City of San Antonio officials took issue with the observation made in my Sunday column that the only completed downtown project in the 2012 bond that could be described as truly transformational is Yanaguana Garden in Hemisfair. Since its opening last October, the four-acre, $8 million playscape for children has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors, mostly families with young children, many coming and going on VIA buses.
In retrospect, they have a point.
I neglected to credit them with the $13.5 million realignment of Market Street, completed in late 2014. The project made the expansion of the Convention Center possible and improved flow of downtown traffic to the east and south. The primary goal was to make room for the Convention Center expansion by straightening out Market Street, closing its connection to Bowie Street, and creating a more natural connection to Tower of Americas Way, which runs alongside the expressway between East Market Street and East César E. Chávez Boulevard.
There are two other major improvements in traffic flow worth noting: southbound traffic on U.S. 281/I-37 can now continue south on Tower of Americas Way and on to the Alamodome or Southtown, instead of having to turn west on Commerce Street, and reaching destinations south by using South Alamo Street. The second improvement creates a new gateway to the Eastside by allowing eastbound Market Street traffic to pass the convention center expansion and jog left at the expressway to then turn right on East Commerce Street.
“It doesn’t get much more transformative than the Market Street Realignment,” Transportation and Capital Improvements Director Mike Frisbie said this week, ticking off the above-noted improvements.
I spend a lot of time and space advocating for greater civic engagement, so it’s worth noting here that the Eastside gateway solution was not part of the project as it was originally envisioned. Eastside business leaders said it was badly needed and City officials amended the project to make it happen. Getting involved does pay off.
We’ve reported before on the redesign of the busy downtown thoroughfare, but since its completion, I have thought of it as a street improvements initiative,an engineering project, not necessarily transformative. Upon reflection, I think a jury of my peers might rule in favor of the City so I am pleading no contest.
By the same token, my Sunday reference was to completed projects. City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni, and Frisbie also sent an updated list of downtown projects on the drawing board that will be funded with an additional $63.4 million from the 2012 bond, bringing the total to $84.9 million when the Market Street Realignment and Yanaguana Garden projects are added.
When city officials look at the list, they see major public investment downtown leading to significant improvement and change, and they want the public to know what is coming. As a journalist, I prefer to credit these projects once they are completed as envisioned. Things happen on the way from the drawing board to construction. Bike lanes and sidewalks disappear, budgets get cut, money gets reallocated.
Still, there are some very transformational downtown projects on the drawing board that will be completed around the end of the five-year cycle of the 2012-2017 bond, so let’s look at the biggest ones. Click here to review the 20 individual projects, their price tags, status, and whether City staff consider the project “typical” or “transformational.”
Hemisfair Streets Redevelopment: $15 million
The return of long-lost streets to Hemisfair after a nearly 50-year hiatus will help activate the park. A number of neighborhood streets disappeared during construction of HemisFair ’68, but two of them will come back as the most cyclist and pedestrian-friendly streets in the urban core with 5 mph speed limits. (How does anyone keep their vehicle moving at only 5 mph?) Vehicle lanes and sidewalks will each be 10 feet wide. East Nueva Street will once again reach into the Park across South Alamo Street and extend through the Park to Hemisfair Boulevard, formerly known as Water Street, which will reach from Montana Street through the park to César Chávez Boulevard. Labor Street, reaching from U.S. 281 south through the park to César Chávez, and to the west, Indianola and Matagorda Streets, appear on schematic renderings but remain unfunded with no immediate plans to include those projects in the 2017 bond.
Zanoni and Frisbie said the street restoration project work is underway and should be completed by the end of the summer. Casual passersby along South Alamo Street are more likely to notice the gaping hole where the original convention center stood until its recent demolition. Work crews are still crushing and recycling concrete and other materials from the rubble, but the site should be ready for redevelopment by the end of summer, too.
Amid the construction, work is nearly complete on the $4.6 million restoration and improvements being made to 10 historic residences in the park that are being converted to small retail businesses. Some tenants are moving in already. The schematic design of the eight-acre Civic Park was completed in February.
Commerce Street From Santa Rosa to St. Mary’s Street: $15 million
The most dramatic project on the drawing boards is Bexar County’s $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, which will benefit from significant city funds allocated in the next five-year cycle of bond funding, 2017-2022.
But the surrounding streets will undergo significant improvements, too. The 2012 bond included $9 million for improvements to the north side of West Commerce Street with the elimination of a Bus Only lane and the space reallocated to wider sidewalks. This stretch of Commerce includes the Commerce Street Bridge which spans San Pedro Creek, currently a concrete ditch. City officials have since decided the state’s recognition of the Zona Cultural merited greater investment and redesign of both sides of the street at the same time.
“We now plan on transforming the whole corridor on both sides all the way to Santa Rosa,” Frisbie said. “We are completing the design now, in line with the Zona Cultural plan, so once we get approval from the voters for the bond in May 2017 we will begin construction. Right now we short about $6 million.”
Main Avenue/Soledad Street from Commerce to Martin Streets: $9 million
City officials don’t have to wait to start the reconstruction of Main Avenue and Soledad north of Main Plaza to Martin Street. The project will include reconfigured vehicle lanes, street parking and streetscaping elements, wider sidewalks, and cycling and pedestrian connectivity.
“We are excited about the street projects for Main Avenue and Soledad,” Frisbie said. “We are bidding those for construction right now and will probably go to City Council with a contract in late summer and then start construction in the fall. Those are wider streets so there is more space for bikes, sidewalks and on-street parking. It’s about a year-long construction. We will be trying to maintain traffic flow throughout the one year of work.”
Main/San Pedro to Navarro Intersection: $6 million
The confusing maze of choices for vehicles traveling north or south on Main or San Pedro at the Navarro intersection is hard to describe, and Frisbee said he can’t explain today what planners and engineers were thinking years ago when the gateway to and from downtown was built. City officials now believe a roundabout is a better, greener option.
“Traffic engineers historically have just asked, ‘How do we move the most vehicles the most efficiently?’ Right now that intersection takes up a lot of space, there’s a lot of asphalt,” Frisbie said. “The new intersection with a roundabout is going to become a true gateway to downtown with public art and gives back space. We will begin that project in the fall. That project will take probably 10 months to a year. We have to make sure all the utilities get upgraded at the same time, so we are working with CPS Energy, SAWS, and AT&T.”
*Top Image: Pedestrians and a construction worker cross Market Street on Tower of the Americas Way. Photo by Scott Ball.