Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Dough Pizzeria Napoletana announced nearly two years ago it would open at Hemisfair’s southwest corner, in the former OK Bar. On May 29, the popular Italian restaurant began business and will celebrate its official grand opening next week.
The private event on Wednesday, June 27, marks another milestone in Hemisfair’s development just as leaders turn their sights on the third and final phase. The goal is to complete the 40-acre, $700 million redevelopment of the 1968 World’s Fair site by 2025.
But with the massive redevelopment project happening in phases, there’s always something new popping up, including restaurants and housing now under construction, turning the once inactive grounds of Hemisfair “Park” into the “Hemisfair District.”
Construction of the first new multi-family housing development at Hemisfair is well underway. “The ’68,” formerly called Acequia Lofts, will feature 151 units, and 45 percent of those will be for residents making below the city’s median income.
The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) is now seeking proposals from commercial enterprises to lease more of the 22 historic buildings on site, such as the Schultze House.
And groundwork will begin this summer in the northwest section of the district, Civic Park (working title) and its other developable parcels including 300 more residential units as part of the planned Phase 2.
“There used to be a neighborhood here, and it was taken out for HemisFair ’68,” said Andres Andujar, CEO of HPARC, of the 1,500 or so residences that were displaced by the fair. “Our plan is to bring back the density of the neighborhood that existed here before 1968.”
That same number eventually will return to the Hemisfair District, he said, along with commercial enterprises, hotels, office and retail, starting with the AREA Real Estate development, The ’68.
Situated next door to Commonwealth Coffeehouse and Bakery, The ’68 will also bring another 24o public parking spaces at Hemisfair, which currently has only 110 spaces in the two surface lots it controls – one near the Magik Theatre and the other at Martinez Street. Both are considered temporary fixes as plans call for that property to be developed and more structured and underground parking to be created throughout Hemisfair.
For now, many visitors to Hemisfair also find parking in nearby neighborhoods. Residents in the historic Lavaca neighborhood, feeling the effects of growth in the area, have recently implemented a parking plan to cope with the traffic congestion that not only comes from visitors to Hemisfair, but also from the Alamodome and Southtown.
A pilot plan encompasses the five streets nearest East César E. Chávez Boulevard, designating one side of the street for residents-only parking, and open parking on the other. The City of San Antonio is providing residents with permits free of charge.
Another 825 more parking spots, plus housing, an urban market, office space, and a 200-room hotel are going in at the northwest corner of Hemisfair next to Civic Park. The Historic and Design Review Committee (HDRC) approved initial design plans in February, giving Zachry Hospitality and the NRP Group the green light to begin initial groundwork later this summer. HDRC will do a final conceptual review at the end of this year with the entire development slated for completion in 2021.
Those buildings will sit adjacent the eight-acre Civic Park, an expansive green lawn intended for outdoor concerts and demonstrations. Construction on Civic Park begins later this year. But funding for the $300 million Phase 2 section of the Hemisfair project is about to be complete, Andujar said, due to a state tax rebate for hotel developments built near convention centers.
Cost aside, not everyone welcomes development in what has long been park space. Concerns about privatizing a public space, buildings blocking access and views, and even mismanagement and corruption, have been voiced at City and public input meetings.
Yet none of that has stopped the flow of people into the area. This year, Yanaguana Gardens is on track to have 2 million visitors, Andujar said, and surveys show 86 percent of them are coming from all over San Antonio.
Those visitors may welcome all the street improvements that also planned in and around Hemisfair, including Alamo Street which is set to become a “truly world-class boulevard,” Andujar said.
“The intent with this is when you’re driving up to Hemisfair, you know you’re in a special district just by how the street feels,” he said.
There also are plans to improve East César E. Chávez Boulevard, and a mid-street crossing has already been added to improve connectivity between the park and adjacent neighborhoods and parking.
A master plan for the district is being updated as the project progresses. In the coming months, Andujar will name a consultant to write the development manual for the area that encompasses the landmark Tower of the Americas and other former World’s Fair structures.
Those plans will specify the scale for new buildings surrounding the existing ones, such as the Women’s Pavilion, and, incorporating public input, they will describe the expectations and desired outcome for the entire 10-acre section. Such plans also are used when putting out requests for proposals for development projects, like more housing, from the private sector.
As with the northwest zone, the Tower park area development manual will call for spatial porosity and view corridors.
“The idea is that when you are walking around on the streets, development is not going to stop you from using the public park,” Andujar said.
Design plans for Hemisfair Boulevard also are also coming.
“We are actually reinstating the street grid that existed here before the fair,” Andujar said. “That will allow not only vehicular circulation but a new way for pedestrians and cyclists to access it.”
The 2025 completion date remains highly dependent on funding. Besides public investment through bonds, private investment through partnerships on the mixed-use developments, the Hemisfair Conservancy will raise funds to help cover park enhancements, historic preservation, saving trees, and park activation like Art in the Park and Super Fun Saturday.
On any given day, there are already regular fitness classes and Zumba in the park, children’s story times, and family movie nights. Park-goers bring their own refreshments or pay a visit to the park’s restaurants, like Dough Pizzeria.
“For us, success is daily use of the park,” Andujar said. “We do have punctuation marks where we have big events and we bootstrap and get it done. But what is beautiful about this plan is daily use because daily use is local use.”