County Commissioners Delay Approving Replacement Art for San Pedro Creek

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A rendering of Creek Lines looking South backed by the Frost Tower.

Courtesy / Bridge Projects

A rendering of the proposed public artwork Creek Lines at the entrance to the San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Bexar County commissioners delayed voting Tuesday on a new public artwork for San Pedro Creek Culture Park to replace the scrapped Plethora sculpture.

Its proposed replacement, named Creek Lines, is a stainless steel piece that would occupy the Plaza de Fundación in the space originally planned for Plethora, a commissioned piece canceled because of cost overruns.

Local artists Stuart Allen and Cade Bradshaw of Bridge Projects brought to commissioners court a scale model of their design, which consists of 30 stainless steel poles about 24 feet high. The poles will be sculpted in different shapes, mimicking the flow of water. Allen and Bradshaw planned to use $300,000 of the total $425,000 budgeted to construct the actual sculpture. The rest, they proposed, would go toward funding educational programs related to the artwork and San Pedro Creek.

County commissioners were not immediately taken with the proposed project. Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said he wanted more information on its potential cost before voting, while Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said he imagined something more “grand in size” and would support increasing the budget to fund a larger piece.

“You put in a lot of good work,” Calvert said. “We want to support the artist economy … but I think there was vision for this to be visible from the highway.”

Bridge Projects merely responded to a request for proposals from the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), which gave a specific budget and other parameters that did not include size, Allen said.

“The prospect of building something that’s visible from the highway within the scope of the budget – we could say that we would do that, but we would be lying to you and you would be back where you started in another one year,” Allen said. “When we studied the plaza, the thing that makes the most sense for that space is a project that the public actually interacts with, and moves through.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff did notexpress support or disapproval for the proposed artwork, but noted that Plethora had been designed as a much larger piece.

“That piece that was presented to us … turned out to be a bunch of bull, but it was looked at being six stories high,” Wolff said. “The rendition of it was absolutely beautiful.”

Commissioners agreed to wait some time before approving a new artwork, which SARA Senior Engineer Kerry Averyt said he did not anticipate, but he understood.

“For them to want to take a delay is something I think is a good move at this point, to make sure everybody is comfortable with that piece,” he said.

Allen said the commissioners’ reluctance to approve the project surprised him, but that he and Bradshaw would be happy to sit down and talk about potential changes.

“Public art is unusual in that there’s always some dialogue, some give and take,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why publicly funded projects take longer to execute.”

SARA officials also gave county commissioners an update on construction progress on San Pedro Creek. Phase 1.2 – the stretch of the creek between West Houston Street and Dolorosa Street – is well underway, while project managers aim to have designs for Phase 1.3 and Phase 2 finalized by October.

Calvert noted that designs for San Pedro Creek started in 2014, and voiced surprise that they have yet to be completed. He added that the San Pedro Creek project costs were increasing too much for his comfort.

“I don’t mean to get my feathers ruffled here, but this could have the distinction of being the most cost-overrun project of any government entity in Bexar County,” Calvert said.

SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott said that San Pedro Creek is not over budget, because there is no definitive budget for the entire project. When the project was first proposed, the estimated cost based on a preliminary engineering report was $175 million, Scott said.

“That report didn’t have full drawings, full cost associated with utilities, properties, bridge costs – it was just a high-level estimate,” Scott said.

The original number did not factor in the cost of goods, construction work, or real estate, Scott said. And as construction for different phases of San Pedro Creek continue, planners have a better idea of price tags on utilities and other aspects of the project.

There are still unknown factors that may arise, Averyt explained, but phase 1.2 is still within its $74 million budget. Phase 1.1 came in $5 million under budget, and Scott hopes that future phases can continue that pattern.

“We also tried to take advantage of lessons learned in this project so as we move through these final phases … we can try to save some money as we move forward,” she told county commissioners.

40 thoughts on “County Commissioners Delay Approving Replacement Art for San Pedro Creek

  1. Hate to be negative, but this piece is ugly, uninspired and boring. I REALLY hope a piece such as this one is not chosen. It will not stand the test of time. Cloudgate or “the bean” in Chicago will.

    • This comment is sad because it is uninformed. The County Commissioners mangled this process and now have less funding to work with. They offered a relatively small amount, $400,00, for the public art project. Just fyi the “bean” cost $27 million. Confluence Pavilion ~$6 million. I recommend you study the artists’ proposal. It’s quite innovative but appreciating it will require more engagement than just a few small photos, as is true for most good artwork.

      https://bridgesatx.com/Bridge-SPC-proposal-02-25-2019.pdf

      • My comment is neither sad nor uninformed. Just because you don’t agree with me does not make it so.

        I’ve read the financials of this project since the beginning. I understand that the budget is small. I know for a fact cloud gate was very expensive to produce.

        What I’m saying is…for 400k, I think an artist can come up with something that is WAY more creative, memorable compelling.

        Thanks for your input.

        • If you are informed then I recommend that you demonstrate that in your initial comments. This piece was “chosen” in a long and vetted process. Your initial comments did NOT reflect this.

        • Aren’t you an artist? Would you want fellow artists referring to your artwork this way without working to understand it better? Seems like a bit of bridge-burning here.

          • I’m an artist as well. Went to art school. My work was critiqued all the time. It’s comes with the territory.

            If you create something, you better have the guts to accept criticism. I would think these artists can understand our viewpoints.

  2. Wow, this is a huge downgrade from the original plan. San Antonio needs something inspiring; something that is sought out by locals and visitors alike to take a picture in front of. This isn’t it. Let’s hope the vision is there to do something on a grander scale.

    • Tim, See my comments above. Public art is expensive. Again, “the bean” was extremely expensive, not to mention controversial. This is a more subtle piece and quite well-suited for the location. I am surprised how little people understand the process here. The Commissioners asked for a committee to handle the selection, after the fumbled “Plethora.” A panel of highly respectable citizens who know art narrowed the field from over 150 artists to request four proposals. These artists were then paid for proposals (not cheap) and were vetted. The Commissioners handled this very poorly, berating hard-working people in a public forum, many of whom gave their time voluntarily. The bottom line is that if we want good public art we need to pay for it.

      • I understand the process has been a mess. My comments are geared at that exactly; more is needed here – that includes the creativity of the art itself and the capital to make it happen the way it should be done. What has been presented is disappointing to say the least. Also, I collect art myself and commission pieces for my personal collection regularly; I have great understanding and appreciation of the costs and process involved.

  3. Compared to the artwork located at the creek this is very disappointing and embarrassing to say the least. Gray earthworms that appear to be dead are undesirable as a focal point to this project.

    • Gray earthworms I’m dying laughing. That’s exactly what it looks like.

      My impression was that it looks like a demolition site.

      Here’s a crazy thought–why not NO artwork for now? Let’s refocus that money to finishing the dang creek and circle back on the artwork when we can potentially get some private $ to support as well… No art is better than bad art.

      • If each pole had segments of the pole in different colors then the artists can use their imagination to create a very nice piece of artwork but that would require additional efforts in their design thoughts to create something special and worthy of the focal point to the entire creek project.

  4. Yes – all art is subjective. Highly subjective. You’ll never get a consensus on any “public art” because one man’s Mona Lisa is another’s West side mural. I will say it took me awhile to cotton to the downtown orange “Torch of Friendship” sculpture on Losoya and Commerce. Now it’s like an old friend. Familiarity breeds consent! We need Public Art. Art reminds us of the infinite character of the human condition. (And stop cheaping out! You think the Statue of Liberty was such a bargain?)

      • I consulted the proposal, Lupita. My father made pipes exactly like that on a machine just like that when he ran a Midas muffler shop 40 years ago. I didn’ t realize, nor did he, that he could have been paid so handsomely as a public artist if he deposited a day’s worth of his artistry in on a public plaza somewhere in the city where he worked. If he had, I wouldn’t have needed those student loans for college!

  5. Art is subjective. First impressions mean alot. If this rendering is what we have initially, then this art work sucks. It looks like a bunch of dead tree stumps……. with all due respect.

  6. This is all pretty unfortunate. I’m not impressed by the selection (and in disclosure I’ll own my bias) but now what? The commission seems unimpressed and disappointed but what will the two week delay do? Seems a bit unfair to the rejected artists who also took these parameters into consideration to give this team a do-over; but also feels unfair to pull it away and do ANOTHER round. We may be stuck with this one. I hope they learn their lesson about how to select artists for these sorts of ambitious and necessary public art projects. I was curious as to why the finalists chose to “save” so much money to direct towards education when it could have gone towards realising a bigger vision. Shouldn’t it be in some other department’s budget & job to coordinate the education efforts?

    • I agree. The call for artists that they replied to was for a $425,000.00 MONUMENT, not a $300,000.00 effort with $125,000.00 of the budget for the monument funneled into an education project which promises to raise even more money for education projects and NOT the monument.

        • I am familiar with that call and nowhere does it request 30% of the budget to be used for something else.

          Thanks for sharing this. It states “The Tricentennial Artwork will serve as a signature work of art for the Park and commemorate the Tricentennial of Bexar County and the City of San Antonio. The total budget available for this commission is $425,000.”.

          Under Budget it does not call for an education component it says “The budget for the Tricentennial Artwork is $425,000. The budget includes but is not limited to: all artist design and project management fees; travel; models and renderings of artwork; fabrication, transportation, and installation of artwork; and all required insurance and permits.”.

          Where, in this document that you shared, is there a request to use the money for anything other than a monument?

  7. In today’s “social media” age, I would love to see art that is more interactive. This piece is cold and uninspired and flat-out ugly.

    Why must we spend $300-400,000 on one piece? Why not allocate that money to pay for different art exhibits to appear at the site? That would give us all a reason to keep coming back to the Creek and would give more local artists and opportunity to showcase their work. The Highline has all different exhibits and lets the landscape be the only permanent “exhibit”. San Antonio needs to be classier and stop thinking that a big price tag on one piece of half-a$$ed art is a worthwhile expenditure

    • I agree with most of your thoughts but I want to address the price tag (much smaller than the original). There’s a place for a Highline-seque concept & maybe somewhere along the creek or mission reach it could happen. But there’s also a place for significant and large scale public art. Anything that huge requires a budget for materials, permits, additional artisan & other contract labour fees, etc. Having been adjacent to this experience, the lead artist sometimes comes out of pocket to cover what isn’t in the budget. The amount of money is not the issue for me, it’s the decisions that a selection committee makes in terms of who is best suited to create work of this scale on a significant site that I think is fairly up for debate.

  8. So, at first I was like many of the posters and put off by the image, but then I did as lupitasatx recommended and reviewed the proposal and I have to say the image selected doesn’t do the project justice. I would encourage everyone to look at the proposal, especially slide 25, it shows the structure not simply blending in the background but adding to the area overall. Also, the artists are apparently from SA and live in proximity to the location of the sculpture. I for one am a fan of anyone with skin in the game bc they want to see the area thrive, develop and grow as much as we do verus an outside entity. Again, the image selected makes the piece blend in the background and is overshadowed by the soapbox apt’s and the new Frost Tower, but the overall proposal puts the piece in a better perspective visually.

    • I did review the proposal. I disagree regarding the impressive nature of the scope. It’s fine as an installation in and of itself, but I don’t think it suits what the commission was looking for as a large-scale monument. Since this is purely opinion, you are free to disagree with me. I’m a performance artist, I don’t have issues necessarily with abstract art. This call by the way, was targeted to local artists after the fiasco of Plethora, they are not usual in that regard. I continue to be curious as to why they chose to use a significant portion of the funds allocated to essentially seed their own arts education project rather than towards providing a more ambitious large-scale piece, and why the panel saw that as a bonus.

        • I appreciate the correction on that point. We will agree to disagree, most likely, on the rest of our opinions on this topic.

  9. This whole process seems to be more than the county commissioners are prepared to undertake. When the proposal for this piece was selected it was likely also returned with comments, which the artists would have incorporated in this final submission. Still, it seems like the commissioners were seeing the project for the first time. After the “boondoggle” of the Plethora project, and the promise of greater attention and care moving forward, it’s disappointing that the court was blatantly unprepared for this meeting.

    The artists were thrown into an untenable situation. What should have been an approval meeting became a forum for half baked opinions and confused expectations. This is why we can’t have nice things.

    • I agree the artists were put in an untenable situation regardless of your opinion on the work. I think the selection panel needs to answer to the commissioners for their choice. The commission was clearly underwhelmed.

  10. I think its a shame that San Antonio has gone from glorious monuments and public art of the likes of Pompeo Coppini to “sculptures” like this… It’s obvious people can’t connect to modern art sculptures like this. Public art needs to connect people and at least be uplifting to the city.
    This doesn’t do it and is a waste of tax payer money.

    • I dont think that modern art sculptures can’t be monumental or moving to the public, but you’re not the only one who feels that way on the topic or about specific public art pieces, that’s for sure.

    • Stuart, where are you publishing the comments you are receiving? Seems like you are trying to move this discussion behind closed doors …

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