Broadway Street south of the Pearl will soon look a lot more like a destination boulevard and less like a commuter artery, thanks to a major public-private partnership to beautify long underutilized spaces under and around the maze of expressways that cross overhead.

Much of the creative thinking and design services that helped make the project possible came from infill developers, architects, and others who have long worked to bring the north-south surface street back to life.

In anticipation of increased public and private development along the Broadway corridor, the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority teamed up to maximize parking and storm water management under the highway interchanges just south of the Pearl Brewery complex.

The City received $1 million from TxDOT through the state agency’s underpass beautification initiative to landscape five different San Antonio underpasses. Officials also found a unique opportunity when they scoped out a nine-acre tract of land off Broadway Street under I-35 and U.S. Highway 281.

“Landscaping is nice, but maybe we can do more than that,” Center City Operations Department Interim Director John Jacks said of the initial idea.

Acreage under the tangle of interstates off of Broadway Street will become a parking lot and storm water treatment area.
Acreage under the tangle of interstates off of Broadway Street will become a parking lot and storm water treatment area in 2017. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

More than 150 parking spots will be available on 5.5 acres once the first phase of the project is completed next summer. Construction won’t start until after Fiesta 2017, Jacks said, but the lot will still be able to host future parade-goers that camp out under the interstates. They will, however, need to avoid the new rain garden and drainage areas that River Authority engineers have designed to manage the storm water runoff.

There’s room for more than 400 parking spaces in the area, but subsequent phases will depend on funding, Jacks explained. Another public input meeting on the project to finalize some of the details will be held in January, tentatively on Thursday, Jan. 19.

The parking lot project is a perfect opportunity to showcase low-impact design (LID) practices, River Authority Watershed Engineering Manager Patrice Melancon said. The River Authority is managing the design and construction of the first phase of the underpass project.

Low-impact design elements are aimed at preventing flooding and contaminated water from entering creeks and rivers. The underpass parking lot will feature a rain garden that will capture, filter, and slow down much of the hundreds of gallons of water that flow to the lowest point in the field from the highway and surrounding land.

“We are planning on putting up educational signs to let people know what these (LID features) are,” Melancon said. “I hope that the public will be respectful of the function they provide for drainage and for the environment.”

Native, low-maintenance plants and trees will be used to landscape the area, she said, and LID will eliminate the need for additional drainage infrastructure.

The project is funded with a portion of the TxDOT grant, $1 million from the midtown and inner city tax increment reinvestment zones, and up to $100,000 in Watershed Wise rebates from the River Authority for implementation of LID elements.

More information on rebates for homeowners and developers for private or environmental nonprofit projects in Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, or Goliad counties are available here.

Alamo Architects and Bender Wells Clark Design provided pro bono design work and several local development firms and other business owners have made in-kind contributions of time, talent, and input.

“A lot of rain comes off the highway – it’s pretty dramatic,” said Frank Pakuszewski, who owns GS 1221, the growler station located at the ground level of the 1221 Broadway apartment complex across the street from the underpass project. Pakuszewski is also a principal at SOJO Urban Development, which has several development projects in the works in the urban core.

He has watched ponds, complete with ducks and herons, form in the lot across the street after Fiesta-goers left pieces of plywood covering drainage infrastructure.

His and other businesses along Broadway Street and in the greater downtown area will naturally benefit from more parking for the increasing day and nightlife traffic, he said, but he also noted that it’s another opportunity to increase downtown activity as a whole.

City planning and water management is about “more than between the banks,” curbs, and major destinations.

He’d like to see the City work more with the private sector to engage in a series of “little landing pads of properly planned and properly programmed spaces … so we’re building places instead of building ways to get through places.”

Connecting amenities with pedestrian and bicycle access will ease traffic and, ultimately, move the needle on sustainability goals.

“I hope this can become an example of what you can do with overlooked and forgotten spaces that you can’t have a commercial viability or traditional park in,” Pakuszewski said. “We ain’t done yet, we have a long way to go.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...