A preliminary rendering of Phase 1.3 at San Pedro Creek Culture Park.
A preliminary rendering shows Phase 1.3 of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio River Authority

Bexar County commissioners on Tuesday approved $72.3 million for the next two stages of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park as designers and engineers presented a modified plan for the third segment of Phase 1 and the entirety of Phase 2.

The revised plans for the project prioritize natural space and trees while scaling back concrete hardscaping, senior engineer Kerry Averyt said. The change also helped cut construction costs.

“One of the main goals of this was to restore the natural environment, but it was also a cost-reduction measure,” he said. “Phase 1.3 has a $30 million reduction. [We eliminated] a lot of the amenities, and we eliminated some paseos [sidewalks] and deleted some of the retaining walls.”

Phase 1.3 stretches from West Nueva Street to César Chávez Boulevard, while Phase 2 encompasses Guadalupe, Camp, and South Alamo streets. Construction on those phases is slated to begin in March 2020, and completed by the end of 2022.

Now, the project will feature walkways on only one side of the creek at a time, and bridges will allow people to cross over when they need to, Averyt said. Some of the originally planned walls framing the creek will be replaced with gently sloping banks, allowing designers to incorporate more vegetation along the water.

Mario Schjetnan, a landscape architect working on San Pedro Creek through Rialto Studio, said he was brought onto the project to create a narrative. After studying the area, he said they started to focus more on how to connect people with places above the river.

“We started analyzing in more and more detail where people are coming from, to identify pedestrian traffic … By analyzing those, we were able to improve the conditions of mobility and connectivity,” he said.

The proposed budget for Phase 1.3 and 2 combined is $85.7 million, but with $13.4 million from a federal reimbursement applied, commissioners only needed to approve $72.3 million in additional funding. Commissioners Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) and Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) expressed their reservations about the price tag. Commissioners approved nearly $60 million for the second segment of the creek’s first phase of development last December. That phase is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Calvert said that he is concerned that focusing so much of the county’s resources on San Pedro Creek may detract from other projects that need funding. He suggested raising the flood-control tax to help fund the project.

“I’m not sure the court has had a serious discussion about what this means for projects in our neighborhood,” Calvert said. “I think we have to have that discussion before moving forward.”

Jeff Mitchell, project manager of the design team at prime and lead structural and hydrologic engineering firm HDR, reminded commissioners that the San Pedro Creek project’s main goal was flood control. The project aims to contain the 100-year floodplain within the banks of the San Pedro Creek, and Mitchell saidthe redevelopment also should remove approximately 25 acres from the floodplain even without completing the project’s third phase.

“The full benefit of flood control is accomplished by Phases 1 and 2,” he said.

County Judge Nelson Wolff agreed that the commissioners would discuss flood control funding in the future. Wolff and all four commissioners voted in favor of fronting $72.3 million to the project, which began in 2016.

The original budget estimate, without engineering analysis or any other preliminary studies done, was $175 million for all four phases. Bexar County Commissioners have now allocated more than $200 million for the first two phases, with the understanding that $26 million would be reimbursed by the federal government in the future due to the Mission Reach project’s federal reimbursements. The County also expects to receive $46.3 million in Build America Bonds federal subsidies. The San Antonio River Authority has already received $35.3 million in reimbursements for Mission Reach so far, which it has given to the County. The County also received $19.5 million from San Antonio’s 2017 bond, and $9.1 million from utility reimbursements.

Suzanne Scott, San Antonio River Authority general manager, said the river authority is unsure when federal dollars will be approved for reimbursement, but that the government already has committed to the total $61.3 million determined in 2015. Last year, the government had to prioritize projects related to Hurricane Harvey damage, so the County received only $4 million.

“We think we’re in a better place in this appropriations cycle,” Scott said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.