Bexar County Commissioner Sergio "Chico" Rodriguez is lobbying his colleagues on the Commissioners Court to include $1.2 million in next year's County budget for Confluence Park, a "living classroom" that broke ground Wednesday morning in his Southside precinct on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River.
"It might be coming," Rodriguez told the large crowd gathered on the empty lot at 310 W. Mitchell St. where the $10 million, three-acre park will be built. "We're working on another vote."
The Commission has five members and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff is already on board. The park, initiated and managed by the San Antonio River Foundation, is located near the confluence of the San Antonio River and San Pedro Creek. Bexar County contributed $196.3 million towards the massive $271.4 million Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project that was completed in October 2013 and $125 million towards the $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project that will break ground this summer.
An investment in Confluence Park would seem to bookend the County's investments as well as the recent UNESCO World Heritage designation of San Antonio's Spanish colonial missions. Confluence Park is a short walk away from Mission Concepción.
"The (Mission Reach restoration) is an unbelievable achievement but if people don't understand it and don't respect wildlife and don't respect the native grasses and trees that are coming back here, then there won't be that continuing support over generations to come. That's what's going to happen right here with this park ... it's going to be a wonderful education system," Wolff said. "We're working to put (Confluence Park) in the (capital) budget next year and I'm confident we can do it."
The park's design and programming will highlight the science and culture of San Antonio's deep relationship with water and landscape, said Confluence Park Project Manager and local artist Stuart Allen. The park itself is a giant water catchment system with an underground network of pipelines that connect to a large cistern. The park's centerpiece, a petal-inspired pavilion, is also designed to carry water into this network. A solar panel array on the roof of the multi-purpose building will also provide all the park's electricity needs.
"When you build a park that is supposed to celebrate rain, it's hard to complain when it rains," Allen said, noting that event organizers were scrambling in the rain Wednesday morning. The clouds parted for a sunny, albeit muddy, day on the Mission Reach.
"It's all coming together beautifully, just the way the park is going to be," said Estella Avery, executive director of the River Foundation. Avery has been leading the fundraising effort since it began more than a year ago. She and her husband, James Avery, have donated $1 million to the park's education endowment.
Part of the park's programming will also include community outreach into surrounding low-income neighborhoods that have found renewed attention since the redevelopment of the Mission Reach and World Heritage designation. Mario Lozoya, Toyota Texas’ director of government relations, announced on Wednesday that Toyota will be sponsoring free lunches for children that take part in the park's summer classes. Three San Antonio Symphony musicians performed before and after the park's groundbreaking and Symphony leadership hopes to develop a strong relationship with the park as it expands its educational programming.
"This is more than just preservation and restoration, what we are doing here is utilization," said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district includes the park, missions, and much of the Southside. "Confluence Park will be a destination for learning, recreation, inspiring visitors and locals while teaching them science and sustainability. ... This is a tangible example of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM education). Our students are going to be able to grow up to live and love (the river and creek) and develop policies" that protect and respect natural and cultural resources.
The San Antonio River Authority has reached 12,000 young students since 2010 with field trips to the Mission Reach, but it also has classes and informational sessions for all ages every year through its in-house and on-site educational programming. Confluence Park will provide dedicated space to sustain and grow its relationships with local schools.
"The Mission Reach will become a living classroom, not for park programmers but also teachers and students," said River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott. "There is room for growth."
The County's potential $1.2 million investment would not complete fundraising for the park, said River Foundation Director of Development Estela Avery, but they're in negotiations with other potential donors for the last stretch of its fundraising campaign.
Top image: Children play in the ceremonial ground breaking sand at Confluence Park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone