Sally Buchanan's lifetime of work to protect and preserve the San Antonio River will be honored by Bexar County Commissioners with a $1 million gift in her name to Confluence Park. The proposed gift is on the Tuesday agenda when commissioners next meet.
Buchanan, 73, died Saturday, July 30, surrounded by family after a long battle with melanoma.
It would be hard to overstate Sally Buchanan’s leadership role in the progressive evolution of San Antonio. It was an era when women held few seats at the table of power and had to create their own positions of authority and influence by dint of volunteerism, personality, and perseverance.
Buchanan was an early advocate for the revitalization of the San Antonio River’s Museum and Mission reaches, long-contemplated improvements projects that cost $384.1 million and were completed in 2013.
"Sally was a great supporter of the river, going back many years, and we had a great working relationship with her, and even after she became ill she continued to serve," said Bexar County Nelson Wolff. "The new park will be teach future generations the importance of water and river conservation, so it's a fitting gift."
Buchanan served as a director of the San Antonio River Authority board from 1999-2016, and as its chair from 2013 until her death. She was a co-founder of the San Antonio River Foundation in 2003, and served as its chair from 2003-2006. The River Foundation raised $12 million in private funds to pay for the public artworks installed on the Museum Reach, the turning basin at Pearl, pedestrian paths and lighting, and native landscaping.
“Sally’s legacy will live on through projects such as the Museum Reach and Mission Reach," said Suzanne Scott, River Authority general manager. "Through Sally’s leadership, the River Authority has developed strong collaborations with Bexar County and the City of San Antonio that will continue to protect the health of the San Antonio River for future generations.”
The county's $1 million gift, if approved Tuesday, will come from the $6.2 million in Mission Reach reimbursement funds that came to the County from the San Antonio River Authority last week. The reimbursement was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the River Authority, representing about 10% of the $61.3 million federal commitment to reimburse the County for its share of the $271.4 million Mission Reach Improvement Project.
The $1 million will be paid to San Antonio River Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the River Authority. There has been no announcement yet about how the funds will be used.
"Sally will be greatly missed," said Stuart Allen, a San Antonio arts administrator who serves as the Confluence Park project manager. "She was a huge advocate for the park, and was involved with its planning from the very beginning. She always had her eye on the larger picture. Her knowledge of the river's history, and its potential future, grounded us all and helped us define the mission of the River Foundation."
Bexar County Commissioner Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez (Pct. 1) previously proposed reserving $1.2 million in the 2017 County budget for Confluence Park, the “living classroom” in his Southside precinct on the Mission Reach where San Pedro Creek meets the river.
"She has done so much for the community, especially for the river," Rodriguez said. "If we can keep the memory of Sally and her work alive by giving this gift, then we will have done something important. We haven't voted yet, so I will feel better after Tuesday."
“It might be coming,” Rodriguez told the large crowd on May 11 gathered for the groundbreaking ceremony on the empty lot at 310 W. Mitchell St. where the $10 million, three-acre park will be built. “We’re working on another vote.”
It was not clear if the gift in Buchanan's name that commissioners will vote on Tuesday replaces the original proposal or if it will be an additional contribution from the County.
"I am not going to say this is that money because there is still more that needs to be raised," Rodriguez said.
Efforts to reach Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and River Foundation Executive Director Estela Avery were not successful late Friday afternoon.
Top image: Pavilion at Confluence Park. Image courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and the San Antonio River Foundation.