Kiddie Park, a longtime local amusement park with rides dating back to the 1920s, announced Tuesday it would be moving from its Broadway Street location to inside the San Antonio Zoo and handing over the reins to zoo officials.
Zoo CEO Tim Morrow said Kiddie Park has been around for so long, the park is seeing its fourth generation of visitors. The beloved park has struggled with parking availability as Broadway Street becomes more developed, he said.
“[Kiddie Park co-owner Rad Weaver] came to me with a crazy idea, and said, ‘I can’t be the guy that lets Kiddie Park die,’” Morrow said. “He bought it in 2009 and did a great job renovating it.”
Weaver, CEO of McCombs Partners and a member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, said it made sense to hand off Kiddie Park to the zoo.
“My family, my partners, and our team took great pride in restoring Kiddie Park in 2009 and wanted to ensure that it was here many more years for the families of San Antonio to enjoy,” Weaver said in a Tuesday news release. “San Antonio Zoo and this location is the perfect fit.”
The amusement park will be relocated to a corner of the zoo that allows for a separate entrance, next to the Education Center, so people don’t have to pay zoo admission to access Kiddie Park. But the location that has been selected is giving board members of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy pause.
Joe Calvert, the conservancy’s board president, said he was troubled that the zoo made the decision to move Kiddie Park into its bounds without consulting his group. The conservancy board was established in 2009 to be a voice for those who visit and care about Brackenridge Park, a 343-acre park that houses the zoo, the Witte Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Sunken Garden Theater, and the Brackenridge golf course.
“We have a number of very legitimate concerns about this,” Calvert said. “We feel like there should be a better vetting of this whole thing because once that is done, it is done. If you put a bunch of kiddie rides in that area, bordering on the park, it changes that whole atmosphere of that park from a natural feeling area to an amusement park.”
Calvert said he wants the zoo to pause its construction plans to open the conversation with the conservancy and with members of the public to allow them to see potential consequences of moving Kiddie Park into the zoo. While the zoo does have its own parking and is currently constructing a parking garage, Calvert said based on Kiddie Park’s new location, its visitors will likely use Brackenridge Park parking spaces, filling spots that park visitors could have used. He added that he had seen no studies on potential environmental impact even though the park would be close to the river, and he also was concerned about the foot and vehicular traffic Kiddie Park would bring through the public park area.
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“We’re not trying to keep the Kiddie Park from happening or anything like that,” Calvert said. “We’re not saying no. We’re just saying ‘not so fast.’”
Morrow said the zoo, which is not a member of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, does not ask for public input on its projects.
“When the zoo does projects, they’re usually kept pretty confidential,” he said. “We’re in a tourism industry town. … We make the announcement when we make the announcement.”
Brackenridge Park entities meet quarterly to update each other, Morrow said.
“Sometimes everyone doesn’t agree on what’s happening, but we have a 105-year history of being a good steward of the property we’re on,” Morrow said. “Our mission is conservation.”
Calvert said it was about being “a good neighbor.” Though the zoo may not legally have to ask the conservancy for input on this project, it would have been in the public’s interest, he said.
“We have a memorandum of understanding with the City that allows us to operate and do what we do in the park,” Calvert said. “That memorandum of understanding also says the City will consult with the conservancy on any matters relating to change within the park … We weren’t consulted. We were informed.”
Morrow said The DoSeum, the Pearl, and other nearby attractions have brought more visitors to the area and that the zoo has been focusing on those increased numbers.
“We want the park to be better and help everybody in our neighborhood achieve that,” he said.
Lynn Osborne Bobbitt, executive director of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, said the nonprofit’s charge directs them to view the park holistically. Moving the Kiddie Park to the zoo without consulting other park partners flies in the face of that, she said.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to speak up as the conservancy,” she said. “If we see something not in the public’s best interest, we need to bring it to the public’s attention.”
Construction will begin in a few weeks, Morrow said. Kiddie Park will close for a few days to move its rides, but Morrow said zoo officials hope to open the amusement park in its new location before July 4.