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Local celebrities ranging from Spurs Jesus to Mayor Ivy Taylor turned out on a sparkling autumn morning for the official ribbon cutting at Yanaguana Garden, the first of three new urban parks planned for the Hemisfair redevelopment.
Designated “Family Fun Day,” Oct. 3 was the zenith of the park’s three-day debut. Each day of the opening weekend emphasizes a different aspect of Yanaguana Garden’s purpose. Friday night on Oct. 2 targeted adults with food trucks, music, and beer tasting. Sunday, Oct. 4 will focus on creativity and wellness, with art activities and fitness classes throughout the day.
The ribbon cutting was a celebration of diversity, beginning with a blessing by members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation. They represented the original inhabitants of the area, and their blessing set the tone for the spirit of inclusivity in the park. Beginning toward the east, the blessing then turned the crowd to the west, south, and ended facing north, toward the play structures where children were laughing and playing.
Reyes told the crowd that the four directions also represented men, women, children and elders.
“(It represents) all the people who will be using this park,” Reyes said.
Even before the ribbon cutting, the park was showing its appeal for multigenerational play. Kids of all ages were swinging, climbing, and sliding among the playscape designed by Susan Goltsman of MIG, while their parents and grandparents enjoyed the mosaics, pergolas, and shady pathways for strolling.
In his time at the podium Councilmember Roberto Treviño (D1) praised Goltsman’s expertise play-based learning. The MIG principal is an award-winning leader in landscape design, particularly in environments for children and families.
“That expertise is mande manifest before you,” said Treviño, gesturing to the play structures.
Community members Tony and Sonya Castro, who are leading an initiative for the redevelopment of their neighborhood park were present and taking notes. As the parents of two young children, the Castros commented on the family-friendly layout of the 4.1-acre park.
“It feels like there’s plenty of space,” said Castro.
Not every parent was experiencing the park as analytically as the Castros, but everyone seemed to be feeling its effects.
San Antonio Independent School District board member Steve Lecholop’s two-year-old daughter was all but jumping out of his arms to get to the climbing elements, and my own 18-month-old daughter spent most of the morning giggling on a disc-shaped swing designed especially for those with developing balance skills.
Older kids looked over the crowd from the top of the jungle gym made of rope, and entire families darted in and out of fountains on the splashpad.
Everywhere around the air was filled with children’s laughter. Parents expressed their approval with a constant stream of compliments.
“This is so nice!” said one young mom.
“They’ve done such a good job,” said another.
The elements are well spaced, with plenty of seating around each to encourage parents to stay near their children as they play, even drawing them into the active zone.
As the park itself becomes a regular destination for local families, safety and usability will be key to its success. According to Traci Lewand, Hemisfair’s operations and event manager, staff and volunteers will maintain an obvious presence, providing a sense of service and security as San Antonio acquaints itself with the urban park experience. Some of those volunteers will be tasked with making sure that the equipment, such as the oversized chess board pieces and the equipment for the concrete ping-pong tables are checked out and returned responsibly. Others will be tasked with making sure that any toddlers on the splashpad are wearing appropriate swim diapers.
It’s the little things that create an atmosphere of order, and Lewand has a detailed list. Engaged parents and visible personnel should help the park maintain the harmonious buzz that had on the morning of the ribbon cutting.
Mayor Ivy Taylor also highlighted plans for commercial and residential development which will give the park a stable context.
“We need to grow in ways that are sustainable,” Mayor Taylor said.
She celebrated the thoughtful process of Hemisfair as a success in planning.
“Hemisfair is happening because San Antonians love their city,” Mayor Taylor said.
She thanked many of the gathered city leaders who illustrated the long process that led to this day. Not only current council members Ron Nirenberg (D8), Rebecca Viagran (D5), and Roberto Treviño (D1), but long term servants like Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and those who have moved on in their careers like State Rep. Diego Bernal. She gave a special thanks to Lila Cockrell, whose involvement spans decades.
City Manager Sheryl Sculley praised not only the driving forces of the project, but those city departments who came together to put the plans into action.
Sculley, famous for her balanced budgets and tight ships applied the same standard to Yanaguana Garden and Hemisfair. It wasn’t just a feel good project. From the podium, Sculley praised public parks and gardens like this one as good public investments across the board. The $8 million Yanaguana Garden is also an example of public private partnership. While it was partially funded out of the $30 million designated to Hemisfair’s revitalization by the 2012 bond, private entities also played a role with donation of time and money.
Hemisfair and the City intend for the return on that investment to be widely felt.
“Yanaguana Gardens aims to deliver delightful experiences to all visitors of all ages,” Sculley said.
That delightful experience will have a substantial payoff. From improving storm drainage to encouraging neighborhood reinvestment, Sculley said that the project was worth the monumental effort it required.
Hemisfair CEO Andrés Andujar echoed the other speakers appreciation for the scope of the project.
“Today has been a long time coming,” Andujar said.
He went on to thank the board and staff, who will carry the journey forward, along with the voters of San Antonio.
“You had a say on what you have here,” Andujar said.
Each speaker emphasized the park’s intentional designed with the local population in mind, some calling it a “love letter” to the city. The public-private process aimed to give the underutilized space back to the people of San Antonio, those who could enjoy it and animate it every day with laughter, wellness, and community.
That future was already coming to life, as the Magik Theater opened its doors for an open house, and the Bonham Academy folklorico dancers took the stage in front of the speakers podium.
Hemisfair will be occupied by local businesses and local people. Every retail tenant was chosen for their appeal to San Antonians of all ages and incomes. Mixed income residences and diverse public programming will further send the message to the city: this park is for you.
“It is my dream that Yanaguana Garden be always filled with the laughter of San Antonio’s children,” Andujar said.
After Andujar left the stage, Mayor Taylor led the official “ribbon cutting,” a torrent of children, including her own daughter, tearing through a banner of papel picados.
“Let’s play!” shouted Taylor.