All that Osvaldo Aguirre, 9, of El Paso and his cousin André Espinoza, 7, of Laredo knew as they took a quick break at the outdoor water fountains on a warm Sunday afternoon is that they had changed their minds about going to the Alamo, telling an aunt that they just wanted to stay and play.
If Hemisfair CEO Andrés Andujar is fond of saying that the northwest corner of the park will become the city's "front porch" in time for 300th anniversary celebrations in May 2018, it's becoming clear that Yanaguana Garden, the four-acre playscape on the park's southwest corner, has become the people's downtown backyard in merely two months.
An average 8,400 people, mostly families with children, are visiting the park each week, according to Hemisfair officials. The park is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to midnight. The park's late hours surprise many, but the late evening hours have given strolling couples a new romantic retreat downtown. With San Antonio police there until 11 p.m. and Hemisfair's overnight police force starting at 11 p.m. through morning, safety is not an issue.
A lot of the action is on weekdays. Since the October park opening, more than 300 schools have taken field trips to the Magik Theatre next door and to Yanaguana Garden on the same trip, providing a great outdoor space for elementary school students to burn energy and eat lunch. Now schools are starting to book field trips exclusively to Yanaguana.
"I fielded a call last week from the First Baptist Academy in Dallas that is making a field trip to San Antonio," Traci Lewand, events and programming manager for Hemisfair, said as she observed Sunday's action. "The school is coming to see the Alamo and the Missions, and they also want to come here."
If City officials and park planners wonder where all the people are coming from, the answer seem to be "everywhere." Members of Hemisfair's 11-person staff make more than 55 walk around surveys weekly, counting heads at different times of the day and night and inviting park users to fill out a brief survey on smart phones. So far, people have supplied addresses from 48 different zip codes in San Antonio, various U.S. cities, and and multiple European, Asian and Latin American countries, and 92% of them rate the park experience as excellent.
The best attendance is seen on Tuesday nights when the City of San Antonio offers free parking at its garages and on city streets. VIA bus drivers say they have noticed an almost overnight increase of families coming from various sides of town by bus to the park and often staying well after dark before catching the bus home.
The holiday season traffic is expected to increase with mild weather forecast, schools in recess, and more and more people hearing about the park for the first time.
The annual midnight fireworks show at Hemisfair is definitely on this year, despite the continuing construction. This year the Yanaguana Garden Deck will be turned into an exclusive observation venue for 60 people who purchase four-person tables at a cost of $400 each. The evening fundraiser for the park is the work of the Hemisfair Conservancy, a private fundraising arm of the public park.
The Deck is situated between two historic buildings that will become home to Revolucion Coffee + Juice and the new restaurant and bar Con Safos. An estimated 250,000 fireworks watchers are expected at Hemisfair on Dec. 31. The 60 Deck guests will gather at 7 p.m. and enjoy a paella dinner prepared by The Box Street Social, with heaters to keep them warm and nearby coolers of water and soft drinks available. Each table will be served a bottle of Champagne with Hemisfair-logo flutes to take home, along with party masks featuring Yanaguana's trademark mosaic tile pattern, the creation of San Antonio artist Oscar Alvarado.
Click here if you want to be on the Deck.
*Top image: Friends and family sit on mosaic seating while kids of all ages play on the blue "Boomerang" climbing and slide feature in Yanaguana Garden. Photo by Robert Rivard.