Two years away from celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio, the city’s civic leaders set course for the future by honoring the city’s past.

No surprise in Fiesta City: Plans are well underway for a year-long celebration in 2018 and if you are the King of Spain, the president of Mexico, and probably President Trump, you’re invited to join about 1.5 million San Antonians as they commemorate three centuries of history and contemplate a future ripe with possibility yet fraught with challenge.

The year 2016 was notable for many reasons, but looking back five years from now, citizens will remember this as the year when so many transformative projects were set in motion.

As San Antonians celebrated the first anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage recognition of the Alamo and the Spanish-colonial Missions with the first annual World Heritage Festival, County and City officials broke ground on the first phase of the $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvement Project, restoring to life a once historic Westside artery obscured by concrete and indifference over the decades.

Weston Urban unveiled the first renderings of the new Frost Bank Tower, the skyline’s first new tower since the Weston Centre in 1989. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli of New Haven, Conn., the building will serve as the centerpiece of an ambitious redevelopment of western downtown, bringing Class A office space, new residential and retail development, and a reawakened streetscape.

From all compass points, citizens have taken heightened interest in the City’s proposed $850 million bond, a record sum for public investment in all 10 City Council districts. The bond includes an unprecedented amount dedicated to major urban core projects, including Hemisfair’s Civic Park, Alamo Plaza, and the redesign of Broadway south of Hildebrand Avenue, home to the Pearl, a growing number of cultural and culinary destinations, and more and more apartments.

The Flats at Big Tex apartment complex as seen from the river walk.
The Flats at Big Tex apartment complex as seen from the river walk. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Farther south, developers finally seem close to bringing the shuttered Lone Star Brewery back to life as a mixed-use enclave of apartments, national-brand retail stores, and a cinema, all joining Big Tex, Southtown Flats, and the Blue Star Arts Complex as anchor developments on the edge of bustling Southtown, where after years of anticipation, residents fully embraced H-E-B’s South Flores Market.

If it’s true that all politics are local, then San Antonians have seen little respite from the parade of candidates and campaigns. The year began with as many as 17 Republicans, two of them from Texas, in a marathon series of debates vying for the party’s presidential nomination. It was the outsider of the bunch, New York developer and reality television personality Donald Trump who prevailed. If Trump shocked the GOP establishment in the first half of 2016, he shocked Democrats and just about everyone else in the second half of the year by defeating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on their respective campaign trails. Photos by Scott Ball.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on their respective campaign trails. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The dust had barely settled when Mayor Ivy Taylor announced her re-election bid. Shortly thereafter, City Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) entered the race. Manuel Medina, the unconventional chair of the Bexar County Democratic Party, seems likely to follow suit as a self-funded neophyte candidate.

Voters will go to the polls on May 6 to decide the mayoral race and the bond initiatives. Voters in Districts 6, 8, 9, and 10 will choose new City Council members to replace retiring incumbents.

Technology advances here and elsewhere continued to help redefine San Antonio as a city. Google Fiber moved into its downtown offices while private equity firm Apollo Global Management took Rackspace private, giving company executives and their new owners the freedom to operate beyond the reach of Wall Street, but also signaling cost cuts in the new year that are expected to include job reductions.

Rideshare supporter Julio Cesar Martinez waves a Lyft branded flag in support of rideshare.
Julio Cesar Martinez waves a Lyft flag in support of rideshare. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A once deeply divided City Council took a strong step forward in December when it voted 9-2 to renew operating agreements with rideshare providers Uber, Lyft, and others.

Another 9-2 vote came in September when Council approved a five-year contract with the police union, concluding a three-year battle over health care and wage costs. Nirenberg voted against the contract largely because of financial concerns as the contract does not keep public safety spending below 66% of the general fund. The other “no” vote came from Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), who had concerns about police accountability and disciplinary procedures. Similar concerns were voiced by leaders of the local arm of the national Black Lives Matter movement. The conversation surrounding police-community relations continues in San Antonio both formally with the mayor’s Council on Police-Community Relations and informally at kitchen tables across the city.

While San Antonio is set to gain a nonstop flight to Toronto, the city has struggled to add and maintain nonstop air service to other international destinations and major U.S. cities. According to former Mayor Henry Cisneros, the San Antonio International Airport is “the Achilles heel of our future.” Taylor and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff are creating a task force to probe the deficits of the city’s airport and determine future needs. Many travelers choose to fly out of Austin, which offers nonstop service to London, Frankfurt, and various cities in Mexico.

It’s been one year since Taylor made San Antonio the nation’s first Monarch Butterfly Champion City by committing to all 24 recommendations on the National Wildlife Federation’s action items list to increase Monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat. Since then, 240 cities have signed the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge (MMP). Building on that momentum, San Antonians had the opportunity to experience their first Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival in October. Hundreds of adults and children donned butterfly costumes and headed to the Pearl for a butterfly release and parade while others attended panels and a Monarch-inspired exhibit at the Instituto Cultural de México.

Mónica del Arenal, Director of the Instituto Cultural de México. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Baststone.
Mónica del Arenal, Director of the Instituto Cultural de México. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Baststone. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

The Mexican Consulate injected new life into the Instituto Cultural de México, the permanent cultural representation of the Mexican government in San Antonio which has existed at Hemisfair Park since 1972, by appointing Mónica del Arenal as its new director last summer. A lack of steady leadership over the past two years and the Instituto’s location at 600 Hemisfair Plaza Way, which was overshadowed by Hemisfair Park revitalization construction, had left the space mostly lifeless.

