A large crowd gathers for the opening celebration of Confluence Park.
A large crowd gathers for the opening celebration of Confluence Park. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A former construction storage yard where San Antonio’s two major urban waterways meet has been transformed into what Confluence Park’s backers call a model of sustainable design and environmental education.

On Saturday, hundreds of local dignitaries and first-time park visitors gathered at 310 W. Mitchell St. on the city’s Southside for a grand opening that featured a cello duo, yoga, painting, birdwatching, and native plant identification lessons.

They stood in the park’s centerpiece, an open-air pavilion formed by 29-foot concrete arches known as “petals” that can channel rainwater during storms.

Turning the former CPS Energy property into such a space was a “dream 10 years in the making,” San Antonio River Foundation Executive Director Robert Amerman told the crowd.

The five-acre park features examples of the Texas landscapes that converge in Bexar County, including arid semi-desert, live oak savannah, Texas grasslands, a mixed oak forest, and a riparian zone meant to mimic the restoration work on the nearby Mission Reach.

“This facility is here to tell stories as deep as time itself,” Amerman said.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district includes the park, said the project is “celebrating the convergence of our culture and our heritage.”

She joked that a footbridge at Confluence Park that holds soil and native plants is “the first land bridge in San Antonio,” a reference to a planned $23 million land bridge to connect sections of Phil Hardberger Park on San Antonio’s Northside.

Sam Carreon and Beatrice Briseño, a married couple who live nearby and were visiting the park with their dog, Rey, welcomed Confluence Park as another addition to the Mission Reach, part of a $384 million urban river restoration project by the city, county, and federal government.

Both native Southsiders, they said they appreciate the remarkable transformation of the San Antonio River, which Carreon said was once “basically a jungle,” full of trash and “really polluted.”

“All of these improvements, the Mission Reach, it makes me so happy,” Briseño said, though both added they would have liked to see stairs leading directly from the pavilion to the river trail.

A young boy sits on a man's shoulders to see over the crowd at the opening celebration of Confluence Park.
A young boy sits on a man’s shoulders to see over the crowd at the opening celebration of Confluence Park. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Inside the park’s Estela Avery Education Center, San Antonio River Authority staff showed children how to identify macroinvertebrates – tiny insects and other creatures that scientists use to measure the health of rivers and streams.

“We haven’t had a place to have some of the wonderful education we have in the classroom on the river, until now,” SARA executive director Suzanne Scott said.

The classroom space is open to local organizations for bookings. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said there have been 110 reservations already.

The park’s backers also hope to use the classroom as a model of sustainability with its 14.4 kilowatt array of solar panels that make it net-zero on energy use and its toilets that flush using recycled water harvested from the landscape on site.

When it rains, the park’s landscape passively purifies runoff that flows through layers of native plants, soil, and filter fabric and collects in thousands of underground tanks shaped like milk crates.

A young boy sits next to the bridge at Confluence Park which crosses the so-called embayment, where underground rainwater harvesting structures are buried.
A young boy sits next to the bridge at Confluence Park which crosses the so-called embayment, where underground rainwater harvesting structures are buried. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In all, the design and construction cost $10.7 million, with 36 percent coming from the city and county and the rest from private donations to the San Antonio River Foundation, a nonprofit entity affiliated with SARA. Lake|Flato, Rialto Studio and Matsys did the design, which has already been featured in multiple architecture magazines.

The park was completed in January, but organizers decided to postpone the opening because of the freezing weather.

“I think we’re all happy we weren’t outside on Jan. 17,” said Frates Seeligson, Confluence Park’s director.

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons

Brendan Gibbons is the San Antonio Report's environment and energy reporter.