Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
A group of local architects on Tuesday unveiled two conceptual plans for Plaza Guadalupe on the city’s West Side, both designed to open up the plaza to more programming, amenities, and neighborhood services while improving safety and security.
A chain-link fence that has surrounded the plaza for two years spurred a series of public input meetings, and more than 50 people attended the latest gathering at Progreso Hall to discuss the future of the open-air amphitheater that came to be in the mid-1980s.
The San Antonio chapter of American Association of Architects’ Latinos in Architecture Committee (LIA) crafted the plans based on ideas neighbors and other stakeholders had offered in previous meetings. On Tuesday, one wall of Progreso Hall was plastered with large sheets of paper featuring numerous recommendations, observations, and comments for improvements at Plaza Guadalupe.
Among those suggestions was removing the fence, which the Avenida Guadalupe Association, the nonprofit that leases the plaza from the City and maintains it, set up temporarily in 2016, but opted to keep to ward off criminal activity. Opponents have said the fence goes against the plaza’s intent of being a community space, while proponents say it safeguards the public space and prevents drug-dealing and vagrancy on-site.
One conceptual plan eliminates perimeter fencing, but envisions fencing around the playground; the other keeps the fence, but integrates it into its surroundings.
“[Latinos in Architecture] went over all of these notes from past meetings to make sure that two visions are reflected,” said Gabriel Velasquez, Avenida Guadalupe executive director.
LIA committee member Siboney Díaz-Sánchez said one plan includes a fence because “it was requested by a good number of people.”
If the fencing were to stay up, several people said it should blend into its surroundings.
LIA committee co-chair Adriana Swindle suggested fencing along El Paso and Guadalupe streets, the two roads that border the plaza, be made of material that blends with the streets’ respective characteristics – El Paso is a more of a neighborhood street while Guadalupe accommodates more traffic, various public venues, and businesses.
“[Some community members] feel whatever happens with the fencing or landscaping, it should look beautiful and welcoming,” said Claudia Guerra, cultural historian for the City of San Antonio.
Both conceptual plans contain a range of recommendations, including emphasis on a secure playground with a nearby bathroom structure, a small “softscape,” a shade structure around the central courtyard, landscaping, and improvements in lighting, seating, and parking.
“While it’s challenged by visibility issues, it’s also a really beautiful space that the plaza has, and with landscape opportunities it could really create a fantastic area,” Swindle said of the space for the softscape, horticultural landscape elements that change as they mature.
The plans also imagine a “great hall” near the Avenida Guadalupe office, future outdoor space, expanded green space, and a community hub with information for visitors and others who wish to use the plaza.
LIA members also recommended the City and Avenida Guadalupe increase engagement and buy-in by providing programming, entertainment, and community services to benefit the neighborhood. Recommended entertainment included Fiesta activities, festivals, and frequent flea and farmers markets, while neighborhood services would provide mental health care, nutrition, health screenings, and assistance for at-risk students.
Many residents said Plaza Guadalupe is underutilized, but LIA members suggested it could function as a place of recreation and meaningful gathering for all with the help of wayfinding signage and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Díaz-Sánchez said it was a challenge to incorporate dozens of ideas, including people’s concerns for safety, but the two conceptual plans represent neighbors’ general sentiments.
“Our job as a committee was as translators,” Díaz-Sánchez said.
“Our job is to go forward and find a way that speaks to the concerns that were raised,” Velasquez added.
City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, whose District 5 is home to Plaza Guadalupe, saw the concepts for the first time Tuesday. She said afterwards that Council could act upon some proposed improvements within the next month or so.
According to Gonzales, $340,000 in community development block grant money is available for some initial upgrades, such as lighting, shading and seating. Another $100,000 is available in the City’s fiscal year 2019 budget for enhanced programming at the plaza.
“I think they were very thoughtful,” Gonzales said of the proposals. “I feel comfortable with what was presented today. I look forward to seeing some [Council] action fairly quickly.”