San Pedro Creek Plan Flows Past Commissioners Court

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The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project 70% plan was presented to the Bexar County Commissioners Court Tuesday afternoon.

Did the project get toned down? Yes: the arch by the "Tree of Life" feature and the shade structure over the Salinas Street Bridge are both gone (see photo gallery above).

Is the project over budget? Yes; the total cost has gone up from $175 million to $206.8 million. That's 18.2% more. The county’s commitment as of Tuesday remains at $125 million.

Will the project be completed on time? Yes, Phase 1 and 2 will still be completed by San Antonio’s 300th birthday in 2018.

crop phase outline 2015_08-11_Commissioners_Court_Final

Does the court like it? Yes – but they want assurance of city funding and an outside agency to pay for art.

First and foremost, it is a flood control project, but water quality, economic development, and the creation of a destination for visitors and locals alike are close behind.

The changes from the 40% design and the 70% design means one less acre of landscaping (from 11.5 to 10.3 acres), and 10,000 more feet of new walls (from 60,000 linear feet to 70,000). The Alameda Amphitheater stage will be on the west bank as the seating will be easier to adapt to the Frost Bank design of their new building, whatever it will be.

amphitheater alternative 2015_08-11_Commissioners_Court_Final

Steve Tillotson, principal at local architecture firm Muñoz & Co. that is leading the design effort, described the changes to the "Tree of Life" designs. This particular feature, located at the northernmost end of the project where the San Pedro Creek flows out of the tunnel structure at North Santa Rosa and Cameron streets, has been the focus point of criticisms of the project's "overdone" preliminary designs. The new design renderings presented Wednesday represent the incorporation of positive and negative feedback on these designs.

“We’re going to screen the tunnel and add decorative lighting. There will be two rows of trees on both sides of the plaza. We want an open area where we can create a public space. It will flood now and then,” he said.

New York-based architectural lighting design firm Fisher Marantz Stone, the same firm that designed the lighting for the National 9/11 Memorial, will be lighting the "Tree of Life" feature. Tillotson said most of the designers and artists working on this an other features will be local.

Muñoz & Co. Landscape Architect Todd Brant

Muñoz & Co. Landscape Architect Todd Brant. Photo via LinkedIn.

Todd Brant, an on-staff landscape architect, was introduced by Henry Muñoz, founder and owner of Muñoz & Co.

“He has a passion for designing healthy, sustainable environments that nurture the ecological, social and cultural contexts, Muñoz said. “We were lucky to convince him to leave the University of Texas system to come here.”

Brandt has 24 years of experience, he added, and has worked on more than 200 projects. He works on conceptual design all the way through final production and is LEED accredited.

“Projects like this only come around once or twice in an architect’s lifetime,” Brandt said. “I'm glad to be working on this.”

Most of the landscape construction will be in the aquatic zone.

“We want to create an arrangement of a wide variety of plants,” Brandt said. “All plants will be native."

The plan calls for creek banks to be covered with a carpet of flowers.

“The inspiration for the arrangement of plants come from the Canary Islands,” Brandt said. “We will treat the creek as a canvas. The planting patterns will be organic but geometric. The rows of shrubs will be practical as well as aesthetic.”

The improvements plan is 70% complete – which means the bulk of the engineering and technical work has been completed while specific designs are still evolving.

The next San Pedro Creek subcommittee meeting is scheduled for Sep. 10 at 8:30 a.m. at the San Antonio River Authority board room, 100 E Guenther. There is no charge to attend and the public is invited to these events.

Planning is now underway for the public art component of the project as an advisory committee has been formed to curate the artist selection process.

Keep up with the project's meeting schedule at


Related Stories:

Committee Reviews San Pedro Creek Design Critiques & Update

The San Pedro Creek Project: Getting it Right

Survey: Public Supports San Pedro Creek Improvements

Art Curation Taking Shape for San Pedro Creek

16 thoughts on “San Pedro Creek Plan Flows Past Commissioners Court

  1. Wonder how much more it is going to cost? Wonder what it will look like after the first flood? Wonder who got paid off for this …………. project?

  2. Another thoughtful article Don! This portion of the Commissioners Court meeting lasted about 2 1/2 hours, and there was a lot of detailed discussion about the design, the special features, the differences between the 40% design and the 70% design, and the updated cost summaries. There will be a lot of value engineering applied, and examination of special features, etc. As the history, art, and landscaping portions become more visible, there may be more emphasis on public/private funding to add the amenities over time (as you are still seeing on the Mission reach of the River for instance). For those of you with the inclination, there is a whole lot of material to look at (besides the illustrations that have been so exiting) that shows design evolution.

  3. Mighty ambitious to say it will be completed on time. SAISD projects managed by this firm were not. Again. Can someone please answer where the other design team firms are and what their contribution is? Why is that such a hard thing to discuss openly??

