Of the five committees tasked with divvying up the $850 million 2017 Municipal Bond program among hundreds of projects, the Parks and Recreation Committee has attracted some of the largest audiences.

The people of San Antonio will probably always want more accessible green space.

Many showed up to the first three committee meetings to support or oppose projects that made it onto the initial proposed list, others brought passionate presentations on projects that didn’t – pleading the committee’s consideration. Each of the latter was surely worthy of funding: a new park here, a new trail there, improved park amenities in another spot.

One proposal in particular that caught my attention as I, the 30-member committee, and more than 80 people listened to more than two hours of citizen testimonies late into the night, was Maria’s skatepark. Officials had to set up an overflow section outside the doors to accommodate the crowd at the Central Library.

Maria Victoria Alonso Arroyo, 19, rallied more than a dozen articulate friends and students to come to the Oct. 17 meeting. She wants the City to fund a $2 million, gated and supervised skatepark in District 6. Most of Maria’s crew, like her, were freshmen attending University of Texas at San Antonio, easily the youngest people in the room. They waited patiently for their turn to speak and applauded loudly as Arroyo’s name was called.

Maria’s brother, Alejandro – who goes by Andy – was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old. Team sports never captured his attention or enthusiasm, but when he started skateboarding, he finally found something that clicked. He made friends, but Maria is concerned about the environment and influences he’s exposed to at the Blue Skatepark at Oscar Perez Memorial Park. Mostly it’s marijuana.

“People should have the opportunity to skate without it,” she told me when we met up for coffee a few days later. “The park is for skating and challenging themselves in a constructive manner.”

Meanwhile, Andy is somewhat aloof about his sister’s initiative. He doesn’t see anything wrong with the status quo: he’s fitting in and hanging out. Maria sees a better path forward for her brother and other skateboarders who would benefit from a more monitored environment without the peer pressure of drugs or alcohol.

Gating and fencing around a skatepark would help keep skaters, and their boards, in the park while keeping animals and nefarious late-night activity out. Supervision doesn’t have to be intense, Maria said, but just having someone of authority around – a parks police officer or Parks Department employee – would greatly discourage drug use and fighting.

Andy Alonso Arroyo glides up a quarter pipe at Blue Skatepark at Oscar Perez Memorial Park.
Andy Alonso Arroyo glides up a quarter pipe at Blue Skatepark at Oscar Perez Memorial Park. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

There are just over a dozen skateparks in San Antonio, but none that are gated or supervised to an effective degree and none of them are “top notch,” Maria said. After Maria and Andy visited North Houston Skate Park, the football field-sized concrete wonderland for skaters in Houston, she started wondering why San Antonio doesn’t have a large, competition-grade park.

“As a sister I try to take him to different parks to skate to challenge him and (let him) meet new people,” she said. The park in Houston, the biggest in North America, has beginner, intermediate, and expert sections of the park that makes it accessible to all experience levels.

While there is plenty of public and private support of team sports fields and parks in San Antonio, Maria said there is less enthusiasm for individual sports – especially skateparks. Part of that is due to the negative perception some have of skaters.

Maria Victoria Alonso Arroyo and her brother Andy at Blue Skatepark at Oscar Perez Memorial Park.
Maria Victoria Alonso Arroyo and her brother Andy at Blue Skatepark at Oscar Perez Memorial Park. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“When you think of a skater, you might think: druggy, long hair, emo, dropout,” she said. “But if we have a community that actually gives them support … maybe we can turn that image (around).

“We’re trying to break that stereotype.”

The ideal location for the park, though there are a few other potential sites, is the vacant 12-acre lot next to the new Mays Family YMCA at Potranco that the City owns. While the $2 million estimate is on the higher end of the spectrum, she’s willing to compromise on size and price, but not by much. Statement parks like the one in Houston typically cost upward of $5 million.

She pestered the District 6 office for months, meeting with staff and trying to get the skatepark idea in front of Councilman Ray Lopez. It seems to have worked. When I asked Lopez about Maria after a Council meeting last week, his face lit up.

“I think that it’s a great idea,” Lopez said. “The question obviously is funding and I don’t know, it may be a little late to be able to sneak it into the bond.”

Half of the empty lot next to the first-of-its-kind recreational center and library at the new YMCA may soon host a public-private housing facility for senior citizens. The plan for the other half – if the deal works out – is to build a “comprehensive athletic complex.”

Would a senior center work next to a skatepark?

“It sounds like initially two different things that don’t go together, but the reality of it is, I can tell you that seniors love to come out and watch kids play,” Lopez said. “It’s not really up to me or the City, it’s up to the community to tell us what you want in that park.”

Since the City owns the land, the possibilities are endless, Lopez said. It also owns the adjacent property that used to be an Albertson’s.

“There’s a swell – a drainage ditch – that goes right between those two properties and it would be perfect for a skatepark,” Lopez said.

Pairing drainage and parks would allow the City kill two birds with one stone.

Local artist and skateboarder Nudrad Nirob sketched up a draft layout of a skatpark for Maria Victoria Alonso Arroyo.
Local artist and skateboarder Nudrad Nirob sketched up a draft layout of a skatepark for Maria Victoria Alonso Arroyo. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Maria recognizes that her chances for funding during this five-year bond cycle are slim, but she’s going to stick with it and look into other public and private funding options, including crowdfunding.

Each bond committee has a set amount to work with. Parks and Recreation gets $116 million. Many of the projects that made it on the list have taken years to get there. They’ve been passed over in previous bond programs for higher priority projects. And now at least it’s on the radar for future bonds.

Each of the five bond committees will start meeting without scheduled “citizens to be heard” portions after their respective third meetings. Now it’s time for committee members to start prioritizing projects and adjusting amount of funding for projects – if they want to fund an additional project, that money will have to come from another source.

This is Maria’s first foray into the complex municipal bureaucracy that is the bond process. As a political science major, she looks forward to learning more about local government and hopefully seeing the skatepark come to fruition.

Maria also has proud parents in her corner.

“She impressed me, and I’m so happy she’s taking the initiative,” her mother Kim said. “(She’s always) thinking about her brother. We’re 100% supportive.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org