Commentary: Building ‘Community ROI’ at Hemisfair

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Construction at the Yanaguana Garden "playscape" continues in Hemisfair Park. Photo courtesy of Hemisfair.

Construction continues at the Yanaguana Garden "playscape" in Hemisfair Park. Photo courtesy of Hemisfair.

“What’s the return on investment?”

It’s a question that business leaders get asked all the time. A business fundamental is that you invest money in order to make a return on it. Sure, responsible businesses will also take charitable interests and environmental impact into consideration, but without return on investment (ROI) there is no business.

Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) is a local government corporation, meaning that it is run similar to a private business but with direct financial and managerial ties to City Hall, including public input processes. While we prioritize making sound financial decisions and managing our money responsibly, capital return is not our primary bottom line.

Hemisfair Park's new, main walkway through the park will provide a shade canopy for visitors. Photo courtesy of Hemisfair.

Hemisfair Park’s new, main walkway through the park will provide a shade canopy for visitors. Photo courtesy of Hemisfair.

For us, the bottom line is positive impact to our community.

We like the word and essence of Community. It evokes good feelings. At its best, it means people from diverse backgrounds living amongst each other and cooperating to make their neighborhood better. Counter-terms like “gentrification” are used when communities become too exclusive, or cause everyone to conform to a particular way of living. Creating community is about a place for an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location.

With Hemisfair, we want to re-establish a neighborhood. Hemisfair is transforming 37 neglected acres into improved and expanded parkland and new buildings full of residences, retail and offices. We have a huge opportunity here. San Antonians made the right decision by investing in improving this district into a multi-generational gathering place that will benefit the whole city. Everyone will be able to enjoy Hemisfair. We heard loudly and clearly throughout our public process: locals want Hemisfair to become a vibrant urban neighborhood that is San Antonio’s gathering place.

Still, not everyone has been happy to hear that we’re bringing development and businesses to new and existing structures in Hemisfair. We’ve heard complaints that putting businesses and residents in a park is the wrong idea. People are concerned that the businesses will mimic the River Walk and cater to tourists and fat wallets. Maybe that’s what we would do if we were motivated by profits and ROI. But remember, we’re driven to develop a community.

Yanaguanga Garden conceptual rendering. Graphic courtesy of Hemisfair.

Yanaguanga Garden conceptual rendering with new business tenants. Graphic courtesy of Hemisfair.

Residents and local businesses together make a neighborhood. We want to have both of them thrive at Hemisfair because we seek the vibrancy of people walking, biking and hanging out during all hours – well, except for 2 a.m.-6 a.m., that’s when my mom always said “nothing good happens at that time.”

Residents take care of their places and their surroundings. If locals see Hemisfair as their backyard then they are also helping us pick up trash, deter graffiti, and welcome other guests. To ensure we have a diverse and blossoming community, we are mandating that 10% to 50% of residential units are available as workforce housing so locals working downtown have an easy commute and a more sustainable lifestyle.

For those who don’t live on-site, having local businesses at the park becomes one of the reasons to visit…or to linger. It also allows Hemisfair to collect revenue in the form of rent paid from those tenants. 100% of the revenues collected in this way directly fund the maintenance, operations, programming, and improvements to the parkland, which, by the way, will be entirely free and open to the public.

Furthermore, we are creating opportunities for local businesses and entrepreneurs who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to rent downtown space. The tenants’ mission is to keep the experience authentically San Antonio while activating the park space. We’re not selling keychains and souvenirs at Hemisfair, we’re selling delicious paletas, handcrafted beer, home cooked corn nuts, and refreshing agua frescas. Best of all, we’re working hard with the tenants to keep prices approachable because that’s good for the community.

J.C. Rodriguez, chef at the upcoming Hemisfair restaurant Con Safos, said it well: “I love where I currently work (in an upscale restaurant) and what I do, but my mom and dad would feel uncomfortable coming here. I think it’s important that Hemisfair is a place where the whole family, lots of different kinds of families, all feel welcome.”

That’s the community we’re building – Hemisfair will be a spot where all can gather, unwind, and have serendipitous moments.


*Featured/top image: Construction continues at the Yanaguana Garden “playscape” in Hemisfair Park. Photo courtesy of Hemisfair.

Related Stories:

Hemisfair Announces First Four Business Tenants

Suitors Line Up for Hemisfair Development

Hemisfair Seeking Partners for Mixed-Use Development

Check Out Hemisfair’s Evolving Civic Park

City Seeks Developers for Housing at Hemisfair

7 thoughts on “Commentary: Building ‘Community ROI’ at Hemisfair

  1. I love this project. My favourite cities in the world have invested heavily in outdoor gathering areas that promote the culture and allow visitors and locals a space to stroll. I’m thrilled that San Antonio has embraced this concept and moved forward to breathe life back into a forgotten yet spectacular space.
    Now, let’s talk about where the outdoor rotating photography exhibit will be, shall we? 😉

  2. What exactly is ’10 to 50%’ in affordable housing? That’s a very broad percentage especially in light of this being an article on ROI – whether that is community or profit. Affordable housing is key to maintaining the culture and diversity that keeps this city rich My favorite aspect of living downtown is the socioeconomic cocktail. That’s a true community and one I treasure

    • Hi Kathy: I totally agree with your point and think that SA has weathered many economic storms because we continue to be affordable. I’m sorry if it wasn’t clear how we’re helping achieve this goal. Hemisfair is the only project in the city to mandate that at least 10% of all residential units are provided as workforce housing (rents affordable to folks making 50%-110% of the city’s Annual Median Income). We encourage a higher percentage of affordable units but realize that it would likely require additional public support. One of our Board members is coming out with a piece soon to describe the workforce housing initiative at Hemisfair in more detail. We are totally aligned with your statements about maintaining our unique culture and diversity.

      • It think this is a great idea. But 10% should be the max, I am all for diversification of residents but you do not want it to be over run with and known as the bad part or eye sore of town. San Antonio needs to continue creating high end outdoor spaces to attract locals back to the city and push out the vacant and run-down areas. The pearl district/museum reach is a great example.

  3. Great piece, Omar. I think it really explains well the kind of environment your working to create and how businesses are a vital piece of the puzzle. Can’t wait till for the gardens to open!

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