    • I first thought someone was thinking it was a homage to Luis Barragan,,, but probably in real life someone just likes that Mexican indie rock band Deep Purple, and it looked good on the monitor with the color of the water. Things just happen. It’s a rendering, not a paint/product specification.

      To me what’s weird about the renderings is the shadows but then overcast tonality. With the sun, the water color will never be like that unless dyed or algae covered, and the step colors are too dark and contrasted. I think that’s why they are getting actual artists involved for the final selections.

  4. Oh, and another great title. Although was it really flowing? Sounds too smooth…with the budget problem..seems like there might be more undercurrents and turbulence approaching…

    Actually I’m thinking Richard Legorreta used alot more dark purple than Barragan. Too bad he died, I would have loved to have seen what he would have done with San Pedro Creek. Like his La Purificadora Hotel in Puebla with the glass pool enclosure,, so you could walk along with the water instead of on top he did in 2010.

    Check out the thumbnail at his firm website of the pool.

  5. I think the “tree of life” was an awesome feature that I was looking forward to visiting once it was done. I agree it was a little “carnival-like” yet I think it captured San Antonio’s essence very well. I think there are several factors to consider when looking at the video or the renderings:
    1) The renderings are computer mostly generated, therefore the colors are vivid, bright and do not translate equally in the real world.
    2) When the city built the Riverwalk back in the day, people weren’t as sensitive to design as we are now. Of course input is always great but at the same time it’s a gift. Many times only the loudest voices get heard.
    3) It’s supposed to represent San Antonio and I believe a lot of these added on features are there to attract interest and capture peoples attention. If you put it into context, it’s the only other body of water from the Westside Creek Restoration project that runs downtown beside the Riverwalk. I don’t think you’ll see all the glamour in for example Martinez or Alazan creeks. So the Arch of the tree of life was stunning and it fits in the context of downtown! I would like to see It! And you bet I’ll be there at the next meeting. IT’S NOT THE ST. LOUIS ARCH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

    • Wilber–the point of the project is to make the creek a “linear park” that connects Downtown. The project is supposed to spur on development around it, and having bold, vibrant and polarizing designs don’t provide the right canvas for that development to have a statement of its own. This is supposed to be a place for locals Downtown to come. So think about it this way–having a natural, green park space would be a nice respite from the urban concrete jungle for those Downtown denizens, right? While I think there is certainly a place for bold design, this really isn’t the place for it. ALSO–you must keep in mind the upkeep that is involved with such dramatic designs and the cost of all of that lighting, as well as how such a design might age in 5-10 years. While you may think it is beautiful now, I can tell you that this kind of design does not age well, even with expensive upkeep. Just think about how some of the Riverwalk elements that were “really cool” in the 80’s look super dated and tacky now–whereas if we just stick to natural elements, it will stand the test of time much more seamlessly. Hopefully that helps you to see that there is a lot more to take into consideration than just the actual look and feel of the design 🙂

    • Thank you Wilber J. Castro for your astute observations. The exuberant and vivid illustrations have set perceptions of some of the features in the design that will not actually be executed as illustrated. I am putting together a post that will address a number of the other folks’ comments…about the design, about the contract team, about the evolution of this project, about the receipt and response to public input, about the upcoming emphasis on landscaping, history and art, etc. In the meantime, please let me clarify something about the most talked-about feature: The Tree of Life Plaza is an area, not just a specific feature (such as the arch with leaves that was an illustrator’s attempt to capture part of the tree of life concept). When you look at the plan view of the entire area that starts at/includes the “trash rack” and mechanical equipment above the inlet to the tunnel, and runs downstream to the Santa Rosa St bridge. What you see on the plan view (which I will give directions for finding in a future posting) is a stylized tree of life on the surface, where water is flowing from the source down the “limbs” to the main trunk, thence down the new creek channel to flow to the core of downtown. The 70% design illustration shown in the Rivard Report article above is a view from the Santa Rosa St bridge looking northward at the tree trunk and limbs on the ground, with a screened wall (and hopefully a waterfall) in the background that hides the trash rack and gear that has to stay at the inlet to keep major flotsam out of the tunnel. This new illustration no longer has the arch or the stylized columns, and it has more emphasis on trees, other vegetation, seating, etc the befits a gathering place. This could still evolve somewhat…as long as…the basic engineering, hydrology, construction, and other parameters that are now acknowledged and quantified will not have to be changed significantly. Also, the “value engineering” efforts that will be taken to minimize costs may have an impact on this plaza as well. Public input has been collected, reviewed and applied where possible…going back to the Preliminary Engineering Report that preceded this design project now underway. The illustrations and the revised plan versions of the design are not changed until the review/approval points are reached (the 70% point as of now). The media has been using the illustrations on file that have been available…now, new illustrations are coming along. With current emphasis on landscaping, history and art, no doubt newer illustrations will come out toward the end of 2015. I applaud your desire to get involved. Make sure you seek me out at the next meeting.

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