Families enjoy Brackenridge Park during Easter weekend 2013. Photo by Corey Leamon.
Easter in Brackenridge Park is a longtime San Antonio tradition that the community wants the park's master plan to maintain. Credit: Corey Leamon / San Antonio Report

City Council unanimously approved the Brackenridge Park Master Plan on Thursday, closing a more than two-year endeavor to produce the document.

But work on and conversations about the park are far from over, the City’s Director of Parks and Recreation Department Xavier Urrutia told City Council.

“It’s not the end,” Urrutia said. “It’s the beginning.”

There is no final price tag for the projects and scope of work outlined in the plan, he said, but the biggest project, the restoration of the Catalpa-Pershing Channel, will cost “in the tens of millions of dollars.”

Click here to download sections of the master plan report.

The plan outlines several strategies to increase park visibility, pedestrian access, preserve and restore cultural and historic features, rehabilitate natural features, and improve water quality.

Now the implementation process begins – or the plan will simply collect dust on the shelf like more than a dozen plans have over the last four decades, said Tom Christal, president of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy.

“If plans were the only answer, we wouldn’t likely be here this morning,” Christal said. “Implementation is key.”

Some projects that align with the master plan are already included in the proposed 2017 Municipal Bond that will go to voters on May 6. Almost $8 million will be allocated toward general park improvements and rehabilitation of modern and historic structures.

Several Council members and park stakeholders will be participating in Leading with Landscape III: Renewing and Repositioning Brackenridge Park this Friday. The all-day conference will inform and engage the public and landscape architecture community in conversations about the park’s future.

“We’re not going to come out of the summit with [another] plan,” said Brackenridge Park Conservancy Executive Director Lynn Bobbitt. “[We need to] continue talking and thinking and visioning.”

The event is free for the public, but seats are limited. Click here to learn more.

The Brackenridge Park Master Plan was originally slated for Council consideration last year, but significant community outcry led the Parks and Recreation Department to hold six additional meetings across the city. These meetings led to the removal of plans for reduced internal parking and road closures, and the addition of a tram or people mover. Most concerned citizens believed that these elements would impede access to the park, especially during Easter Sunday, when hundreds of people drive into the park and camp out all weekend.

“A year ago it looked like [the plan] was headed for a train wreck,” Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) said. Now, however, its been “pulled back to a place where everyone can be proud of the process.”

The City counted 383 people who attended these meetings.

The City, park conservancy, and district offices also partnered up to host additional “non-lecture” activities in the park to collect feedback on the master plan, Urrutia said. Out of the 861 attendees, 431 were adults. More than half of those adults took a survey and 99% of those people re-affirmed the proposed strategies for the plan.

The City allocated $250,000 out of its adopted budget for the master plan. Parks and Recreation contributed an additional $50,000 more to host additional meetings and events.

By hosting these additional meetings and programming, the City was able to reach a wider audience and listen to the residents, said Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1). “It proves what [the plan] said: this is a city park.”

Treviño hopes this level of public engagement can be used in other park plans.

Overwhelmingly, the City heard that “these investments in Brackenridge Park are needed, [and] are long overdue,” Urrutia said.

While there is no longer a plan for a “grand lawn” that would have replaced the internal parking lot, there will be a more purposeful organization of park space and use, Christal told the Rivard Report after Council’s vote.

“The money is going to have to be raised privately to a great extent,” he said. “The City’s not going to be writing checks for all this activity – of course we don’t know what the activity is going to be.”

But there will likely be another bond package in five years that could go toward some of the big ticket items, like the Catalpa-Pershing Channel, a major drainage project.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said the plan contains “wonderful and big ideas, but they will also [cost] a lot of money.

“Just like a land bridge will,” Viagran said, referring to the Hardberger Park land bridge, which is slated to receive $13 million from the bond.

When Council voted on the bond package, she wanted to take the bridge out of the parks package and have voters decide on the bridge separately. Some voters in her district and others would rather see their neighborhood parks get the money, she said. Her motion in January was denied.

Like Hardberger Park and Hemisfair Park, private dollars and partnerships will need to be leveraged for Brackenridge, Christal said.

The models won’t work exactly the same, we’ll have to develop our “own brand of public-private partnership,” he said.

The nonprofit conservancy, a steward of the park that fundraises and hosts programming, is looking for ways to engage the private sector to start generating revenue to maintain the free space in the park, he said.

The City’s park funding is limited and, as evidenced by the overdue needs of Brackenridge Park and others, inadequate.

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