Brackenridge Park Master Plan ‘Still Needs Work’

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The Moncivais and Vicente families enjoy a picnic in the park. Photo by Rocío Guenther

The Moncivais and Vicente families enjoy a picnic in the park. Photo by Rocío Guenther

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.

From left: Julián and Jayden watch ducks and play with a fishing rod on the river in Brackenridge Park. Photo by Rocío Guenther.

Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report

From left: Julián and Jayden watch ducks and play with a fishing rod on the river in Brackenridge Park. Photo by Rocío Guenther.

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.

To read the detailed master plan draft, click here. Click here for a presentation version with visuals.

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 estrategiaEsperanza 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.

(Read More: Easter Campers Leave Piles of Trash in Brackenridge Park – Again)

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.”

Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt. Photo by Scott Ball.

Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt. Photo by Scott Ball.

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.

Lambert Beach is overlooked by the historic pump house. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Lambert Beach is overlooked by the historic pump house in Brackenridge Park. Photo by Scott Ball.

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

Related Stories:

Brackenridge Park Plan Headed to Council Committee

Brackenridge Park: Some Say ‘If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It’

Brackenridge Park Master Plan: More People, Fewer Cars

The Public Responds to Brackenridge Park Master Plan

Brackenridge Park: San Antonio’s Neglected Crown Jewel

5 thoughts on “Brackenridge Park Master Plan ‘Still Needs Work’

  1. Although I have disagreed with Ms Sánchez and Ms Berriozábal in the past, in this particular case I think they have a very valid point. I don’t understand this pie-in-the-sky design concept while so many basic elements of Brackenridge Park remain embarrassingly left neglected. Plans like this ultimately end in failure — some of us still remember the downtown Tri-Party fiasco of the 1980’s that ultimately killed off any remaining businesses on Houston St…for the next 30 years.

    Here’s a modest proposal: Why don’t we focus on fixing the basics the park desperately needs while continuing the discussion about what our community wants the park to be?

    After all, the park is supposed to be for — and part of — our community, and not the vision of some “designers” who have never camped out for an Easter pachanga…

    • Hi Page – I agree with the sentiment that any improvement work at Brackenridge Park would likely benefit from a ‘basics’ or making the most quickly and cost-effectively with the materials and opportunities at hand (ie a rasquachismo) approach. I provided feedback to the planning team to this regard via a City feedback submission as well as a published Op Ed (NowcastSA).

      I see opportunity to improve pedestrian conditions within and leading to Brackenridge Park via relatively minor pedestrian infrastructure projects (mainly new or improved footpaths, pedestrian road markings, VIA bus waiting and B-Cycle bike share stations) orientated to St Mary’s Street, Mulberry Avenue, Devine Road, Tuleta Drive and aspects of Stadium Drive and Hildebrand Avenue.

      By chance, the work I proposed seems compatible with the City’s 2011 MidTown Brackenridge Master Plan (which the latest Draft Plan barely references) as well as with the historic practices of both car-based picnic-ing and ‘Mexican’ mobile food and other vending orientated to St Mary’s Street within Brackenridge Park near the area now defined by the Martinez Softball Field and parking lot — cultural practices significant enough to be included in Brackenridge Park’s 2011 application for the National Register for Historic Places but seemingly ‘planned against’ with the latest Draft Master Plan.

      Beyond my recommendations, a trip from San Antonio to Austin’s ‘most-loved park’ Zilker Park (ideally by Megabus and B-Cycle bike share) could have shown the planning team how pedestrian access to and within Brackenridge Park as well as enjoyment of the park could be dramatically improved with mainly pedestrian ‘path’ work — or better on- and off-street walking and cycling conditions leading to and within the park complimented with public bus access.

      Of note to San Antonio, Zilker Park has been improved significantly in the last ten years without the removal of long-existing surface parking and car-based picnic areas, the closing of rights-of-way or construction of new parking garages — nor through the creation of an elaborate new tram system parallel to but not connected with that park’s existing kiddie / mini train (all of which was proposed for Brackenridge Park with the latest ‘pie-in-the-sky’ Draft Master Plan).

      A trip to Austin’s Zilker Park and back by Megabus and B-Cycle would have cost the planning team roughly $30 a person and a few healthy hours away from their desks (with the chance to work remotely on the wifi equipped bus each way). Likewise, the approximately $250k spent on the latest planning (just the documents and meetings – not implementation, which has been estimated by the planning team to be in the hundreds of millions) could have been spent on four new B-Cycle stations within and leading to Brackenridge Park.

      The public’s response to the Brackenridge Park Draft Plan and planning process to me seems to be related to residents being fed up with existing pedestrian access and conditions (particularly at street level) as well as costly and poor urban planning that never seems to translate into improvements for people on foot or bicycle or arriving by bus — as various other cities have made tremendous strides in these areas in the last ten years, trumping San Antonio’s past significance as a city with unique pedestrian appeal as well as our role as a public transit national leader (in the 80s through the 00s).

      The Draft Plan all but ignores existing VIA bus routes and waiting areas within and near Brackenridge Park (it completely ignores B-Cycle), and no part of the planning process seems to have involved the planners spending time within the park or the area surrounding on their own or with the public on foot or bicycle or VIA bus.

      This might explain why the Brackenridge Park Draft Master Plan as written and presented seems so ‘drive-by’ and car- and parking-obsessed, as well as why so many residents seem to be calling for more cost-effective approaches and immediate improvements (for example, the City could close streets or lanes to private traffic within Brackenridge Park right now with traffic cones and policing if it was truly necessary, although such closures don’t seem to be needed at Zilker Park in Austin). Feedback also seems to suggest that the San Antonio public is not interested in planning that seems recently to always involve wasting resources and a publicly funded new parking garage or three.


      Brackenridge Park Op-Ep (NowcastSA)

      2011 MidTown Brackenridge Master Plan

      2011 Brackenridge Park – National Register of Historic Places (PDF)

  2. Making a park more pedestrian friendly is not pie-in-the-sky. How very San Antonio that we would contemplate the easy accessibility for Easter Pachangas while planning our biggest and best city park.

    Perhaps if it is more difficult to carry picnic supplies less trash will be carried and in and then left behind to be scattered around the park space by wind and wildlife.

  3. I think it is time to upgrade this park. For years San Antonion’s have abused this park on holiday’s, leaving tons of trash behind that caost thousands to clean up. Maybe if San Antonion’s would have taken better care o this park then maybe it would stay as is…People should be charged for littering

  4. Ms Bobbit has a very good point…..take the parking and road closures off the table and concentrate on restoration work of buildings and the acequia. The preservation of the buildings and the waterways of the park are key elements of the park and have been ignored for long time. Thank you Breckenridge Conservancy for being open minded to fresh ways to take care of the park.

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