First and foremost, improvements on the San Pedro Creek will be for flood control, said Sonia Jimenez of Ximenes & Associates to 70 people gathered at St. Henry Catholic Church Hall early Saturday morning.
“It will not have restaurants,” she said. “Contrary to what the media says, this is not a second River Walk.”
Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) said the City will donate land. Bexar County is the major contributor to the project with $125 million.
The public information session at St. Henry’s was to engage the attendees with the project team and have them provide ideas on project implementation, recreational uses and the integration of art and culture into the project design.
“We only have 40% designed,” Gonzalez said. “We are looking forward to getting input. We are looking forward to include our families.”
Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), also defined her objective during the session.
“Our mission is to create a world class linear park that represents the cultural identity of our community and inspires the people of Bexar County,” she said. “This will be a place for the local residents to live, to work and to play.”
A secondary goal of SARA is to improve aquatic restoration. Scott envisions a clear running stream surrounded by a green space. “We’re really taking a watershed approach,” she said.
A third goal is the economic ripple effect, such as the boom of construction of shops and housing after the completion of the Museum Reach. “The project input is $175 million but the total output will be from $895 million to $1.5 billion,” Scott said.
The San Pedro Creek improvements project will go from the IH-35 flood tunnel near San Francesco Di Paola Church to the confluence of the Alazan/Apache Creeks near the old Stockyards.
But dreams for this project extend beyond that. Future linear trails will connect Elmendorf Lake Park, Our Lady of the Lake University, and follow the Alazan Creek to Woodlawn Lake. Once it connects to the San Antonio River at Confluence Park, it will eventually connect downtown, Brackenridge Park and the Missions.
The project comes at an opportune time because of the planned construction in the private sector at multiple locations. It will be adjacent to improvements on West Commerce Street; and construction of projects for Weston Urban, Zona Cultural, VIA, the Federal Courthouse, KIPP Academy and the Pace Foundation.
Penners Men’s Specialty Shop on the banks of the San Pedro will celebrate 100 years next year. H-E-B is also making major changes to their campus. Even Frost Bank will be located along the banks of San Pedro Creek.
Jeff Mitchell of HDR Engineering said 30 acres of the creek channel are within the 100 year flood plain. “And all of it will be removed,” he said.
He said the flood plain will be controlled through channel modification. “We will make it deeper and wider in some places,” Mitchell said. “We will replace eight street bridges and one railroad bridge.”
Muñoz & Company Principal and architect Steven Land Tillotson, relayed the old joke. “Ninety percent of the work will take 90% of the effort. The other 10% of the work will take the other 90% of the effort.”
He stressed that only 40% of the design is completed. “Community collaboration will help determine the shape of the rest of the project,” Tillotson said.
For Tillotson, the challenge of the project is not just the design issue. “We want to tell the story of San Antonio from its formation in 1718,” he said. “The creek is now a void. We want a place for people to walk to and to enjoy as a park.”
The creek will serve as a bridge to the local Westside communities and as a bridge to understanding. Recycled water will recharge the creek and interpretative displays will recharge people’s sense of place.
Tillotson detailed highlights of the San Pedro Creek improvements at the 40% plan (see more about the plan here).
The creek improvement will start at the Tree of Life Plaza. This will celebrate 300 years of culture. Twelve sculptures will commemorate each 25-year generation. The Salinas Bridge, now closed to traffic, will frame the façade of the Alameda Theater. Wood scrollwork on bridges will create patterns. The Dolorosa Street Bridge will remember the massacre in the early 1800s. Artist and builder Carlos Cortez is planning to construct a faux bois bridge.
“There shall be a sense of magic that enriches everything at night,” Tillotson said. “The lower reach will be mostly grass. … We’re looking at a wonderful pavilion.”
Phase I construction will begin in 2016 and will be completed by May 2018 for the tercentennial. Scott said the project will be completed in phases. “We want to make sure the neighborhoods continue to function,” she said.
Community members had an opportunity to voice their concerns at the public information session. One resident was worried about delays if the digging unearthed ancient artifacts.
“We have done archeological surveys,” Scott said. “We will have an archeological consultant throughout the construction.”
Another resident asked about bicycle access. Tillotson said the high bank paseo will be 10 to 15 feet wide. “Bicycles will be able to ride,” he said, “but it’s not really for commuting. It will be for pleasure riding.”
Scott assured the audience that there will be lighting for evening or early morning walks and the history of early San Antonians will be conveyed.
“We want to tell the whole story including Native Americans,” Scott said. “As technology continues to grow, we want to use QR codes for smart phones to tell the history.”
She also indicated that locals should talk to council members for gentrification concerns and assured all about the safety of the area.
“The City of San Antonio will be tasked with security,” Scott said. “SARA is charged with maintenance of the Museum Reach and San Antonio has the Park Police. I imagine the San Pedro plan will have a similar system.”
*Featured/top image: Mark Penner (left) and Russell Persyn of San Antonio River Authority discuss how improvements along San Pedro Creek will affect Penners Men’s Specialty Shop. Photo by Don Mathis.