Preliminary design rendering for elements of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.
Preliminary design rendering for elements of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.

Plans for a complete reworking of the San Pedro Creek downtown – a flood-control project that will include monuments, plazas, amphitheaters, playgrounds and dog parks – are flowing much like the creek itself; flooding one day and barely trickling the next. The goal is to have at least the first two phases functionally complete by the city’s 300th birthday in May 2018.

The Aug. 6 article in the Rivard Report, “The San Pedro Creek Project: Getting it Right,” which included a letter from a stream-side property owner, caused a flood of discussion during the Aug. 7 San Pedro Creek Improvements Project Subcommittee meeting – but it needn’t have.

Some committee members do not attend every meeting. The June meeting did not even have a quorum to approve the minutes from the May meeting. More frequent attendance by committee members would have prepared them for opposition to the 40% plan and facilitated acceptance of other ideas. Participation is essential.

The letter that generated so much discussion was from James Lifshutz, a co-owner of several apartments along the San Pedro Creek, to Suzanne Scott, the general manager of San Antonio River Authority (SARA). It expressed displeasure with several features of the plan.

Scott in turn forwarded the letter, with others, to subcommittee co-chairs Jerry Geyer, a Friends of Casa Navarro member, and Michael Cortez of the Cortez Family of Restaurants, which includes Mi Tierra. They did not share all of this information with all of the other 15 committee members or six alternate members.

CEO of Centro Pat DiGiovanni. Photo by Scott Ball.
Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Pat DiGiovanni, Centro San Antonio president and CEO, was not pleased when he learned of the letter. “From Centro’s standpoint, we want more communication on this,” he said.

And he is right. Communication is the key to prevent such problems. In the future such letters will be brought to the committee so they can be part of the record.

But education is important as well. The documentation about the improvements project is increasing at an exponential rate. The 40% plan had two volumes; the recent 70% plan is three. It’s going to be hard for the planners, the developers, the committee members, the Commissioners Court, concerned property owners, and the general public to keep up. But it is so important – and so worthwhile.

Some critics of the “Tree of Life” art installation, for instance, wanted to prune it. In the eye of a knowledgeable arborist, pruning can be beneficial to a plant. In the wrong hands, such shearing can destroy the plant.

The colorful columns in the promotional picture were just that – promotional. They were designed to catch the eye. Some people saw a theme park atmosphere. Others saw the assembly as a good distraction to the nearby convergence of expressways. And planners wanted something to divert attention away from the industrial grates of the adjacent drainage structure.

The 12 columns of the “Tree of Life” were placeholders, but not everyone understands that concept. It was more than a bookmark in an ongoing story.

Preliminary design rendering for a "Tree of Life" element of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.
Preliminary design rendering for a “Tree of Life” element of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project.

One column, for example, was to represent faith. Faith was important in the history of San Antonio. Indeed, Mission San Antonio (which was later moved and became the Alamo) was originally founded on the banks of the San Pedro Creek. Points up and down the stream relating to other religious aspects were to be identified with the emblems or colors of this column.

Another column was to represent conflict – and there have been many disagreements along the creek (of which the committee discussions are but the latest). Military garrisons once paraded on the site of City Hall which is but a building away from the creek, and it was called Military Plaza (Plaza de Armas). A pecan shellers strike in 1938 was another conflict that occurred on the banks of the San Pedro. It paved the way for inclusion of Mexican-Americans into South Texas society. Other areas of conflict would be referenced to the codex of the “Tree of Life.”

Other columns might represent freedom (a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence is remembered in the Navarro House), commerce (Penners Store has been in business for almost a century), or culture (an Italian neighborhood once flourished in this area). The history of the area (which was to be included in a codex in the columns), written by local scholar and poet John Phillip Santos, will be presented soon.

And the grouping of columns, these mythic touchstones, was to be built in such a way to align with the sun’s rays on the first day of winter. The June solstice too would be a focus of the “Tree of Life.” I applaud the architectural integrity of a design that celebrates the shade of a summer day.

But will the “Tree of Life” survive the axe of premature judgment? It’s one thing to survive budget cuts, but with such strong opposition, will the tree even be planted?

Muñoz & Company Principal Steven Land Tillotson. Photo by Scott Ball.
Muñoz & Company Principal Steven Land Tillotson. Photo by Scott Ball.

“It’s never wrong until it’s drawn,” quipped Steve Tillotson, Muñoz & Company Principal Architect and one of the design team consultants, at a meeting in June.

Those who speak against components of the development plans should be aware of all aspects of the plan and how those parts fit together. Education is another key to making a plan that will benefit the common good.

And finally, involvement. The public was encouraged to offer feedback at the open house in May or in the survey which closed in June. The committee will present the 70% plan to Commissioners Court on Tuesday, Aug. 11, at 1:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Bexar County Courthouse. The next Subcommittee meeting is Sep. 10 at 8:30 a.m. at the SARA board room, 100 E Guenther. There is no charge to attend and the public is invited to these events.

Plans for the San Pedro Creek are still evolving. The first shovel of dirt has yet to be dug. Plans for the creek will dovetail with plans for the new Frost Bank building and Federal Courthouse which are still on the drawing board. The San Pedro Creek improvements design is not yet set in stone.

Participation, communication, education, and involvement. If these components can come together, we will have more than a decorated ditch. We will have a public area that links neighborhoods, that joins culture, that promotes history, that provides a place to play, one that enriches our daily lives.

As Tillotson said, “It’s not just a place to go to get from one place to another. It’s a destination.”

The plans for the creek will be 90% complete in December. See you at the next meeting.

*Featured/top image: Preliminary design rendering for elements of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. 

Related Stories:

Committee Reviews San Pedro Creek Design Critiques & Update

The San Pedro Creek Project: Getting it Right

Survey: Public Supports San Pedro Creek Improvements

Art Curation Taking Shape for San Pedro Creek

Don Mathis

Don’s life revolves around the many poetry circles in San Antonio. His poems have been published in many anthologies and periodicals and broadcasted on local TV and national radio. In addition to poetry,...