by the school board will be seen by many of the interested parties as both an act of transparency on the part of the district and a victory for preserving public property in and around the zoo and Brackenridge Park.
“It would allow us to work with the Zoo and the City to explore options for more parking,” SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez said as he introduced the agreement before the vote. “It doesn’t create any liability on our part.”
SAISD has been working with City representatives as it does its due diligence, Martinez said, adding that the district wants to work with the Zoo’s and the community’s best interests in mind.
Zoo CEO and Executive Director Tim Morrow and Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt were the only two people who signed up to speak during the citizens-to-be-heard portion of the meeting. Both expressed gratitude to district trustees for their work in pursuit of a mutually beneficial parking solution.
After the meeting, Morrow and Bobbitt said they were excited to move into the next phase of the project, working with Pape-Dawson Engineers and Guido Brothers Construction on design of a six-story parking structure. Funding for the project, they hope, will come in the 2017 City Bond.
The Zoo will only consider such a sale if it benefits the Zoo and Brackenridge Park, Morrow said. Other park advocates see no benefit in allowing a private university to encroach on parkland na have said they will oppose any proposed sale. UIW has sought for some years to expand across Hildebrand Avenue to address critical traffic flow and parking issues on its campus.
Trustees spoke in favor of the Zoo’s MOU before the vote, although they agreed that the proposed Zoo garage would not solve all the parking issues on dates when Alamo Stadium hosts a major high school football game or other event.
“I think this would be a great step for us,” said Trustee Arthur Valdez (D4), who recounted being stuck in traffic for an hour ahead of a playoff game at Alamo Stadium.
“I’m very anxious to go forward with this MOU,” said Trustee Olga Hernandez (D6). “We also need a lot more than (400-600 spaces).”
Hernandez wants to look into a VIA Park ’n’ Ride option.
That’s under consideration for the park area, Bobbitt said after the meeting, but not for the parcel currently the subject of board action.
The topic of love thy neighbor, or at least share thy neighbor’s parking, also came up in the discussion, although names were omitted in some instances.
“We’re very excited that we have such powerful partners as neighbors,” said Trustee Ed Garza (D7), noting that everyone in neighborhood should share available parking, allowing vacant space to be used by whatever entity is staging an event. Currently, it was noted, SAISD allows neighboring entities to use Alamo Stadium’s surface parking when it is available, even though the district does not enjoy similar access to other area parking when it is staging events.
Trinity University currently uses Alamo Stadium parking when it is available and need for a university event. Zoo patrons also use those parking lots. The school district is allowed to use the Zoo lots, Morrow said.
Was Garza taking about Trinity?
“I hope that this will allow all these partners to come together for a shared vision,” he said.
Trustee James Howard (D2) echoed these concerns, and said the district should continue to monitor the process.
“We want to make sure through this MOU that the City is involved,” Howard said.
“This is the perfect example of a leverage opportunity,” said Trustee Debra Guerrero (D3), who thanked the Zoo, City, and Martinez for “stepping up and being creative.” She then called for action.
“Let’s not just talk about it. Let’s actually be substantively involved in making this happen,” Guerrero said.
The vote to move forward followed, led by Board President Patti Radle.
“I think you’ve also heard us say we will be vigilant about the direction of this project,” Radle said.
*Top image: The land (parking lot) between the Alamo Stadium (right) and San Antonio Pets Alive (left) owned by SAISD on Tuleta Drive across from the San Antonio Zoo. Image courtesy of the San Antonio Zoo.