A Council-appointed citizen bond committee got its first look Tuesday at the City of San Antonio’s proposed $120 million facilities bond program. The package is part of an $850 million bond that the City will put before voters in May 2017.

“This committee, we will listen. It will be respectful and do the best job for the City,” said businessman Joe Linson, who chairs the Facility Improvements committee with former Councilman John Clamp (D10). “Let’s be ready to just listen.”

The facilities portion of the proposed bond includes a $20.5 million center city police substation/park police headquarters, renovations at four library branches, and a senior and constituent service center for District 9.

The Facility Improvements Bond Committee is one of five citizen panels. Committee meetings began at the Central Library on Soledad Street this week, starting with Parks, Recreation and Open Space on Monday.

The project list includes $8.7 million for improvements to Alamo Plaza, which will complement the $13.7 million set aside for Alamo area streets in the Streets, Bridges, and Sidewalks bond.

A new police facility in District 1, City officials said, would follow some of the guiding principles in long-term initiatives such as the SA Tomorrow comprehensive plan, bolstering safety and enhancing quality of life in the urban core.

The San Antonio Police Department has been operating a central substation on South Frio Street. That substation has been serving areas on the near Westside and Eastside, Southtown, and north of downtown. The new substation would focus on downtown.

City staffers recommend improving four public library branches: Central ($3 million), McCreless ($2.5 million), Las Palmas ($1 million), and Memorial ($2 million). If voters sign off on the package, the 22-year-old, iconic Central Library could see its cooling tower replaced and bathrooms renovated, among other enhancements.

The exterior of the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.
The exterior of the Central Library in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

More comprehensive improvements are envisioned for the other three libraries, said Mike Frisbie, director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements department. Memorial and Las Palmas are the only recommended facility improvements in District 5.

District 2 has four recommended projects. One is the $2 million to add another level to the Brackenridge Park/Witte Museum parking garage. Another $6.5 million would go toward developing a new $12 million parking garage to serve the park and the San Antonio Zoo. The remaining $5.5 million would come from the Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces bond. The park’s draft master plan, criticized by many residents, has referenced a new parking garage.

Zoo CEO and Executive Director Tim Morrow spoke in support for the garage proposal. Answering one audience member’s question, Morrow said the new garage would be open to any overflow parking from the adjacent Alamo Stadium parking lot.

The garage would help reduce the inconvenience that many motorists face when coming to the park area during weekends and other peak times, he said. No-parking signs have been erected in some neighboring streets to deter visitors from parking in those spots.

“To bring this down to the park would be a benefit to us all,” he said. “It’s for the whole community.”

The Wheatley Heights Sports Complex is slated for a $6 million allocation to enable the facility, which hosts athletic activities such as soccer and track, to also serve as a community center with space for indoor sports, such as tennis. About $5 million would be leveraged with private funds to build a sports education facility near Copernicus Park.

Aside from McCreless Library, District 3 has two other recommended projects. One would be $5 million for a cultural arts center to serve the World Heritage-designated missions. The other would use $600,000 to turn a storage space at the Mission Marquee Plaza, the former Mission Drive-In, into a green room for performers. The latter project, Frisbie said, would be helpful as the reimagined plaza hosts more events every year.

Julia Favre gives away a Live Oak tree. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Julia Favre gives away a Live Oak tree during the Words & Arts Festival at Mission Marquee Plaza in March 2016. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Three projects are recommended for District 4. The 25-year-old Palo Alto College natatorium would see $5.3 million in improvements, including a new roof. Another $8.5 million would be used to build a community center in the Heritage neighborhood.

The Southwest Independent School District seeks to buy land and build its own aquatic center, and the City could enter into a partnership with the district with a $4 million investment.

Andrew Roberts, a District 2 appointee to the committee, asked what would happen to the natatorium project if either the City’s bond or facilities proposal fails. Frisbie said in any case, the City already has bonding capacity and would develop options to try and help bring a project like it to fruition.

District 6 has two recommended projects. One proposes $2 million to develop sports fields near the Potranco Road-area library, which is set to open this fall. Another $2.5 million would go to develop a bike police substation off Tezel Road to better oversee security along the linear greenway there.

District 8 has just one proposal: $10 million in a partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio on Phase II of the Park West athletics complex near the main campus. The first phase opened in 2013 to support soccer and track.

The second phase, supported by City, Bexar County, state and private funds, would involve an 80,000-sq.ft. team facility, track and field facility improvements, a tennis center, softball stadium, and football practice fields. But UTSA is seeking bond funds to help only with the team facility. UTSA estimates the entire Phase II project will cost $62 million.

Brad Parrott, UTSA’s senior associate athletic director for external affairs, said Phase II would enhance the City’s ability to host regional and national destination sporting events, support the university’s quest to be a Tier One institution, and raise the football program’s profile. Parrott insisted, though, UTSA has no plans to build a football stadium at Park West or on the main campus.

A $13.2 million senior and constituent services center is the only project on District 9’s preliminary list, which could include community meeting space, Frisbie said. Based on the number of visitors to the District 10 Northeast Senior Center that opened in 2015, the District 9 facility could serve 400-500 people per day.

The lone project for District 10, a $10 million replacement for the Austin Highway-based Fire Station No. 24, would keep serving neighborhoods between Districts 10 and 2. Fire Chief Charles Hood said a larger, modernized station would accommodate more resources and improve response times for the area.

“We are looking up and down Austin Highway to see where we can get the best bang for our buck,” Hood said.

Only a dozen audience members spoke on the recommendations. A few hope the committee can somehow find room in the $120 million allocation for other suggested facility improvements that did not make the City’s preliminary list, which was primarily based on input from Council members and residents. One is a $5.6 million improvement project for the Ella Austin Community Center. Many neighborhood residents have come to rely upon services available at the Eastside center, said the center’s Executive Director Tony Hargrove.

Four people, including Kelso Director Katie Luber, sought bond support for improvements around the San Antonio Museum of Art campus. The museum, located what was once the Lone Star Brewery complex north of downtown, adds to the City’s quality of life, Luber said.

“We see ourselves as one of the great economic drivers in the city,” she said.

The Facilities Improvements Bond Committee will meet again next Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 6 p.m. Each committee has five scheduled meetings through early December. Their recommendations on individual proposals will be forwarded to City Council, which will finalize the project list for the May 2017 ballot.

Joe Aldrete, one of three chairs of the overall bond planning committee, added: “All these projects and requests that’ll come before you are worthy. The question is, how do you prioritize?”

Committee Chair Clamp applauded the overall tone and direction of Tuesday’s initial session.

“This was a fantastic meeting. I hope they’ll all move as smoothly as this one,” he added.


Top image: City Manager Sheryl Sculley introduces the Facilities Community Bond Committee meeting at the Central Library. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.

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Council Mulls $850 Million Bond Before Heading to Committees

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Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.