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The San Antonio River Foundation is “very close” to completing its multi-year $10 million capital campaign to build Confluence Park on the San Antonio River at its juncture with San Pedro Creek on the Mission Reach. The project, which is both park and natural classroom, is moving full-speed ahead with a ground breaking ceremony on Wednesday, May 11 at 9 a.m.
“We are still pursuing some funding,” Foundation Executive Director Estela Avery said this week. The project will take about 12-14 months to complete, well ahead of the City’s Tricentennial Celebrations in May 2018.
A $2.4 million gift last year earned BHP Billiton, a global resource company headquartered in Australia that owns land and rigs in the Eagle Ford shale region, naming rights for the park’s main pavilion and a multi-purpose room. That sparked sizable gifts around the $250,000 level from other donors, Avery said. Her team is seeking additional donations from foundations and other potential donors.
Smaller pavilions and walkways will replace a now-vacant three-acre lot, which previously served as an equipment staging area for CPS Energy. New tree planting will expand the existing canopy and represent species from various ecotypes. Park visitors and students will follow paths that lead them through a grassland, live oak savannah, Trans Pecos/Chihuahuan Desert, and the San Antonio River. Signage will identify the different species of plantings and their context. The plantings native to the Mission Reach latter will be an extension of the restoration work done by the San Antonio River Improvements Project along the river at its juncture with the creek, which also will be the subject of a major restoration effort in the coming years.
C.H. Guenther & Son Inc.’s Guenther House and Epitacio Resendez, a wealthy Mexican national who lives in San Antonio, have naming rights to two of the three small pavilions from their donations, Avery said.
The impetus and ethos behind the park’s design is one that is less visible to the families: water and its critical relationship to ecosystems and the people that inhabit them. Underneath the soil is a network of collection pipes that connect to a rain water harvesting cistern under the live oak savannah ecotype.
The top of the cistern and the soil above it sit several feet lower than the surrounding land, so the walkway that leads across that ecotype is not just for show. During heavy rains, the savannah will be temporarily transformed into wetlands, Project Manager Stuart Allen said during a public input meeting held in the San Antonio River Authority‘s board room on Wednesday. The River Foundation, as the nonprofit partner of the Authority, also offices in the building. The River Authority will be the main user of the 2,000 sq. ft multi-purpose room, using it to stage formal and informal educational programming.
Preliminary design renderings called for more elaborate, above-ground water collection methods that could be used for educational purposes.
This more efficient, less visual, system also will be educational, said Allen, a sculptural artist who works with many mediums in addition to his work overseeing the park and several major public art projects in the city. Lake/Flato Architects has since taken over the design.
“During rain it’s still going to be a very dramatic place,” he added, pointing to the main pavilion’s pedal-like design that will carry and drop water in impressive and surprising ways. “We want this to be a park people go to when it’s raining.”
The River Foundation has $2 million to split between maintenance and education endowments, with $1 million coming from Estela and her husband, James Avery. The City of San Antonio has committed to covering the costs of trees, planting, and parking lot lights.
Once considered forgotten neighborhoods, the areas surrounding the Mission Reach have received considerable attention from private developers, the City, and from around the globe, thanks to the river improvements and the UNESCO World Heritage designation given to the four Spanish colonial missions last year. The $274.1 million Mission Reach Ecosystem Restoration and Recreation Project also continues to bring pedestrians, runners, cyclists, and even kayakers to the improved trail and water way.
Allen said he has noticed an increase of awareness of projects like Confluence Park. There is also some concern that the attention might displace long-time residents of the Southside as real estate values rise and demand for residential and commercial properties in the district continues to grow.
“We are building a Park, which is an easier sell than a housing development,” he said. “The Park is designed for public engagement and education. We’ve been listening to the neighbors and listening to the feedback received by the San Antonio River Authority. We’ve moved away from plans that ultimately didn’t feel like a good fit for the area. Lake/Flato (Architects) and Rialto Studio have done a fantastic job putting together a plan that we believe is progressive and exciting, but welcoming to everyone. We’re all very excited to see it built.”
Only about five Southside resients attended the unpublicized meeting on Wednesday night and their reactions were unanimously positive with some constructive suggestions. Postcards were mailed to area residents weeks earlier, but it seems the design teams and River Foundation has done its due diligence in vetting neighborhood concerns.
During previous stakeholder meetings, residents on Tipton Avenue, which dead-ends into the park, demanded that the park be inaccessible to pedestrians from that street, for fear that their street will become a make-shift parking lot, Allen said. There will be trees and fencing and trees that block that path and all access from the neighborhood-adjacent side of the park.
But if they change their minds once the park is up and running, the park has been designed to accommodate a future pedestrian entrance off of Tipton Avenue.
Olivia Lutzenberger owns Liv’s Cool Treats less than one block away from the park entrance. She came to the meeting concerned that the construction might require closing down a portion of Mitchell Street at the park’s entrance, blocking potential customers.
According to Mike Raley of the construction contractor SpawGlass, it’s very unlikely that any phase of construction will close down the entire street.
After Lutzenberger’s husband passed away, she converted his bar into an ice cream shop and has been open for almost one year.
“I knew this was coming,” she said of the park and other Mission Reach developments.
Business has been slow so far, she said, but she’s now able to be open during more regular business hours and is anticipating a huge increase of traffic once the park opens.
In the meantime, Avery suggested, “the construction workers…”
Raley smiled in agreement.
Top image: Confluence Park’s BHP Billiton Pavilion. Image courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects and the San Antonio River Foundation.