The Brackenridge Park Master Plan draft was presented and discussed at several public meetings across San Antonio over the last few months, but some community members fear implementation of the plan will forever change the essence of the city's largest urban core park. The plan aims to rejuvenate the park, which is generally supported by neighborhood stakeholders, but some have concerns that the draft is incomplete and underfunded.
City Council's Neighborhood and Livability Committee will review community feedback and host another public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15 in the Municipal Plaza Building's B Session. Committee members Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), Alan Warrick (D2), Rey Saldaña (D4), Cris Medina (D7), and Ray Lopez (D6) will decide if the plan should be considered for adoption by the full City Council or if more time is needed to revise the plan and collect more public input.
"I want to reassure the public that they are welcome to come and we've compiled all the information," said Treviño, who is chair of the Council committee.
The meeting was previously slated for 2 p.m. at the Municipal Plaza Building, but citizens at the latest public meeting in July called for a time change, as many park users and advocates work at that time.
"We moved it ... to be considerate to those that want to be a part of this meeting and see the process," Treviño said. "It's obvious that the plan still needs work. We've heard loud and clear the items that (the community) doesn't want and we will make sure those things don't occur. We will discuss the 2017 Bond but there won't be an unnecessary push. We will find creative and innovative ways to make this a better process for all of us.”
Passions ran high at several of the public input meetings hosted by San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department this summer. Some attendees refused to participate in feedback activities and called for the City to scrap the plan entirely. Throughout the sometimes chaotic process, however, one thing was made clear: San Antonians care deeply about Brackenridge Park and want to have a say in its future.
Only two public meetings were originally scheduled in the neighborhoods around the park provide feedback on the master plan draft. It was suggested at these meetings that more meetings should be held.
(Read More: The Public Responds to Brackenridge Park Master Plan)
Former Councilwoman Maria Berriozábal and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center also advocated for more meetings. Such an important park, Berriozábal said, deserves more time. She wanted the people who frequent the park to have a chance to give feedback on proposed changes to historic spaces that belong to everyone in the city.
The City held six more public meetings in different areas to open up the conversation further.
Key components of draft master plan include preserving the acequias, opening up more green space, closing off some roads that cut through the park, adding a 10-acre Grand Lawn, improving the quality of the San Antonio river banks, placing parking garages outside of park land, and adding a tram system to transport people to the park’s main destinations.
The plan highlights the importance of preserving, protecting, and restoring the park by increasing green space, visibility, preserving historic buildings, and getting rid of invasive plant species.
Many citizens were upset that the public wasn't involved at the beginning of the process. Only now that a draft plan exists are input sessions being held.
Berriozábal, who attended several of the public input meetings, told the Rivard Report that "there's a problem with the plan because there's a problem with the process."
"Hay que conocer nuestra historia y después avanzar y planear la estrategia" Esperanza Peace and Justice Center Director Graciela Sanchez told the Rivard Report. ("We need to know our history and then go forward and plan the strategy.")
Many of those who came the meetings were strongly against the tram system, claiming it would make it difficult to get picnic supplies and disabled family members into the park. The park has long been a part of many local families' holiday traditions. The roads that cut through the park make it easier to carry things in and out of the park.
There was also concern that, if adopted, the agencies running the parking garages and the trams would eventually implement fees on park goers. The closing of roads was another issue. Some said that driving through the park is a "tradition" for many working families.
"Trams from nowhere makes no sense," Warrick told the Rivard Report. "I think some changes are going to occur and (the plan implementation) is probably not going to happen in this iteration of bond and budget conversation. Brackenridge is a treasure in our community and we don't have a second chance. We need to make sure to get it right."
Warrick said he attended one of the meetings held in his district, and even though several citizens showed up and there was active participation, usually the "community as a whole is busy working" so it's difficult to figure out if all perspectives are represented.
A core group of individuals who strongly oppose most proposed changes to the park attended several if not all publicinput meetings, including Berriozábal, and repeated those concerns at the microphone.
"(These) meetings can be deceptive, especially if you just go to just one," Warrick said. "It causes questions such as, 'Is this really an issue people make it out to be?' It doesn't necessarily mean everyone is represented."
At every meeting citizens were invited to examine master plan visuals showcased on easels in the back of the room and to place dots on elements of the draft master plan that people like, are neutral about, or don’t like.
Even amid complaints, Warrick added, these storyboards were "less pessimistic." While some individuals refused to participate in the storyboards, many less vocal participants approved of certain parts of the plan, such as renovating the Sunken Garden Theater, and restoring the Catalpa Pershing Channel to a more natural design.
Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt and San Antonio Zoo CEO Tim Morrow agree that although the master plan has very positive elements and restoration efforts which should be adopted, it is in need of adjustments and research due to lack of in-depth traffic studies, which are necessary to create a framework for any future plan.
"There needs to be a traffic study, user study, more analysis of all the cultural layers over time and how they are superimposed on one another," Bobbitt said. "Understanding the cultural landscape is so critically important."
The process for drafting the master plan was underfunded from the beginning, Bobbitt said. The new City-commissioned plan, led by local landscape architecture firm Rialto Studio, updates the 1997 Brackenridge Park Master Plan.
"Traffic and parking are two of the biggest challenges and more work needs to be done on it at the concept level," Morrow said. "(Currently), on a typical weekend, parking is gone by 11 a.m. in the morning. People all over the city use this park, and we need to look at what the park has become and what the City wants it to be."
The proposal to add more green space and get rid of some roads may create more traffic around the park, Morrow said.
Morrow hopes the 2017 City Bond will include money for a proposed public parking garage on Tuleta Drive near Alamo Stadium. The San Antonio Independent School District owns the land and has agreed to the Zoo's proposal if financing works out.
(Read more: SAISD Board and San Antonio Zoo Reach Agreement)
"Decreasing accessibility of the park and closing roads should be off the table until further discussion takes place," Bobbitt said. "But we need to step back and take a look at what info we do have and look at what could be done with the 2017 Bond. Things can be done without closing roads, several improvements such as restoring the acequia madre could be done as a Tricentennial project."
The master plan could cost as much as $150 million, according to early rough estimates from the design team.
Park maintenance has not kept up with usage, Bobbitt said, and certain improvement projects are in dire need of funding. Brackenridge Park has many historic structures which are in need of attention, such as the 1878 Pumphouse #1, the Spanish acequia system, and the unused 15-acre Miraflores Park is in need of restoration. The Conservancy wants to open it up to the public – an element of the plan that received broad support in the public meetings.
Bobbitt said that much of the rebuilding effort in Brackenridge was done by the Works Projects Administration in the 1930s. Many of the river walls are deteriorating, heritage trees are dying from drought and old age, and the concrete and steel sculptures made by Dionicio Rodríguez need to be restored. More money is also needed for a visitors center in the park, she said, so locals and tourists can learn more about the park's history, take tours, and view artifacts – some of which date back to 9200 B.C.
"Let’s focus on some of the improvements that could be done and people can agree on," Bobbitt said. "This is a long term, 20-year project, and many years of work (are needed) to make this area into a world class park in a world class city.
"The Conservancy would like to work with the City and community and be transparent in the cultural landscape report. If we provide more information for making decisions — that then would provide an impetus and research to go forward with the National Historic Landmark designation."
Top image: The Moncivais and Vicente families enjoy a picnic in the park. Photo by Rocío Guenther