Travis Park Renovations to Debut with Full-Day Party

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Project for Public Spaces' Travis Park plan draft. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A section of Project for Public Spaces' Travis Park plan draft. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

As a lifelong resident of San Antonio, there are many places to adore and feel immense pride for in this city, especially in the downtown area. I love Southtown and the King William District. With its hip night life and local eats, the area appeals to visitors and locals who aren’t interested in having a crazy night in the heart of downtown.

When I feel like getting lost, I venture deeper into the metropolitan area and its historic buildings, home to the Emily Morgan Hotel, the Tower Life Building. I enjoy wandering East Houston Street after seeing a show at The Majestic Theatre or strolling through to gaze at San Antonio’s little beauty: The Alamo. Sometimes it’s nice to explore outside my suburban comfort zone.

With any major city, there are always a few places that are deemed unsafe or unsettling not only by word of mouth, but human instinct.

On the corner of Pecan and Navarro Streets lies Travis Park, a well-known vagrant hangout that few locals frequent. Drug use is not uncommon, and  homeless folks who sleep and panhandle drive away people who anyone want to enjoy the park.

Travis Park between Navarro and Jefferson; fenced and almost ready. Photo by Jackie Calvert.

Travis Park between Navarro and Jefferson Streets; fenced off and almost ready. Photo by Jackie Calvert.

Travis Park has always beckoned center-city denizens with open space, mature shade trees shade and nearby bustling businesses. The Navarro Street boundary is a busy stop for VIA Metropolitan Transit buses, and there’s plenty of activity happening around the surrounding park. Since the late 1990s the park has taken on an unwelcome ambiance – even the patrons of the elegant St. Anthony Hotel seem to instinctively steer clear of Travis Park.

A few groups of people loudly congregate on the benches of Travis Park in May 2013. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

A few groups of people loudly congregate on the benches of Travis Park in May 2013. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

After years of allowing the park to become a proverbial ‘bad’ part of downtown, city officials decided to do something about it. For the past three months, Travis Park has been closed for a $500,000 renovation that will return the park to all downtown dwellers and visitors.

“It’s always been something citizens thought could be better,” said Center City Development Office (CCDO) Assistant Director  Colleen Swain.

CCDO hired Project for Public Spaces to develop a concept plan for Travis Park. After several public meetings and decisions, Swain showed me the pie-in-the-sky concept plan, which seeks to maintain the historical integrity of the original park. Download the concept plan here.

[Read More: Avoiding Eye Contact on a Walk Through Travis Park]

Travis Park was donated to the city in 1870 by the Maverick family, and has been used ever since as a gathering space. The dream concept and future plans for the park include a performance stage, improved VIA bus stops along Navarro, a game kiosk or outdoor reading room, a dog park, a space for children’s activities, seating for those who dine at the food trucks, landscaping and more.

Travis Park conceptual design. Image courtesy of Project for Public Spaces.

Travis Park conceptual design. Image courtesy of Project for Public Spaces.

“We don’t want to change the historic grid of the park; we want to activate it with plenty of activities,” Swain said.

The idea sparked from several things: a $75,000 grant opportunity from Southwest Airlines, the sale and ongoing renovation of The St. Anthony Hotel and the growing number of people living and working in the urban core.

“There was this idea that the park should be supportive of all the other investments the city has made. It should reflect a new way of living downtown. While it is a formal park, it was more of a passive green space. We want the park to reflect the way we live today, while still being respectful of its historic nature,” said San Antonio Parks and Recreation Director Xavier D. Urrutia.

The Southwest Airlines grant opened many doors for Travis Park. It not only paid for the games kiosk, but also beach chairs, tables and chairs, and employees to check out the games and ensured they are returned in a timely matter.

(From left) Xavier Urrutia and Colleen Swain proudly display the future plans for Travis Park.

Xavier Urrutia (left) and Colleen Swain proudly display future plans for Travis Park. Photo by Jackie Calvert.

After a three month overhaul, the park will reopen on March 31st, with a full day of free events planned, starting with Zumba at 6:30 a.m. The day will also feature other fitness activities, a musical petting zoo, free historic tours, dog training and free gift bags from Lucy’s Doggy Daycare and Spa, food trucks and more.

“There will be activities for people from ages 0 to 99. We want everyone to have the opportunity to enjoy it,” Swain continues.

The celebration ends with Twilight on The Plaza, a unique event with food, wine and live music. Chef Mike Mata of the St. Anthony Hotel will provide a farm-to-table, four-course meal, paired with wines from Becker Vineyards. The Brent Watkins Trio will provide their signature jazz sound. This event signals a new day for Travis Park and will hopefully help brighten its image among center city residents and workers hungry for more park space.

“The problem with Travis Park was the lack of activity. There wasn’t anything to do besides sit. We realized if we wanted people to come to this park, we have to give them something to do. ” Urrutia said.

Tickets to the dinner are $75 and proceeds will go towards further renovations and the continuation of park programs. Swain said they have activities planned until December 2014.

The Rivard Report has two tickets to give away for Twilight on the Plaza. Leave a comment at the bottom of this post telling us what kind of activities you would like to see in the new Travis Park. Please provide your email address in the appropriate field (it will not be visible to anyone but us) so we can get in touch with the winners. Giveaway entry closes at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18.

