Committee Reviews San Pedro Creek Design Critiques & Update

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"El Merodeo" stretch of San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company.

"El Merodeo" stretch of San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company.

The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project advanced one more step forward on its multi-year timeline Friday morning as the San Pedro Creek Subcommittee reviewed the design team’s 70% design plan views. Though not on the official agenda, almost an hour was spent reviewing design criticisms outlined in an article published on Thursday by the Rivard Report, “The San Pedro Creek Project: Getting it Right.”

Some owners of property along the creek, local and national architects/designers, and even a couple subcommittee members are concerned about the design process behind preliminary project renderings that some have called “overdone,” “theme park-like” and have an element of “inappropriate grandiosity.”

There are no updated visuals for this stage of the design yet, as the 70% design stage is more about the “guts” of infrastructure – the flood control elements that the public won’t see, but will benefit from. However, the design team said a few last-minute renderings would be ready for its presentation to the Bexar County Commissioners Court work session on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

The design team has also received positive feedback on the preliminary renderings, said Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) which is overseeing the project’s development.

The main aesthetic – bold colors and vibrant patterns – will remain, Muñoz Principal Architect Steve Tillotson said. Another subcommittee will be curating artistic elements/installations.

“The design direction is definitely pursuing an aesthetic that is more colorful, more patterned, more exuberant,” Tillotson said. “It’s not like we’re showing something like that (original, vibrant renderings) and then going back to a neutral (theme).”

Preliminary design rendering for a "Tree of Life" element of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.

Preliminary design rendering for a “Tree of Life” element of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.

“This has to be not just a place to walk along to get to other places,” he added. “It has to be a destination in of itself. Nobody has made an effort to do anything positive along the creek. We’re the first ones to do it.”

The design team explained that the preliminary renderings created several months ago – some as far back as 2013 – by the project’s lead architectural firm Muñoz & Co. were meant as guiding placeholders for landscaping, main features, and art elements along the creek. Bexar County approved the 40% package and will have an expectation that the “exuberance” will be maintained, Scott said.

“The romance of it, the Latino urbanism concept that I think was brought forward in this document in some of the designs … that’s what they (Bexar County Commissioners) felt like they were buying for the community,” Scott said. So that’s not going away.

Pat DiGiovanni of the Downtown Alliance/Centro Partnership was surprised at the content of the letter from James Lifshutz. “From Centro’s standpoint, we want more communication on this.” Photo by Don Mathis.

Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni reviews documents before the meeting. Photo by Don Mathis.

Scott and Tillotson fielded questions, mainly from Centro San Antonio President and CEO Pat DiGiovanni, about these concerns – specifically those of downtown developer and property owner James Lifshutz, who sent a letter to SARA, addressed to Scott, outlining a suggestion to slow down the process and “aspire for better.”

Click here to download his letter.

“This content was troubling to me when I read it,” DiGiovanni said of Thursday’s article. “Why wasn’t this full committee made aware of a letter that was sent in June? … What is the purpose of this committee if we can’t also be made aware of concerns.”

Scott explained that the letter was taken into consideration along with other public input that is informing the design team as it moves forward. The subcommittee has been given an overview of public input and survey results, but this letter was not singled out in those reviews.

“We don’t have a design response (to Lifshutz’s concerns) yet,” Scott said, but they’re being worked on as many feature areas are working with other downtown developments like the new Frost office tower and are under review because of budgetary restraints.

“There could be a whole redesign of that entire block,” Scott said, referring to the section adjacent to the future tower site.

After the meeting, Scott also addressed comments made by Robert Hammond, the co-founder of Friends of the High Line, the catalyst for development of New York City’s celebrated High Line Park that criticized the project.

‘”The model for San Pedro Creek should be the Mission Reach, which means restoration of the natural environment, not heavy architectural intervention,” Hammond said during a previous interview. “The bones are there, but it needs a much lighter touch. It really needs more landscape and less architecture.”

The High Line attracts millions of visitors and locals a year and has generated billions of dollars in economic development along its 1.45-mile length. Hammond was born and raised in San Antonio, graduated high school in Alamo Heights, and moved to New York after college.

“(Hammond is) making a judgement about this project but he has really not seen the evolution – has not been part of the conversations of where we’ve changed,” Scott said.  “I think to some people that kind of hit them (hard). If he would catch up as to where we are … the process has moved forward since (he saw it),”

Tillotson and Scott said they didn’t think he saw the full scope of the project.

“He’s a respected individual who has had success with his project,” Scott added. “But I think it’s important before you make those kinds of comments that you completely understand the project in total.”

Representatives of HDR Engineering (Jeff Mitchell) and San Antonio River Authority (Suzanne Scott) address questions from the audience. Photo by Don Mathis.

