San Pedro Creek Improvements Meeting Addresses Project’s Future

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The San Pedro Creek is restrained but the grass grows wild south of Downtown. This will change as plans for improvements continue. Photo by Don Mathis.

Grupo de Diseno Urbano (also known as the Urban Design Group or GDU) will review the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, it was announced at the project subcommittee meeting Thursday morning.

Suzanne Scott, general manager for the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) said Mario Schjetnan (rhymes with chetnan) of GDU will be a part of the team.

“He’s going to integrate the landscape into a cohesive design,” Scott said.

It was also announced that Russell Persyn, SARA’s watershed engineering manager, will soon leave the city.

“Russell Persyn has submitted his resignation to SARA,” Scott said. “We’re sorry he’s leaving but we’re glad he built a strong team.”

Muñoz & Company Principal and Architect Steven Land Tillotson emphasized the work will continue. “Todd Brant (the landscape architect hired by Muñoz last summer) will be staying,” Tillotson said. “We are not starting over.”

And just because GDU is on board, plans for the San Pedro Creek improvements will not begin anew either. The landscape architect from Mexico City will serve as a consultant for the design team.

“A consultant is different than an architect of record,” Tillotson said. “The landscape is the most variable of any design element. Plant selection has less impact than an architectural structure.”

Jeff Mitchell (left), Steve Tillotson, and Suzanne Scott listen intently to questions from the San Pedro Creek subcommittee before offering responses. Photo by Don Mathis.

Jeff Mitchell (left), Steve Tillotson, and Suzanne Scott listen intently to questions from the San Pedro Creek subcommittee before offering responses. Photo by Don Mathis.

The ideas presented by GDU will be considered by all involved, but Scott said the ultimate decision lies with Bexar County Commissioner’s Court.

“There will be a delay in plans,” she said. “The deadline of May 2018 (the tricentennial of San Antonio) will not be moved.”

Ed Cross, one of the subcommittee members and CEO of the Vistana, expressed concern about being left out of the loop.

“I want the committee to see the GDU recommendations before it’s provided to Commissioner’s Court,” he said.

“I’ll make that recommendation,” Scott said, “but Mario (Schjetnan) is not going to be at the table making these drawings.”

She said the Urban Design Group will visit San Antonio Oct. 14-16 to receive a project overview and tour.

“They will meet with Judge Wolff, Commissioner Elizondo, and Councilmember (Roberto) Treviño,” Scott said.

A visit with John Phillip Santos, the University of Texas San Antonio professor charged with compiling the narrative of San Pedro Creek, is also on the agenda. Schjetnan and GDU will also meet with subcommittee members, property owners and stakeholders.

“He’s going to be getting a lot of information,” Scott said. “It’ll be like he’s drinking from a fire hose.”

Tillotson added that Schjetnan will meet with the design team to develop the scope, schedule construction and move the pathway forward. Schjetnan will finalize the scope of his work once he gets back to Mexico City.

“His portion of the project will be from the Tree of Life Plaza to Houston Street,” Scott said. “He’s watched the drone video; he’s familiar with the creek.”

The city will have a piece of Schjetnan’s time as well.

“We’re going to have a property conveyance at the City Council meeting and Schjetnan will be there,” Scott said. “This will solidify the City’s commitment to the project.”

Gerry Geyer, co-chair of the subcommittee, reassured the panel.

“He (Schjetnan) is making several visits,” Geyer said. “He will have a very full schedule.”

Marilyn Bradley is on the subcommittee as a member of the Five Points Neighborhood. Her question regarded the 18.2% cost increase. The 2013 Preliminary Engineering Report total was $175 million. The 2015 70% Design Development total is $206.8 million.

“I’m concerned with cost,” she said. “We do have a fiduciary responsibility.”

“We’ve reduced costs by taking structural components out of the project,” Tillotson said. “We’re working in an integrated project.”

The Tree of Life has been pruned. The shade structure over the Salinas Street Bridge has been removed. And the Tree Bridge in El Merodeo has been axed.

Jeff Mitchell of HDR Engineering detailed other components that have been modified.

“There have been several cost reductions,” he said. “The pedestrian walkway will end at Alamo Street. The area will be for ‘flood control only’ between South Alamo Street and the Union Pacific railroad tracks. And some sections will not have continuous sidewalks on both sides.”

Much of the original plan for the walkway was to use photo-luminescent blocks. “The paving pattern will use less glow-stones,” Mitchell said. “They are very expensive.”

Plans are to refine the scope of structural soldier piers walls in Phase Two. “It will be a less expensive type of retaining wall,” Mitchell said.

SARA has asked the San Antonio River Foundation for funding since Bexar County doesn’t want to get into the arts business.

“Discussions with Felix Padron (director for San Antonio’s Department for Culture and Creative Development) have begun,” Scott said. “We’re hoping to have some permanent art but also some rotating installations.”

Citizens have asked that more local residents be given the chance to create artwork along San Pedro Creek instead of using artists from outside Texas. SARA is listening.

“If you have rotating exhibits, you’ll have more opportunity to use local artists,” Scott said. “We have an opportunity to enlighten space using public art.”

Scott said the pressure is off on trying to have public art coincide with completion of the project. “But the storytelling portion is still a very important part of the project.”

A bird goes fishing on the future Tree of Life Plaza. The San Pedro Creek will have a new appearance by May 2018. Photo by Don Mathis.

A bird goes fishing on the future Tree of Life Plaza. The San Pedro Creek will have a new appearance by May 2018. Photo by Don Mathis.

Geyer concurred. “Amenities can be added incrementally as long as the foundation is done,” he said.

Geyer mentioned the recent article in the Rivard Report where he learned that the River Foundation funded the design for the portal at Concepción Park.

“That’s the kind of response we want to have with the San Pedro Creek design,” Geyer said.

The public is invited to attend the next subcommittee meeting on Nov. 12, 8:30 a.m. at the SARA Board Room, 100 E. Guenther. There is no fee and input is welcome. The deadline for 90% completion of the design work is January.

 

*Top image: The San Pedro Creek is restrained but the grass grows wild south of downtown. This will change as plans for improvements continue. Photo by Don Mathis.

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