The $21.8 million Phase 1 improvements being made to the San Antonio Botanical Garden are approaching full bloom.
City Council Wednesday was briefed on the progress made since it adopted a master site plan in October 2010. Overall, the plan promises to eventually enhance 37.78 acres of the Garden by making it more interactive, educational, and tactile, said Xavier Urrutia, Parks and Recreation director.
The first phase of improvements includes an eight-acre expansion with a new garden gateway entrance at Funston Place and New Braunfels Avenue, a “Welcome and Discovery Complex,” culinary garden, outdoor teaching kitchen and pavilion, a “Family Adventure Garden,” and the Halswell Way parking lot expansion.
The section is set to officially open in October.
The new entrance will feature a walkway lined with live oaks, leading to the ticket kiosk and a courtyard with seating. The “Welcome and Discovery Complex” will host hands-on classes and programming, and the culinary garden will allow visitors to plant and harvest fruits, herbs, and vegetables. Families and children can then head to the outdoor teaching kitchen to learn how to cook healthy dishes with the plants they harvested. The 2.5-acre “Family Adventure Garden,” funded by a $1 million grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, will allow families and children to relax, play in the open fields, and watch performances on stage.
“These are components that really allow a more tactile approach on visiting the garden,” Urrutia said, making it “much more interactive, not necessarily a ‘stand back and just look’ [experience], but a more more ‘touch, feel, plant’ [experience].”
The City’s 2012 bond program funded $1.2 million of the Phase 1 enhancements, and the remaining costs were covered by a variety of funding sources secured by the San Antonio Botanical Garden Society, a nonprofit that has supported the Garden since its opening in 1980.
The group still has to secure about $2 million in funding for Phase 1, but is confident they’ll reach their goal.
The second and final phase of improvements totals $16.5 million, $5.05 million of which could come from the City’s 2017 bond that will go before voters on Saturday. If fully funded, that phase will be finished over the next two or so years, and will include the development of an Education and Event Center, Central Lawn, and Administration Building and Carriage House Restaurant upgrades, said Botanical Garden Executive Director Bob Brackman.
The finished garden in total will offer 41 acres of green space to the city.
Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) noted the project’s importance and longevity in the city.
“I think it’s really important for us to emphasize that we’re leading an institution that will remain in perpetuity for children and generations of San Antonians to enjoy,” he said.
City Council also previously approved a short-term license agreement and long-term lease agreement to transfer full operation and maintenance duties of the Garden to the San Antonio Botanical Garden Society by 2019. The Society already is in charge of the Garden’s fundraising efforts, educational programming, event space rentals, and restaurant and gift shop.
Mayor Ivy Taylor and Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), whose district is home to the Garden, both encouraged Garden officials to increase outreach to bring visitors from all over the city to the site. Those efforts could include continuing partnerships with local schools to bring children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to visit the Garden, Taylor said.
The Botanical Garden is one of her favorite places in the city, the mayor said. Her teenage daughter, Morgan, loved visiting the space as a child and still does today, she added.
“One afternoon I didn’t tell her we were going because I figured I’d get the 13-year-old moaning and eye roll, but she was so excited when we got there,” she said. “She was still thrilled to be spending an afternoon in the Garden.”