Jeff Mitchell of HDR Engineering and San Antonio River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott address questions from the audience during a previous meeting. Photo by Don Mathis.

Scott and the design team said they hoped Hammond would have time to do so before his speaking engagement during the Tech Bloc’s Summer Rally. The technology industry advocacy group has invited him to come speak on several public projects including San Pedro Creek, Hemisfair, the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, and more. Click here for details about the Aug. 11 event at the Pearl Stable.

The $175 million flood control project that runs through some of downtown San Antonio’s most historic and culturally rich places – as well as some of its newer projects – is expected to have a multi-million dollar impact on surrounding areas. Residential and commercial projects are already sprouting up in its wake.

The renderings depicted far less than a fifth of the total length of the project, subcommitte co-chair Jerry Geyer pointed out, and the actual flood-control infrastructure – the whole purpose behind the project – is essentially in visible.

“These specific features are beginning to eclipse the overall design,” Geyer said, adding that the subcommittee will focus on landscaping during its September meeting.

Bexar County has dedicated $125 million to the $175 million-project. The City of San Antonio contributing several million dollars in downtown creekside property.

“So there’s already a funding gap,” said Jeff Mitchell of HDR Engineering, the primary consultant for the project. The design team has shifted its focus on Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project, the latter of which contains the bulk of flood-control engineering work.

“We’re trying to bite off what we can chew right now,” Mitchell said. Construction costs had increased  from $115 million to $171 million (at the 40% design) to $179 million (at 70% design). The budget they have on hand today is $100 million for construction.

“Rather than to try and cheapen the whole project to get it down to $100 or $115 million, we will construct it in phases and let that build on itself and attract interest and investments and then build the whole thing according to the final vision,” he said.

Phase 2, 3, and 4 will not have as many amenities as the first phase, but will be added in later as more funds become available.

*Featured/top image: “El Merodeo” stretch of San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Preliminary rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company. 

Related Stories:

The San Pedro Creek Project: Getting it Right

Survey: Public Supports San Pedro Creek Improvements

Art Curation Taking Shape for San Pedro Creek

#SATXnext Explores San Pedro Creek

San Pedro Creek: A River Walk for Locals

18 thoughts on “Committee Reviews San Pedro Creek Design Critiques & Update

    • There are few similarities with the High Line and the San Pedro Creek Project. Really to only similarity is it is a park planted on top of a heavy industrial railroad viaduct that slices through a neighborhood and even some buildings. It was rusting and disused for decades and all of a sudden turned into something nice and useful. That is similar to the drainage ditch in San Antonio… But otherwise, the High Line in in a densely developed neighborhood with high rises jammed together and 26 million people within basically a 60-mile radius with very little greenery nearby,,, so of course it makes an impression in a way San Pedro Creek never will no matter what is done. I don’t think the people who keep comparing the two have ever been there, or they wouldn’t be comparing them. It’s like dressing someone for a black tie ball when they were only invited to an afternoon tea.

  1. From a non-design professional’s perspective, the picture shown on the Facebook post is pretty cool and more what I would expect for most of the project. I hope other parts that I have seen, including the tree of life, are toned down some. I’m sure the preliminary design will change, but it looks like a bad video game from the 90s. It also seems like it would be rather difficult to keep up, what is it going to look like in 10, 15, 20 years? More trees, more plants, more shade would all be preferable to concrete in my opinion.

  2. I looked back at past articles about the San Pedro Creek project. Phrases such as: “places of respite”, “walkways connecting neighborhoods”, and “healing composite of living offerings”,seem to conflict with some of the design renderings shown. Today’s picture is more soothing and timeless.
    ” Iconic pavilions” and “civic space”can also be timeless without some of the futuristic designs and garish colors previously posted. I’m not getting the Tree of Life with the clash of green and purple. A mulberry tree perhaps? I hope the design committee will remember the people who live near the creek and design features that enhance it. The features should not overpower or detract from the waterway.
    As a previous article stated, the re- designed creek should “nourish us for years”. Some of the renderings posted look like they belong in a Jetsons inspired theme park.

    • I agree with you. I wasn’t able to cross over the bridge of understanding, and still can’t figure out what is iconic about the pavilions other than an example of the word “over wrought”. And what’s up with the Tree of Life??!! Was Avatar filmed in San Antonio?

      It pictures don’t look like it would be nice to walk there. Not enough shade during the day, and seems unsafe at night. It doesn’t make me want to linger, but walk as quickly as possible. Maybe that’s a feature. I do like, however, the bridge that looks like a homage to the old Broadway bus stops with concrete vines. Why do architects always want to make their mark on something like a dog instead of just making it nice like landscape and natural like it’s always been that way but nicer?