Coming soon: a more welcoming, engaged Travis Park. Photo by Jackie Calvert.

Coming soon: a more welcoming, engaged Travis Park. Photo by Jackie Calvert.

Swain knows the first week is key. The parks department has many activities planned throughout the week. Most prominently, DJ Gibb from KRTU will be spinning opening week from Tuesday-Friday around lunch time. There will also be free evening ballet performances Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5.

“Why not visit the park before catching a show at The Majestic? It’s one piece of a larger experience. It’s meant to compliment everything else that downtown has to offer,” Urrutia said.

Swain and Urrutia realize the success of the park is dependent on the interest level of locals. Programming and amenity choices were selected after locals were surveyed for input. Better lighting will help make the park more inviting after sunset, for instance.

It will take some work to convince those that have a negative image of Travis Park stuck in their heads. A few valet drivers of nearby hotels are doubtful about lasting changes.

“If they put bathrooms in the park, or any other activity, it’s going to bring more homeless people and it’ll just go back to the way it always has been,” said one employee who chose to remain anonymous.

Jesse, a supervisor at St. Anthony's Hotel, has a more enthusiastic view of the renovations.

“It’s a great location, and once they restore it, the park is going to be an asset to everyone in the downtown area.”

 *Featured/top image: A section of Project for Public Spaces' Travis Park plan draft. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Related Stories:

Avoiding Eye Contact on a Walk Through Travis Park

Culinaria 5K: A Little Fitness, A Little Indulgence

Farm To Table: The Chef’s Cooperative and the True Nature of Hospitality

26 thoughts on “Travis Park Renovations to Debut with Full-Day Party

  1. Monthly date night featuring Live bands with a small dance area & food concessions. Farmers market on Saturday mornings. Sundays dog days in the park. Lots of opportunities to bring different communities together. Loving this renovation!

  2. I’m excited about Travis Park becoming a retreat downtown. I’d like to see some art exhibits, jazz music (of course), Tai Chi or yoga classes, people enjoying a brown bag lunch on pretty days, chess games, kids playing with bubbles and sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, and places to hang out with friends over a cup of coffee or thermos of tea.

  3. Why not bring back the drive-in theatre and show lovely classics (or newer flicks). Of course it would be more of a walk-in, outdoor theatre. People can sit, share a slow dance to the music in the film, or come and go as they please. They can get food from the food trucks and watch a good movie.

  4. I hope the new landscaping is all native plants. With signage identifying the native species perhaps and touting that native plants require little (if any supplemental) water and do not require fertilizers or insecticides. (He said, stepping down from his soapbox….)

  5. I work downtown, so lunch-time events would be appreciated. Not just food trucks please! But maybe music, or spoken word/poetry, places to sit and eat. I would be up for a 30 minute hatha yoga class (nothing too sweaty – I still have that work thing to contend with).

  6. The renovation of Travis Park moved the vagrant population over to Madison Square Park where they have now urinated and defecated all over my office property adjoining the park. I believe in Haven for Hope but there are many who choose not to abide by the rules an d won’t stay there so they are still hanging out in the parks and making a mess. I wish we could find a balance for the safety and health of all the residents of the city.

  7. A Jazz consert series similar to what is being done at La Cantera would be very nice. It would be very complimentary to the new Tobin Center just down the street.

  8. It would be fun to have monthly art days in the park. Each month a different local arts organization could host demonstrations and small classes. Of the top of my head the Southwest School of Arts, Say Si, Urban 15, Art Pace and Inspire could host a day all focusing on different mediums and art forms. It would provide a new community space for the groups and expose the public to the many amazing art organizations here in San Antonio.

  9. I use to work across the street from Travis Park. I recall how much I saw that the park was the ugly step child left behind, when it came to the city keeping the park clean and keeping the folks who caused trouble out of the area. Mostly from the folks who spend the whole day and in some case late into the night at Travis Park. Allot of these folks were transients. Some lived at the downtown motel/apartments at the corner of Broadway and Travis. Moerover, the folks who were causing trouble at Travis Park and were there all day. Allot of these folks were folks were fed free meals at Travis Park Methodist Church. And the church provided other social services to the needy.

    Whichever, it would be nice to see what changes are in store for Travis.

  10. Where are all the vagrants being talked about ??? Ive been there a few times and haven’t seen any . I do however see police officers having to sit there and babysit the park all day long while they could be driving around patrolling and getting their jobs done . I don’t understand why the need to have law enforcement there to run off vagrants is necessary ? I don’t think they signed up to be babysitters for a park when they chose law enforcement as a career . Maybe the genius mind behind this idea should hire actual security guards instead of having officers there . Maybe they should get off their asses and spend the day at the park and see what actually goes on there instead of making it seem like its a bad place over run by vsgrants and what not .

  11. Travis Park’s success is up to us! Many of us Downtowners have worked for years trying to make this Park a clean, friendly , family oriented, neighborly space for locals to enjoy. Unfortunately, no matter how much work and money is put into it, it will never be this unless people use it. So get on out there. Read a book, bring your dog, frequent the food trucks, enjoy the flowers and bring Travis Park alive!

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