With the words, "Let's play!" children run to the playground at the grand opening of Yanaguana Garden. Credit: Rachel Chaney for the Rivard Report

If a great urban park in a great downtown can be considered the heart and soul of a city, then perhaps the way to the public’s heart might be through its stomach.

So at the one-year anniversary celebration of the opening of Yanaguana Garden at Hemisfair Park Tuesday night, Hemisfair Real Estate Director Omar Gonzalez announced there will soon be two new tenants at the park, eateries already favorites among locals — Commonwealth Coffeehouse and Dough Pizzeria Napoletana.

Those restaurants will take their place in the park alongside Paletería San Antonio that has been operating in Yanaguana Garden since it was opened by small-business owners Joey and Cecy Rodriguez.

“This park has changed this neighborhood like it has changed our lives,” Cecy told the crowd of about 70 people who gathered at Magik Theatre to learn more about the future of Hemisfair Park development. The young couple had struggled to make ends meet while raising their daughter until they opened the store and began serving 60 flavors of handmade paletas.

They have lots of customers. According to a community impact report presented last month, nearly 500,000 people visited Yanaguana Garden in its first year, making it the second most frequented park per acre in Texas after Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.

Gonzalez also released economic impact figures at the town hall-style meeting Tuesday night. The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) estimates that there will be 200 more opportunities for local business owners like the Rodriguez Family, and 3,700 full-time jobs will be created as a result of the development with 6,000 more during construction. It will result in a $400 million impact on the San Antonio economy and $13 million in new tax revenues annually.

Hemisfair Director of Real Estate Omar Gonzalez presents to guests after one year of Yanaguana Gardens.
Hemisfair Director of Real Estate Omar Gonzalez presents to guests after one year of Yanaguana Garden. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

“We are very proud of what we have accomplished in a very short time,” Gonzalez said. “Great cities have great downtowns. Great downtowns have great parks. They form the character of the city and are places we want to go.”

The HPARC was formed in 2009 and the master plan developed in 2012. A year later, the group created seven guiding principles to build a better park, starting with Yanaguana Garden, a play area intended for “ages pre-K to gray.” Since opening a year ago, the park has hosted 124 events and 949 school field trips.

When complete, Civic Park will feature a great lawn and promenade adjacent to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center that welcomes visitors into the park from the Market Street side.

Bounded by South Alamo and Market streets, Cesar Chavez and Highway 281, Hemisfair is situated in the epicenter of downtown San Antonio. And yet, after 1968, when the World’s Fair closed its successful six-month run, nothing much happened in the area. The six million visitors to HemisFair came and left, and though the event catapulted San Antonio as a tourist destination, the park itself soon became what Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation CEO Andres Andujar calls a giant cul-de-sac, enclosed, inaccessible and undesirable in many ways.

In describing how the HPARC will fulfill its seven guiding principles for the historic park in the center of downtown, Gonzalez discussed concepts such as sustainability, balance and connectivity, and released this development timeline for the park:

  • 2017 – Civic Park under construction
  • 2018 – NCAA Final Four and Tricentennial Celebration hosted
  • 2019 – Acequia Lofts (residential) complete
  • 2020 – Civic Park completed
  • 2021 – Work begins on the northwest zone
  • 2024 – Tower Park completed

There are 17 acres of developable land in the park, according to Gonzalez. Planned residential development will restore the pre-1968 population density to the area, activate the park and help sustain it financially. It also will add to the current 5,500 residential spaces in a downtown that already has more than 14,000 hotel rooms.

A mixed-income housing policy is in place ensuring that developers will provide a minimum of 10% (and maximum 50%) in affordable units.

And, as for the tourists that help propel San Antonio’s economy, Andujar said, “If we are as successful as we have been in attracting locals to the park, then we will be successful in attracting tourists.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is a journalist and writer in San Antonio, and a business reporter for The Rivard Report.