Since assuming her new post at the cultural center, del Arenal has brought a wide range of appealing events and exhibits to the space. In December, the Instituto opened Diego y Frida: Una sonrisa a mitad del camino, a photo exhibit of iconic Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, to a crowd of hundreds.

Similarly, the Centro de Artes also experienced a change in leadership when the City of San Antonio terminated its lease agreement with Texas A&M-San Antonio in July, after the university was in talks with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to house its library collection in the Latino arts education and exhibition space. The local Latino arts community banded together to maintain the institution’s fundamental mission of showcasing Latino art and is working toward establishing a vision for the space.

Executive Director of Artpace Veronique Le Melle speaks about the need for transparency in large organizations. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Executive Director of Artpace Veronique Le Melle (center) speaks about the need for transparency in the curatorial process. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Local Latino artists also came together to protect the mission of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, a historic cultural arts institution on the city’s Westside, when the center backed out of hosting the Contemporary Art Month (CAM) Perennial exhibit due to its exclusion of Latina artists. The controversy sparked a widespread debate throughout the community about maintaining diversity in the local art scene.

After a year of honors and recognitions, Ricardo Romo announced that he will step down as president of the University at San Antonio (UTSA) in August 2017. The transformative leader said he wanted to go out while he was still “pitching fast balls” and that he anticipated a peaceful transition.

Another long-tenured university president, Dr. Louis Agnese Jr., left his post in somewhat less glowing circumstances, following a strange and strained showdown with the University of Incarnate Word (UIW) board over the summer.

CEO off KIPP: San Antonio Mark Larson cuts the ribbon unveiling the newest KIPP campus, Cevallos. Photo by Scott Ball.
CEO off KIPP: San Antonio Mark Larson cuts the ribbon unveiling the newest KIPP campus, Cevallos. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The opening of KIPP Cevallos along San Pedro Creek bears witness to the prolific growth of charter school networks in the city in 2016. IDEA Public Schools is positioned to open three new campuses in 2017, bringing its total to 10 campuses, which each house two schools.

It was a year of  new beginnings for San Antonio public schools as well. San Antonio ISD opened the Advanced Learning Academy and announced plans for CAST Tech, two innovative schools within the district. Superintendent Pedro Martinez garnered enough trust from parents, teachers, and the business community to propose and pass a 13-cent tax rate increase as well as a $450 million bond initiative on the November ballot. Meanwhile, the SAISD Foundation reported a 300% increase in giving over last year and years prior.

Other school districts have positioned themselves for fresh starts of a different kind. Advocates led by Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) took on issues in South San ISD, which is under the guidance of a conservator from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Candidates backed by the grassroots organization South San Kids First managed to unseat two of four board members up for reelection. 

Edgewood ISD, currently overseen by a State-appointed board of managers, will begin 2017 under the leadership of its new Superintendent Emilio Castro, a veteran of SAISD who hopes to reform the struggling district.

Sarah Baray is the new CEO of Pre-K 4 SA.
Sarah Baray is the new CEO of Pre-K 4 SA. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Meanwhile, three of the Alamo Colleges and Southside ISD are facing a less settled new year. The community colleges face a warning sanction on their accreditation, even as they prepare to propose a $450 million bond. Southside ISD could see a Texas Education Agency board of managers put in place in early 2017.

Pre-K 4 SA welcomed new CEO Sarah Baray just after launching the final phase of its eight-year plan to extend quality Pre-K throughout the city. The City-run Pre-K service awarded $4.2 million in competitive grants to existing early childhood programs around San Antonio. 

Reviewing 2016 for the Spurs begins and ends with Tim Duncan. The greatest player in franchise history turned 40 five days before Game 1 of a Western Conference semifinals playoff series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. When that ended in a 113-99 loss in Game 6, Duncan exited the court at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City thrusting his right arm in the air, forefinger extended, as if to declare his status as No. 1 in the hearts of Spurs fans everywhere.

Most everyone presumed it was his final game in silver and black. On July 11, he made it official in his typical, humble way, announcing his retirement via a simple press release from the club. The Spurs retired his No. 21 jersey on Dec. 18 in an emotional ceremony at AT&T Center.

Losing in the playoffs’ second round tarnished an otherwise memorable season, the most successful in club history with a 67-15 record. Kawhi Leonard led the team in scoring, at 21.2 points per game, was named first-team All-NBA, and repeated as Defensive Player of the Year. LaMarcus Aldridge finished his first season with the Spurs averaging 18 points per game and making the All-NBA third team.

Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich smiles as he responds to a reporter. Photo by Scott Ball.
Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich smiles as he responds to a reporter. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Coach Gregg Popovich made off-court headlines before the current season with a forceful statement about race relations in America. He again gained national attention after the Nov. 9 presidential election with a denunciation of the “xenophobic, homophobic, racist and misogynistic” tenor of the campaign.

On the apolitical side of all things Spurs, the 2016 portion of the schedule produced a 26-6 record, second-best in the NBA, with free agent signee Pau Gasol taking Duncan’s spot in the starting lineup. Leonard continued as the leading scorer, averaging 24.4 points per game.

Whether you loved it or hated it, 2016 has come and gone. Reflecting on San Antonio’s wins and losses, hits and misses, and progress and setbacks throughout the past 12 months sets a precedent for the ambitious plans crafted for 2017. Will the city’s leaders and residents rise to the challenge and conquer issues that arose last year? Will we learn from mistakes made and use those experiences to propel ourselves forward? Will we solidify our identity as a welcoming community that rises collectively by elevating its weaker links?

You tell us. What do you think is in store for San Antonio in 2017?

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San Antonio Report Staff

This article was assembled by various members of the San Antonio Report staff.