As officials broke ground on the new Frost Bank Tower and discussed plans to renovate and revive the long-vacant Alameda Theater Wednesday afternoon, construction crews worked on another transformative downtown project along the nearby San Pedro Creek.
The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, which will revamp the two-mile drainage ditch into a linear park with historical and cultural amenities, is well underway and will connect pedestrians to both the new Frost Bank Tower and a community amphitheater behind the Alameda. Officials broke ground on Phase 1 of the effort last September, and official construction began this year.
During a tour of the construction site Thursday, bulldozers and backhoes tore into the ground, excavating the earth to widen the creek channel that will be lined with paseos, or sidewalks, along the waterway. Crews, led by Sundt/Davila J.V., have already found a few artifacts in the process – small shards of glass and animal bones, “nothing of real significance,” according to Kerry Averyt, watershed engineer for the San Antonio River Authority, the project’s manager.
But “some of these shards may very well go to UTSA for curation,” he said.
While renderings and plans for the $175 million effort have been widely shared and discussed for more than one year, witnessing the construction progress firsthand allows for a more vivid picture to be painted.
Thursday afternoon, sunny and cloudless with a clear blue sky, was the ideal setting to envision the finished creek teeming with pedestrians walking along its banks, adorned with mosaics, murals, historical signage, and other aesthetic elements telling San Antonio’s indigenous history.
Near Fox Tech High School, the creek’s tunnel inlet – currently a 30-40-foot-wide mud pit – will be the site of a large-scale constellation map, a proposed work of art created by San Antonio College’s Scobee Planetarium. Lit from behind with LED lights, the piece would show what the sky over San Antonio looked like on May 5, 1718, the day San Antonio de Béxar Presidio was founded. At that same location, several structures will sift trash out of the flowing river.
Further down, the 60-foot sculpture “Plethora” will act as an entry point to the linear park. Along the creek on Camaron Street, construction teams will implement the paseos 4 feet below the current street, passing by several historic walls from the 1700s and 1800s that will be preserved. One wall in that area will likely be home to a mural by local artist Jesse Treviño, officials said. The paseo will rise back up to the street level at the Martin Street bridge, which itself will be adorned with artistic panels and new railings.
Another historic wall near the intersection of Camaron and West Salinas streets will be surrounded by paseos on either side. A circa-1700s cistern behind the wall, discovered by excavation teams, also will be preserved.
If you venture further south, the paseos on both sides of the creek will take you under the Travis Street bridge, near the site of the new Frost Bank Tower and the Alameda Theater.
From start to finish, the creek will range from about 25-40 feet in width, officials said.
The entire project along the two-mile creek channel calls for the replacement of eight street bridges, 11 acres of new landscaping, four miles of paseos, 60,000 linear feet of new walls, the rehabilitation of six existing bridges, one new community amphitheater, and six new pedestrian bridges, along with three new channel gates and 30 acres removed from the floodplain.
Officials see the project having a $1.5 billion economic impact on the city, as it advances the water quality and sustainability of habitat in the creek and celebrates San Antonio’s culture through art and interpretive signage.
Over the past few months, several setbacks related to utility relocation and the construction and permitting timelines delayed the project’s Phase 1 completion date. Officials have since assured the County, the project’s main funder, that the portion of creek from the inlet to Houston Street will be completed by May 2018, in time for the city’s Tricentennial celebration.
County Manager David Smith said Thursday that he anticipates overall project cost estimates from Sundt/Davila in May.
“Right now it’s just estimates,” he said, but he foresees some unknown cost increases due to added art elements as requested by County commissioners. The County would cover those costs, he said.
The setbacks had County Judge Nelson Wolff “very worried as we were going along because we had to make so many changes,” but he told the Rivard Report Thursday that he feels “much, much more comfortable than I did say two, three months ago.
“This is not an easy project, much harder than what the [San Antonio] River was. There’s much more challenges to it, it’s in the middle of an urban center,” he said. “… I think its going to be pretty darn cool.”
County Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) grew up not far from San Pedro Creek, where he used to go crawfishing near the creek inlet.
Seeing the creek and the Western edge of downtown grow and change to reflect the original history and culture of the area, he said, makes him “very pleased.
“We don’t want to get behind the eight ball too much as far as catching up to become a quality city,” he said. “We’re growing, but with that growth comes a responsibility to take care of the quality of life [here].
“Watching a rebirth of a cultural center of our community is great.”