      • Yes, definitely sustainable plantings by all means. That is so underdone here. Has anyone been outside here May to October? Shade, please. Nature. Trees are pretty much the only things that naturally both increase in value over time and self sustain, for the most part. And are also very practical as shade/oxygen delivery systems. Plus they will be right near their own water source.

  3. Latino urbanism?

    Is that like that godawful Friendship Torch downtown? The dated Alamodome? The puke red exterior of our central library? Because if it is, no, thanks.

    “Tillotson and Scott said they didn’t think he saw the full scope of the project.”

    Uh, what is there to see? The renderings were pretty straightforward and frankly, blinding.

    • Here’s something interesting that came up from a quick Google search of the term.

      “Rojas sees the influence across the region, from Santa Monica along the coast to Pasadena in the foothills, and especially in Los Angeles itself. “There’s a whole official design lexicon that is borrowed from lessons about how Latinos design their homes and interact with their neighborhoods,” he said.

      The result is that Los Angeles, long a Latino city culturally and demographically, is beginning to resemble a Latino city in terms of how its streets and public spaces are designed. Latino Urbanism, largely the study of how immigrants use Los Angeles, is increasingly reflected in how Los Angeles looks.”

      Take a look at the whole article. It gives some interesting context to the idea of “Latino Urbanism” that you so quickly dismiss.

      • Thanks for the link. interesting article. It would be a tragedy if San Antonio became like LA. LA is trying to create things SA already has, but it doesn’t appreciate and take advantage of.

        What they are really talking about in the article (and mention) goes back to Jane Jacobs and classic urban planning concepts that have nothing to do with being Latin, or European, or Chinese, or whatever. The climate has more to do with the rhythm of the streetscape than the culture.

        San Antonio needs more shaded areas – either trees or arcades or awnings along the sidewalks. Those are Western as much as Mexican as much as classic Mediterranean. I looked at the website for the Creek project and I think it conflicts with what they are trying to do with the Zona Cultural. Like a clash of cultures – not a good mix of past and future.

  4. I find it odd that the The Rivard Report deleted my comment that had at least 8 likes. There’s resonance with what I am saying. Why was this group selected when they had zero prior creek restoration experience? Can the The Rivard Report further explain the Politics of Architecture on this project? It’s a discussion we taxpayers need to be having. We’ve done such a magnificent job on the Mission Reach and the Museum Reach. I’m not sure why this has to be a complete departure from the move by most major cities in the world to go to a more naturalistic planting style. Look at the great new urban parks in the world. Look at Potters Fields Park in London. Hammond is spot on in his quest for more nature and less “architecture”. All those stage props and Jeff Koons-wanna be curiosities just glom up a very pretty part of the view to really great views of historic architecture. All I’m seeing in the renderings is overwrought, gimmicky, stage sets that are already dated. Isn’t the budget already almost twice where we started? Why not discuss that intelligently? The overwhelming majority of comments about this project is that people want a return to the natural look SARA and their design team achieved on the Mission and Museum Reach. Why not listen to the stakeholders rather than continue with the Emperor’s New Creek? (And yes, I’m going to copy this comment in the event it’s liked lots and then deleted by RR.)

  5. Bob. Unfortunately it’s gone, so although I would love to point it out and the 8 people who liked it would probably like it on the thread, it’s not possible. I wish I could rewrite it exactly. Without going into histrionics I will just be quippy and call this The Emperor’s New Creek.

  6. I want color … I would not want to copy the Museum Reach. I like the Friendship Torch and I like the color of the Central Library but I don’t like the way the library addresses the street… it is a giant wall with no place for people to sit and gather. It is not about the people it is about the building as a sculpture. This is the problem with the Tree of Life … it is about the sculpture … not about being a place for people to sit and gather. It looks like a copy of something from somewhere else… not something that goes with our plants and our landscape. It looks out of date and out of place. The challenge for San Pedro creek is using bright color in a way that complements our natural surroundings… something new not a copy of Barragon and not a copy of the Museum Reach . Bright color used in a subtle way that makes the water and the plants take center stage.

  7. “And, he points out, though London has wonderful parks — “every time I fly over London I’m always fascinated by how linked they are and how wonderful our street trees are” — it has very few good public gardens, only five or so altogether, Chelsea Physic being the nearest. “That’s why this has been named a garden bridge, not a park on a bridge, because it is going to be a garden, and it’s going to be accessible to everybody and so central — and we feel very excited about that being something we can bring to London.”” Dan Pearson, internationally acclaimed plantsman and garden designer discussing sustainable urban gardens. San Antonio in particular has a dearth of public gardens. Any time we have an opportunity we need to lean towards creating gardens.

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