If the young Army Air Corps cadets who once flew training missions out of Brooks Air Field in 1917 could do so in 2017, they would have a bird’s eye view of San Antonio’s newest park taking shape.
Not that this is just another place to picnic.
A groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning kicked off construction on The Greenline, a brand-new linear park, that will eventually connect the Southeast Side development that is Brooks City Base to the San Antonio River via a 43-acre urban green space.
It’s the kind of park worthy of its historic setting.
Plans call for a vibrant space that links the manicured landscape of the former military installation to the wild and fertile lands of the San Antonio River. Hike and bike trails, from six to 12 feet wide, will border five terracing lakes and lead visitors into six large plazas, a great lawn, picnic areas, a food truck court and pavilions.
When the first phase of building is complete in the fall of 2017, visitors to the park will enjoy a $10.6 million park complete with a giant play structure, lakes for fishing, fitness stations and an outdoor games area. There will be space enough and the infrastructure, like lighting, restrooms and water fountains, to hold large events like festivals.
The Greenline will offer free Wi-Fi, and like the Mission Reach which the park will connect to in a later phase of the plans, it will feature a variety of public art as well.
"This is a dream come true. We can’t wait for this park because it’s on the Southside where we love to barbecue, get our coolers and our families together," said Brooks Board Chairman Manuel Villa. "Greenline will be our new weekend hotspot.”
Elected officials such as Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio), and State Rep. John Lujan (R-118) were present Wednesday to celebrate the groundbreaking, along with representatives from San Antonio River Authority, San Antonio Water System, Mission Trails Baptist Hospital, 210 Development, Southside Chamber, the City of San Antonio and other businesses in the area.
The name for the new park was inspired by the popular High Line, an elevated urban park in New York City, said Brooks President and CEO Leo Gomez.
“It really is the foundation of the mixed-use community we’re trying to build in order to attract marquee employers to this corner of San Antonio,” Gomez said. “The reason is because we hear from prospective employers in our development process that they care about the quality of education, the quality of the neighborhoods their workforce might be living in, the restaurants, the greenspaces and opportunities for entertainment in the area.
“That’s why we’re building this mixed-use community here at Brooks, all in the end to make it more attractive for choice employers we want to recruit to this part of San Antonio.”
It’s far from the first ceremonial groundbreaking in recent years for Brooks City Base, the 1,300-acre live-work-play area that’s now a community of new homes, apartments, schools, hotels, a hospital, government offices and commercial enterprises.
Nor is it the first time Brooks has made groundbreaking history. Born of a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) that shuttered military operations at the base in 2011, Brooks since that time has served as a national model for repurposing a closed military base into a successful magnet for development.
Now owned and managed by the Brooks Development Authority, it is governed by an 11-member board of directors that is appointed by the San Antonio City Council.
Funds to build The Greenline are coming from $7.6 million in revenue bonds issued by the Authority and another $3 million from the City of San Antonio’s capital budget approved two years ago. More than $2 million of the park budget will go toward a water quality project.
“We’re developing a park, but at the very core of it, it’s a water quality and storm water runoff project,” Gomez explained. “It’s also why the San Antonio River Authority is a fan of the project — because the ponds are being developed in a way that helps filter the water and improve the quality before it drains into the San Antonio River.”
Gomez said The Greenline will not only make Brooks more pedestrian friendly by connecting to existing park space on the Brooks campus and its namesake’s gravesite (aviator Sidney Brooks, 1895-1917), but by 2018 will also link to the Mission Reach trails along the San Antonio River at the site where the historic acequias are located just north of Mission San Juan.
City leaders see Wednesday's groundbreaking as heralding a new era for San Antonio’s Southside, one that physically connects the growing communities south of the city, with miles of hike and bike trails, to its neighbors in other parts of San Antonio where 140 miles of trails already exist.
“When they decided three years ago to make a shift of the Brooks mission from solely science and technology to very much a town center, we’ve seen the growth skyrocket here,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), who helped turn the dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony.
“Brooks has been history-making and transformative for our entire region in getting a medical school and attracting new businesses, new companies and new housing stock — absolutely transformational.”
Viagran hopes District 3 will see even more linear parks in the future, “so we will be a recreational destination not only for the city, but for all of Texas.”
For Gomez, the Greenline's groundbreaking was "somewhat emotional.
"When we assessed what we aspired to be and see where we are three years later, we can say this is a jewel, the key, of our land use plan," he said. "We love the families that live on Brooks ... and we look forward to seeing families enjoy a park without having to cross a fence or guard shack to do it."
This story was updated with details from the Wednesday morning ceremony.
Top image: The Greenline is a project that will transform the 43 acres of land into an urban linear park. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.