San Antonio will start implementing big plans for Hemisfair’s Civic Park this year, and more are in the works for Tower Park, the third and final phase of redevelopment for the largely underutilized grounds of the ’68 World’s Fair.
Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation’s selection committee chose a firm this week that will start a public input process to develop a “vision and use plan” for Tower Park, near the Tower of Americas, that will feature five acres of open green space and 10 acres of mixed-use development.
Just as the public was involved in the now-complete Yanaguana Garden and in-progress Civic Park, Hemisfair Director of Real Estate Omar Gonzalez told the Rivard Report on Monday, several feedback sessions will be held next year to determine residents’ and stakeholders’ wants and needs for Tower Park.
“What have you not seen [at other parks] and what do we want to double down on?” Gonzalez asked. That’s the main question Hemisfair will be posing to citizens as it lays out the foundation for what Tower Park will look like on opening day, slated for 2024.
“Tower Park is defined as a community park [in Hemisfair’s master plan] so we want to now dive into the vision of what that means,” Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said. “It is at the base of the Tower [of the Americas], so that’s an iconic geography and it’s also an area that has been open park space since the World’s Fair.”
Hemisfair produced a maximum-density rendering (see above) to show the full potential of the space, complete with office and residential towers, but Gonzalez said that’s an unlikely scenario.
“There’s not a market for this,” he said, but it’s an example of what’s possible.
On Dec. 14, the Hemisfair board will consider hiring the committee-recommended firm Project for Public Spaces (PPS), which has worked on plan elements for Civic Park and Yanaguana Garden.
The Hemisfair Conservancy has raised roughly half of the capital needed to pay for the plan, Gonzalez said – about $40,000.
Those funds came from philanthropic corporate foundations, said Anne Krause, the conservancy’s executive director.
“For those foundations that really want to see San Antonio grow to the next level,” Krause said, “it’s already in their DNA [and] a good match with what we have cooking at Hemisfair.”
As the fundraising arm of the local government organization, the conservancy secures funds for capital projects, maintenance, and programming throughout Hemisfair. Portions of rents from business tenants in Yanaguana Garden and future tenants elsewhere will also go toward park maintenance – the end goal being that Hemisfair becomes self-sufficient and no longer requires City funding.
Krause participated in a series of public workshops hosted by Hemisfair and then-consultant Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) for Civic Park years ago, Krause said, stressing their importance of the process.
“I actually saw how public input shaped the design of the park,” she said. “The world-class, internationally renowned architecture firm GGN went back to the drawing board and made some changes [after hearing from residents].”
Meanwhile, Yanaguana Garden, completed in 2015, acts as a sort of proving ground for the mixed-use, public-private partnerships that will also exist in Tower and Civic parks, Gonzalez said. The City’s 2017 bond included $26 million for Hemisfair, and Gonzalez said the organization will look for more funding for Tower Park in the 2022 bond.
The second busiest urban park in Texas per acre behind Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Yanaguana hosts more and more visitors and events each year. The goal should be to continue that energy and activation all the way to what is now a “dead zone” in terms of locals at the base of the Tower of the Americas, local developer David Adelman said.
“My greatest fear is that it’s too big to activate,” said Adelman, whose company AREA Real Estate is building a 151-unit, eight-story apartment building next to Yanaguana. “If you don’t attract the density, that’s a challenge.”
Some of the buildings on site will likely be demolished, Gonzalez said, opening up more green space.
Organizations located in what will be Tower Park – such as the Instituto Cultural de México and Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México language school – could find a new location on the grounds or nearby.
“We’d love for the entities to stay, but for the buildings not to stay,” Gonzalez said.
The Instituto recently renewed its lease in Hemisfair through 2021, Ambassador Reyna Torres Mendívil of the Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio said, and plans on staying through the redevelopment and beyond.
The specifics are not yet worked out, Mendívil said, but “we have been working with the City the whole time.”
The arts and culture institute – which brings in visual, musical, and now literary art from Mexico – is not there by accident, she added. “The value of having an institution like this in that area is enormous … it happened because this community gathered and established a partnership with Mexico.”
Despite the ongoing construction in the area, Mendívil said the Instituto has enjoyed visitor growth – 15,000 last year and almost 20,000 this year.
The futures of two federally-owned and occupied buildings, relics of HemisFair ’68, are also uncertain. Preservation groups have said they would fight demolition.
Ideally, Gonzalez said, the City would purchase those properties so they would become part of Hemisfair.
“It just makes sense,” he said.
Civic Park is projected to open in 2022, but before anything can go up, construction crews have to dig a massive hole to construct the underground parking lot.
The garage’s capacity was originally slated for 825 spots, but has since been adjusted to more than 1,400 spots to better serve the emerging urban district.
In 2019, Civic Park will essentially be a big hole, Gonzalez said. “Once they dig that hole, then we’ll really start.”
Zachry Hospitality entered into a public-private partnership with Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation to develop the garage and surrounding 14-story hotel, eight-story office tower, “urban market,” up to 50,000 square feet of space for retail shops and restaurants, and a still undefined residential element.
To complete the garage, Zachry will be asking City Council to approve funding from the City’s parking operations and maintenance fund, Gonzalez said. The City could recoup the cost from user parking fees over time.
Also in spring 2019, a portion of the park will open to vehicle access. East Nueva Street will open from South Alamo Street to the newly-created Hemisfair Boulevard that turns into the park off of East César E Chávez Boulevard.
“The speed limit is 5 mph [on internal streets],” Gonzalez said, adding that the streets won’t act as thoroughfares – the vehicular traffic will consist of park visitors, tenant employees, and residents and will be shared with cyclists, scooterists, and pedestrians.
South Alamo Street will also get an overhaul, to be timed with Civic Park’s completion.
Once known as HemisFair Park, the former fairgrounds seems well on its way to be more of a district or neighborhood as the redevelopment has already attracted more investment in surrounding areas. Silver Ventures, the local development firm responsible for the successful Pearl Brewery redevelopment, purchased roughly five acres of property from San Antonio Independent School District just south of Hemisfair in February.