Iris Dimmick / Rivard Report
After a four-hour meeting that included several rounds of debate, voting, and intra-district compromise, the Parks and Recreation Bond Committee settled on a final list of projects it will recommend to City Council next month.
Hemisfair’s Civic Park and Phil Hardberger Park’s land bridge, two projects previously targeted for the chopping block by committee members, survived the citizen bond committee process with most of their funding intact from the $116 million total Parks and Recreation bond – $21 million and $5.5 million, respectively. Most credited the bond project tour and conversations with the Council members that appointed them for the change of heart.
The final vote was met with applause from the committee and audience, but the process is far from over.
City Council may have its own adjustments to make once the list comes before its members in January. Voters will make the final decision on the $850 million bond package in the May 2017 election.
Hemisfair and Hardberger Park each have additional funds – $5 million and $7.5 million, respectively – still pending review by the Streets, Bridges, and Sidewalks Bond Committee, which is set to meet for the last time on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Charles English, one of three members selected by Councilman Alan Warrick to represent District 2, had never been to Hardberger Park before the tour on Saturday, which took 21 of the 30 committee members to Hardberger, Hemisfair, San Pedro Creek, Old Spanish Trail, O.P. Schnabel, McAllister, Brackenridge, and Lockwood/Dignowity parks.
After listening to Hardberger Park representatives plead their case, English said he had a new-found respect for the project.
Warrick also played a role, reminding his representatives to “stay in our lane” and avoid taking money from other districts, English added.
The land bridge, part of the Council-approved master plan for Hardberger Park, will connect pedestrians and wildlife on more than 300 acres on either side of Wurzbach Parkway. The original staff-recommended level was $7.5 million from the park bond. While $2 million was cut from the land bridge for McAllister Park, the project is still viable with $5.5 million from parks and $7.5 million from streets.
To avoid chipping away at these two projects and others that are said to have a citywide impact, district representatives reached “across the aisle” – or rather “across the district lines” – to offer advice on and funding for each other’s projects. It wasn’t always pretty and polite, but eventually projects like improvements to The San Antonio Senior Softball League facilities in Normoyle Park (District 5) received funding from other districts’ bottom lines. A parking garage that would serve the San Antonio Zoo and Brackenridge Park, however, would receive less under the committee’s list.
For the most part, the 30 citizens were able to find money from other, smaller parks within their own districts and others to avoid cutting into the big-ticket items that, at first, seemed easy to skim off the top from. Throughout the meeting, City staff gave short presentations that served as reminders of the effect million-dollar cuts could have on projects that have already been scaled down.
While the conversation migrated from district to district amendments, many citizens that packed the meeting room in the Central Library held up signs in opposition to funding Hemisfair Park. Many others held signs in favor.
Before the meeting began, several members of the hotel workers union Unite Here passed out flyers that accused the City and Hemisfair of rewarding a corrupt deal that would transfer public park land to a “private hotel developer.”
City Manager Sheryl Sculley and other City officials have repeatedly explained during previous meetings that none of the private, mixed-use developments will be funded with bond dollars, and the land they are being built on is designated for development as opposed to being intended as park land.
Meanwhile, organizers with Downtown for SA, a grassroots campaign formed to support key downtown projects in the 2017 bond, passed out paletas and extolled the vision of Civic Park as a “world-class urban park.” When the $58 million park is complete, Hemsfair will have almost 19 acres of dedicated park land, compared to the 6.2 acres in the former World’s Fair site.
Revenues from agreements with tenants on developed land and Hotel Occupancy Taxes (HOT) will go directly back into the park’s funding, operation, and maintenance, Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said after the meeting. That is expected to generate more than $10 million – the rest will be up to private, philanthropic funding.
“The (Hemisfair) Conservancy’s work continues to move forward,” Andujar said. “There are still donor recognition opportunities.”
“Civic Park” is a working title for the eight-acre centerpiece of the redevelopment, he pointed out.