A view of the construction site at Yanaguana Garden from South Alamo Street. Photo by Katherine Nickas.
A view of the construction site at Yanaguana Garden from South Alamo Street. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

The City of San Antonio is now seeking proposals for Hemisfair Park’s first public-private partnership in Yanaguana Garden, a 4.1-acre play area and space offering modern amenities, outdoor recreation, parking and affordable housing for new tenants, all within walking distance of San Antonio’s downtown hotspots.

The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) on Sept. 10 to draw interest from developers for the Public-Private Partnership (P3) opportunity for the Water Street development site, which City leaders expect to be completed by mid-2015.

Under the partnership, the HPARC would provide the land, while the developer would build and operate the structure to be located on the .9-acre space located on the southwest corner of the Park.

The Water Street project fits within Hemisfair's overall park and development plan.
The Water Street project map and overall development plan.

“We’re looking for a developer with urban, mixed use experience – ideally, the new project would include a wood over concrete podium garage with parking space for the structure itself, residents, and also the general public,” said Omar Gonzalez, director of planning, operations and development for HPARC.

“We want to wrap that garage with multi-family units to increase the density of residential opportunities downtown,” he said.

In the plan, HPARC planners envisions a four to five-story structure with the first level occupied by park amenities, including restaurants, local shops, an art gallery, cultural or civic institution, and the upper floors devoted to parking space and residences.

“We like the idea of having affordable living at Hemisfair Park, to provide opportunities for people of all income levels to live here,” Gonzalez said. “One way to do that is for the units to be smaller-sized. If a residential unit is only 500 to 550 square feet, the developer can still get a high dollar-per-square-foot rent while keeping the rent under $1,000 a month.”

While the project would involve resurfacing Water Street – a lot adjacent to Yanaguana Garden that currently serves as a private-entry surface for Hemisfair Park Police – the RFQ does not include any of the adjacent park construction or the federally owned buildings at Hemisfair Park.

Water Street currently serves as an entrance to a parking lot in Hemisfair Park. Photo by Katherine Nickas.
Water Street currently serves as an entrance to a parking lot in Hemisfair Park. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Water Street, which historically ran parallel to the Acequia Madre and supplied water to the Alamo, once extended to Commerce Street. While positioning of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center makes a present-day full restoration of Water Street impossible, the Hemisfair Project will include a freshly paved street and lot, Gonzalez said.

The old limestone canal and accompanying plaque commemorating Acequia Madre will remain in place and the HDARC project will celebrate the original alignment of the duct, which was discovered during archaeological digs, he said.

“We will be adding some limestone so people can see where the Acequia used to flow, and we’ve also incorporated a splash pad,” he said. “Water is a really important function of San Antonio’s history, and we want to call more attention to it.”

The splash pad will infuse jet-powered water sprays to cool down kids while teaching them about hydrology and power and, bordered by the limestone feeding wall, will offer parents or other guests a place to cool their feet or sit high above and watch the activity.

All the water will be recycled and treated on site and available most days to provide a sustainable way to provide a cool, refreshing spot year-round, he said.

The Acequia Madre de Valero runs through Hemisfair Park. Photo by Katherine Nickas.
The Acequia Madre de Valero runs through Hemisfair Park. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

Planners also are taking advantage of existing shade and will provide plenty of trees for the park.

“We like the idea of having a spillover effect for the garden — the garden will always be free and accessible to all San Antonians,” Gonzalez said.

The second part of the initiative is designed to increase connectivity and accessibility to other areas of downtown by bicycle, walking and public transit.

HPARC anticipates receiving applications from experienced developers for the project and part of the process will involve looking at other projects that the developers have completed.

“We’re looking for someone who understands urban environments and has done really high-quality, well-designed projects,” he said.

He pointed out completed housing projects as good examples for developers, including the Tobin Lofts near San Antonio College, completed through a public-private partnership, and Cevallos Lofts near the Blue Star Arts Complex, which offer commercial space along with a grocery store and other modern conveniences.

The city’s RFQ process occurs amid constantly changing design concepts for the best way to solicit interest from appropriate developers in specific areas of San Antonio.

One way to gauge the demand for residential and commercial properties in an area is to conduct studies to observe what’s happening in a two-mile radius of the proposed area, Gonzalez said.

“Are people moving into the area? What’s their disposable income? They are likely to do a study asking those questions,” Gonzalez said. “What’s happening in the Southtown area is really building up to where prices for real estate and demand or housing have started to increase.

“We’ve captured a lot of that movement from Southtown because of adjacency,” he said. “I think that’s what’s really going to excite developers.”

The RFQ represents the first of P3 opportunities at Hemisfair. A developable site along the 2012 Bond-funded Water Street project has been identified within the first phase of the multi-phased project, according to the RFQ.

The bond investment is also being used in the southwest corner of Hemisfair to stabilize and/or rehabilitate 10 historic homes and to begin design work for the expansion of the Magik Theatre.

The development site is on property transferred by the City Council to the Hemisfair Park Public Facilities Corp. and is managed by HPARC.

HPARC estimates between a $15 and $20-million project for the Yanaguana Garden, historic buildings, Civic Park Design, Magik Theatre design concepts, and more, with the garden itself costing about $5 million.

Gonzalez, who will be on the selection committee, said there are many local developers interested in the space. The selection committee will include HPARC staff, select HPARC board members and key City of San Antonio staff. Up to five developers per project may be interviewed by representatives of the Selection Committee.

He said any designs must be approved by the Historic Design and Review Commission and be reflective of the history, the site and surrounding buildings.

“We want to build something that is a gem to the neighborhood and fits into its context,” he said. “What’s beautiful about the location is you don’t need many amenities because the Park itself is your amenity–your ‘third place.’”

Now that the RFQ has been issued, HPARC will take the next step by offering an optional pre-submittal meeting and site tour that is scheduled from 9-11 a.m. Sept. 30 at the Magik Theatre at 420 S. Alamo St. contact Rachel Holland at Rachel.holland@hemisfair.org to RSVP.

The deadline for questions to be submitted is Oct. 3., and responses to the RFQ are due Oct. 13. The RFP will be issued Oct. 29 with a due date of Jan. 16. Click here to view the full RFQ.

*Featured image: A view of the construction site at Yanaguana Garden from South Alamo Street. Photo by Katherine Nickas.

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Katherine Nickas was born in San Antonio near Fort Sam Houston but grew up in southern Indiana. In 2007, she began working for Indiana AgriNews where she covered topics ranging from corn and soybean production...