Planning for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project groundbreaking ceremony is underway, and officials with Bexar County and the San Antonio River Authority envision a very special celebration to commemorate three centuries of life along its banks.
No date has been set, but mid-September is a likely target. Honoring the early settlement history, officials agree, is the best way to bring San Pedro Creek back to life. The groundbreaking ceremony will not be the the typical photo op with officials in hard hats wielding shovels for the cameras.
The River Authority is working with OPERA San Antonio, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and the San Antonio Symphony, among others, to create an original opera with dance to resurrect the creek’s history and life, lost over the decades to flood control projects that turned the once-vibrant Westside creek into a concrete channel with little signs of life.
“Through a multimedia and visual production, with singers, dancers, and musicians, the live experience will tell the story of creek and the lives that were nourished in the ancient communities of our city’s indigenous people just prior to the arrival of the Spaniards,” said Mark Richter, project partner and founder of Opera Piccola of San Antonio. “Only opera can bring together all of the performing arts and create both a journey for the audience and a powerful expression of the unique and diversified artistry of our city.”
The opera will include Native American dancers, a chorus, two opera singers, an orchestra of about 36 musicians, and a visual screen that will act as a back drop for the story and music, said the show’s composer Los Angeles-based Joseph Julian Gonzalez, whose work has been featured in more than 200 films. One of San Antonio’s most revered poets and authors, John Phillip Santos, will write the opera’s libretto.
Chairman and President of The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund and Chairman of OPERA San Antonio Mel Weingart, San Antonio Symphony board member Kathleen Weir Vale, conductor Enrique Carreón-Robledo, and San Antonio Symphony Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing will lend their talents to the production as well.
The project team is expecting to finish the raw project and stage reading by the end of July, Gonzalez said, and the staging and construction components by August.
The special groundbreaking ceremony is part of a series of events that County commissioners approved in November to celebrate San Antonio’s 300th anniversary in May 2018. The San Pedro Creek groundbreaking will be the third and final event of 2016. The installation of the free Nuestra Historia exhibit at the Presidio Gallery, the former Federal Reserve Bank, at 126 E. Nueva St, in April and the Tricentennial Symposium held May 6-7 were the other two projects the County hosted this year, and there will be more to come leading up to the city-wide Tricentennial celebrations in 2018.
Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff commended the efforts of the groundbreaking project team, but urged organizers to include a ballet component in the production. Questions remain if other local Native American groups or cultural organizations like the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center will be included in the programming.
An official contract with more extensive details, including a date for the festivities, will be brought to County commissioners in the coming weeks, said Suzanne Scott, general manager of the River Authority.
Considering the World Heritage designation of the city’s missions, Texas’ only World Heritage site and the country’s 23rd, creating such an event that integrates the various cultures of the city’s history is key, Wolff said.
“The major reason we received World Heritage designation is (because the missions are) cultural institutions,” he said.
As multiple blocks of downtown San Antonio continue to be targeted for redevelopment along the San Pedro Creek, the County is moving forward with plans to relocate the last of the federal prisoners in the former County jail on South Laredo Street to the annex jail, paving the way for the likely demolition of the building and sale of the land. County commissioners approved a plan to negotiate with Houston-based firm Butler-Cohen, LLC. for design build services for Phase 1 of the project on Tuesday.
The annex will be renovated to include ample space for medical and mental health services for inmates as well as residential space with 512 beds strategically oriented based on inmates’ needs to ensure proper rehabilitation. Renovation costs for the annex are estimated at $5.8 million over the next eight years, with the project as a whole totaling to more than $32 million. Costs include various renovations and upgrades to the building as well as the relocation of the Sheriff’s office administration.
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The Sheriff’s office plans to relocate to the site by this November, with a full relocation of the jail’s management company GEO to occur in Oct. 2017.
Top image: San Pedro Creek below the Tunnel Inlet with limestone paths and wading pools. Image courtesy of San Antonio River Authority