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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.