Freshly planted flowers, tables, chairs, umbrellas, an over-sized chess set, a mini mobile playground, new lighting fixtures, and a brightly painted kiosk occupied the park’s 2.6 acres of public space. More than 50 people milled around different information booths and activities Monday morning while TV crews arranged their equipment in front of a small stage.
This kind of activity in Travis Park was largely unheard of last year. The park hosted a handful of annual events, including the popular Jazz’ SALive festival, in years past but its daily traffic was dominated by those waiting for the bus on Navarro Street, panhandlers and the occasional lost tourist.
“Miss Travis Park,” as she’s playfully called by her peers at the Center City Development Office (CCDO), explains to curious passersby what all the commotion is about.
“This is the new Travis Park,” said CCDO Recreational Assistant Lexie Maxwell of the $500,000 renovation project. She explains that all the programming is free today, save for the Twilight on the Plaza dinner this evening. Activities are already planned for every day in April, including food truck lunches, Painting with a Twist, Fitness in the Park, and Ballet in the Park performances by Ballet San Antonio April 4 and 5. The calendar is filling up for the rest of year, too, she said. The most up-to-date calendar is available at www.sanantonio.gov/ccdo and the park’s Facebook page will provide more information.
The kiosk itself will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and anyone can register for free to check out items to use in the park, including a football, hula hoops, board games, and a large selection of books and magazines for all ages and tastes.
“We’re hoping people don’t walk away with them, but we’re taking donations to replenish things that disappear,” she said. Urban parks are infamous for vandalism and theft, but Maxwell is optimistic. “We’ll see what happens and if we have to adjust, we will.”
To sweeten the pot of investment in Travis Park, Awesome SA has put a call out for awesome ideas to further activate the space. All April applications for the monthly $1,000 grant must be geared towards Travis Park. Submit your application at Awesome SA’s website between April 1-30 by 5 p.m.
From Awesome SA’s press release:
Need a place to start? Awesome things that could happen at Travis Park include yarn bombing, poetry performances, pop-up dinners, temporary art, or awe-inspiring bike racks! Worried about grant writing? Don’t be! Our application is no more than 10 simple questions.
Panhandlers and homeless people showed up to the park’s reopening as well, but there was no more tension than that of any typical downtown street during lunch hour.
“(This is) part of the SA2020 plan to make San Antonio the liveliest city in the U.S.,” said Mayor Julián Castro during the grand re-opening ceremony. “Parks are a huge part of that … Travis Park is a wonderful example.”
Recently announced Downtowner of Year Lori Houston, director of the CCDO, emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships between the City’s departments, St. Anthony’s Hotel, and Southwest Airlines – the latter awarded a $75,000 grant to the project as part of the airline’s relatively new placemaking initiative.
“Downtown is the heart of any city,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, himself and his wife native San Antonians. “Placemaking is a way to give back to the community … we’re announcing a multi-year commitment to Project for Public Spaces.”
Project for Public Spaces (PPS) was contracted by the city in March 2013 to collect data and come up with designs and strategies to activate Travis Park.
[Read More: Avoiding Eye Contact on a Walk Through Travis Park]
“(Placemaking) is a quiet sort of revelation” happening across the U.S., said PPS President Fred Kent. “It’s a growing idea that people latch on to with great interest and passion …it’s a game changer for corporate America and communities to come together” to improve public spaces.
Whether or not these activities will spark sustained and diverse populations and use in Travis Park, of course, remains to be seen in the coming months and years. Will guests of the dog-friendly St. Anthony’s Hotel use the mini dog park? Will downtown workers and residents think to eat lunch on the plaza-style accommodations? We’ll see.
Organizers are now preparing for the Twilight on the Plaza dinner tonight at 6 p.m. featuring Chef Michael Mata of St. Anthony’s Hotel and farm-to-table ingredients from the hotel’s rooftop garden. The $75 tickets for the dinner sold out over the weekend, but there’s no one stopping you from taking a stroll through Travis Park and listening to the live Brent Watkins Trio performance. Proceeds from the dinner will be used for future Travis Park maintenance and programming.
*Featured/top image: San Antonio enjoys the newly renovated Travis Park during its grand reopening March 31, 2014. Photo by David Rangel.