County Judge Nelson Wolff
County Judge Nelson Wolff discusses future plans and past accomplishments with former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Bexar County is looking into building an arboretum on the South Side of San Antonio, County Judge Nelson Wolff announced Thursday. The county would partner with the San Antonio River Authority and Texas A&M University-San Antonio on a tree-centric botanical garden and education center.

“It was Henry’s idea,” Wolff quipped during his State of the County address, referring to Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio Mayor and U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development who inspired the idea when he told Wolff about the arboretum in Houston’s Memorial Park. Wolff’s address, hosted by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, took the form of a question-and-answer session with Cisneros.

“We really don’t have anything like that,” Wolff told reporters after his discussion with Cisneros. “They had a nice research center there. They had education component [to] it there. … [Trees are] by far the biggest plant we got, the one that makes the biggest difference in our environment, and we don’t really pay that much attention” to them.

Although San Antonio is home to the San Antonio Botanical Garden, it does not have a dedicated space for trees.

As part of the multimillion-dollar improvement project for the Mission Reach, which was largely funded by Bexar County, roughly 20,000 trees of 200 different species were planted along the San Antonio River, Wolff said. Since the project was completed in 2013, he said, “We’ve have 300 other species come up.”

He spent time with Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority, on the Mission Reach and south of Mission Espada on Wednesday, Wolff said, to scope out possible locations for an arboretum. At least 30-50 acres would be needed to fully realize the wealth of ecosystems and their ties to history and culture, he said.

“Trees play such an important component of even our indigenous population,” Scott said. They have medicinal purposes and were important to celebrations.

“We really thought it would be great to pull them all together so that people can learn about all the various tree species that we have,” she said.

Plans for the arboretum are in the early stages, Wolff and Scott said. Funding for the project has yet to be identified. A public-private partnership is one of many options they are exploring, they said.

“We’re always looking for something new and different,” Wolff said. “This is new and different.”

Wolff has three and a half years to see this proposal to fruition. He does not plan on seeking another four-year term as county judge after he finishes his fifth.

Cisneros and Wolff talked about the six most significant projects and initiatives Wolff has led since he became county judge in 2001: the Mission Reach improvements, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, criminal justice reform, the Sky Tower at University Hospital, and the launch of BiblioTech, the country’s digital library system.

Wolff said he also is seeking an education partnership with CAST Tech downtown to provide BiblioTech programming and technology to its high school students.

Wolff and Cisneros also discussed Wolff’s involvement in forming Connect SA – a nonprofit formed to develop a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan – with Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the strengthening of San Antonio’s cybersecurity and technology industries, the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, and the push for better voting machines that Bexar County will be rolling out in November.

As the luncheon came to a close, Wolff made a point of touching on a project that has not managed to gain enough traction for serious consideration during his tenure: a downtown baseball stadium.

“Don’t give up on a downtown ballpark,” Wolff said. “I’d still like to find a way [for that] in the next three-and-a-half years.”

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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