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One year ago, no one in San Antonio would have thought to do yoga or Tai Chi, or play chess at Hemisfair Park. There were no story times, sand castles, bubbling jets, or mango-flavored paletas.
According to a community impact report presented at last week’s City Council B session, nearly 500,000 people visited Yanaguana Garden in its first year, making it the second most frequented park per acre in Texas after Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.
As confirmation of the park’s tagline, “Where San Antonio Meets,” the vast majority of those visitors weren’t tourists, they were San Antonio residents from every single City Council district and nearly every zip code.
“Early on, there was a question about the development of the park and whether it was for tourists or locals,” said Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar. “The design has always been to first attract locals. And now surveys show 84% are from districts in San Antonio, not from the region. This is a park for San Antonio.”
The report also shows that 65% of visitors are female, many of them mothers of young children. Visiting school groups accounted for 949 field trips to the park this year and more than 57,000 students from all districts.
“To me, that means three things: It’s safe, it is clean, and it is family-friendly,” Andujar said.
The ethnicity of visitors to Yanaguana Garden in the last year reflects San Antonio’s census data: 57% Hispanic/Latino, 27% white/non-Hispanic, 4.5% black or African American, 2% Asian, 1% American Indian, 0.4% Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 7% gave no response. Some 80,000 visitors came from other Texas cities, several states, and a dozen countries.
Fifteen percent of park visitors surveyed reported household earnings of $25,000 or less, with more than 40% earning under the area median income. Thirty percent reported incomes in excess of six figures.
“I think (these results) speak head-on to the concept of common ground,” Andujar said. “To be in the park and look at the crowd, it looks like San Antonio. We’re playing together. The most democratic space in the world is a public park.”
Not only are the crowds showing up to the park, but they appear to be happy when they spend time there. Nearly every one of the 664 people surveyed said they plan to visit the park at least once a year or more and 90% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they were excited by the Civic Park design concept, adding that they felt the park would improve downtown San Antonio.
Most said they were excited about the events and entertainment planned for the park, and 57% felt that art installations are important.
Hemisfair Communications Manager Drew Hicks told the Rivard Report that the park has hosted 124 activities in its first year, from weekly story time and fitness classes to major cultural celebrations like Mockingbird Fest, and collaborative events with organizations like Build San Antonio Green and PechaKucha. A Walk for Freedom is planned for Oct. 15 and Harvest Fest for Oct. 22.
“I don’t think we were prepared for how successful the park would be,” Hicks said. “When we first opened, we intended to be careful and go into an observation period for the first few months and learn how the park would be used. But within a few weeks of opening, we realized we were going to have to start offering activation programs because of the quickness with which the community embraced the new space.”
But when it comes to how Andujar and the coalition of Hemisfair Park planners envision the future of the park, it’s not all about what’s new.
“When we think about this place, we think of it through layers of history,” Andujar said. “It goes back as far as the Payaya Indians who spent time here — that’s why we named it Yanaguana — to when the Spaniards arrived to when it was a development of neighborhoods largely demolished for the World’s Fair. We are honoring it by putting back some of the density that was there before the fair.”
In addition, numerous structures from the 1968 World’s Fair are being preserved as part of the Hemisfair Master Plan, including the historic Women’s Pavilion and, of course, the Tower of the Americas. Despite early interest by several commercial groups who fell by the wayside, plans remain for the 23 historic homes on the site to be restored and given new life as restaurants and retail establishments.
Hicks said he hopes to announce the new tenants, along with the results of the recent economic impact study, at an Oct. 11 community meeting to be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Magik Theater. The meeting is free and open to the public.
“Hemisfair is not done just because we’re at the one-year anniversary of Yanaguana Garden,” he said. “There are people who visit and think this is it. As impressive as these numbers are, there’s so much more to come and we have a tremendous job to do making sure people are aware and we stay in touch with the community about those future phases.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that the most frequented park in Texas was Discovery Green in Houston, when it’s actually Klyde Warren Park in Dallas.
Top image: Local San Antonio artist Tracey Ashenfelter displays her colorful freestyle paintings in Yanaguana Park during Mockingbird Fest in March 2016. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.