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The bulldozers are busy on Broadway. This time the rubble piles and dust clouds signify the demise of nearly six acres of buildings and parking lots that once were home to Lone Star Chrysler Dodge Jeep and now await the June groundbreaking of the new, national-class San Antonio Children’s Museum.
Slowly but surely, a street is being transformed into a boulevard. It began with Kit Goldsbury’s vision for the former Pearl Brewery and ends we know not where. There is no master plan or guarantee that the City of San Antonio will find the resources, imagination and resolve to make Broadway the premier gateway to downtown, but its potential becomes more obvious with each new project.
But nothing since the Pearl itself will transform Broadway as much as the Children’s Museum, which will sit across from Brackenridge Park and someday might even include a fairy tale-like pedestrian bridge allowing children to safely traverse Broadway to and from the museum to the park.
The museum already has spurred surrounding development. Embrey Partners, which developed the Artessa at Quarry Village as well as the newly-opened Can Plant, has received city incentives that will allow the developer to demolish the asbestos-ridden, blighted apartments that sit behind the future museum site. In their place will come The Brackenridge, adding further attractive residential density to the Broadway corridor.
Bill Lacy, the nationally renowned architect consultant, once told me San Antonio needs to take its love for a reborn San Antonio River and give some to its uninspiring surface streets – the roadways that connect its lifeblood attractions – from the upstream springs to the historic Spanish Missions. Anyone who has pedaled a bicycle or cruised in a car down Mission Road understands. It’s not exactly palm trees and inviting stops and interesting urban activity. More like stray dogs, broken glass and declining real estate.
Yet most people, locals and visitors alike, Lacy observed, get here and there on the city’s streets, not along the river. Lacy celebrates the rebirth of the San Antonio River, north and south, but his point is well-taken: What is the use of restoring the Missions or other destination venues if the routes that take people there communicate contrary urban design values?
Lacy has the practiced eye of a world traveler and the fresh eye of a late-in-life newcomer to San Antonio. He moved here in his 70s after a long and distinguished career in architecture that continues to this day and included his longtime administration of the Pritzker Prize as its executive director from 1988 to 2005.
Lacy advises leading institutions around the world who are seeking the right architect to undertake a specific major project. He was brought here to help the McNay Art Museum find the right architect to design the $33 million Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions, a dramatic, glass-fronted art space set amid parklike acreage that began with a major lead gift to the museum made before Arthur’s death. Museum officials eventually selected French architect Jean Paul-Viguier. Meanwhile, Lacy, a widower, and Jane fell in love and married.
Lacy sees, more than many longtime San Antonians I know, how important it is for the city to transform some of its principal streets and avenues to enhance the experience of “getting there.”
Of all the Broadway projects, nothing since the Pearl itself, which is now attracting national attention as a major culinary and reuse destination, holds as much promise as the Children’s Museum. Spurred by a record $20 million gift from H-E-B chairman and CEO and philanthropist Charles Butt, the museum and land will cost more than $50 million. The Children’s Museum eventually will be able to sell it current, 40,000 sq. ft. home on Houston Street, somewhat offsetting the final price. The new venue will be 70,000 sq. ft. of indoor space along Broadway, complemented by an ambitious outdoor green learning and recreational space that will create a sort of blue sky museum. The new Children’s Museum might be better described as a campus rather than a building.
Vanessa Lacoss Hurd, the museum’s executive director, said 90% of the funds will be raised by the groundbreaking ceremony next summer. The museum will open in 2015.
You don’t have to be a child to feel a sense of building excitement about the importance of the new Children’s Museum, which should inspire the inner child in everyone. That’s a thought worth holding as you commute past the rubble piles and dust clouds of a fast-changing Broadway.