Bexar County commissioners delayed voting Tuesday on a new public artwork for San Pedro Creek Culture Park to replace the scrapped Plethora sculpture.
Its proposed replacement, named Creek Lines, is a stainless steel piece that would occupy the Plaza de Fundación in the space originally planned for Plethora, a commissioned piece canceled because of cost overruns.
Local artists Stuart Allen and Cade Bradshaw of Bridge Projects brought to commissioners court a scale model of their design, which consists of 30 stainless steel poles about 24 feet high. The poles will be sculpted in different shapes, mimicking the flow of water. Allen and Bradshaw planned to use $300,000 of the total $425,000 budgeted to construct the actual sculpture. The rest, they proposed, would go toward funding educational programs related to the artwork and San Pedro Creek.
County commissioners were not immediately taken with the proposed project. Commissioner Kevin Wolff (Pct. 3) said he wanted more information on its potential cost before voting, while Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) said he imagined something more “grand in size” and would support increasing the budget to fund a larger piece.
“You put in a lot of good work,” Calvert said. “We want to support the artist economy … but I think there was vision for this to be visible from the highway.”
Bridge Projects merely responded to a request for proposals from the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), which gave a specific budget and other parameters that did not include size, Allen said.
“The prospect of building something that’s visible from the highway within the scope of the budget – we could say that we would do that, but we would be lying to you and you would be back where you started in another one year,” Allen said. “When we studied the plaza, the thing that makes the most sense for that space is a project that the public actually interacts with, and moves through.”
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff did notexpress support or disapproval for the proposed artwork, but noted that Plethora had been designed as a much larger piece.
“That piece that was presented to us … turned out to be a bunch of bull, but it was looked at being six stories high,” Wolff said. “The rendition of it was absolutely beautiful.”
Commissioners agreed to wait some time before approving a new artwork, which SARA Senior Engineer Kerry Averyt said he did not anticipate, but he understood.
“For them to want to take a delay is something I think is a good move at this point, to make sure everybody is comfortable with that piece,” he said.
Allen said the commissioners’ reluctance to approve the project surprised him, but that he and Bradshaw would be happy to sit down and talk about potential changes.
“Public art is unusual in that there’s always some dialogue, some give and take,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons why publicly funded projects take longer to execute.”
SARA officials also gave county commissioners an update on construction progress on San Pedro Creek. Phase 1.2 – the stretch of the creek between West Houston Street and Dolorosa Street – is well underway, while project managers aim to have designs for Phase 1.3 and Phase 2 finalized by October.
Calvert noted that designs for San Pedro Creek started in 2014, and voiced surprise that they have yet to be completed. He added that the San Pedro Creek project costs were increasing too much for his comfort.
“I don’t mean to get my feathers ruffled here, but this could have the distinction of being the most cost-overrun project of any government entity in Bexar County,” Calvert said.
SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott said that San Pedro Creek is not over budget, because there is no definitive budget for the entire project. When the project was first proposed, the estimated cost based on a preliminary engineering report was $175 million, Scott said.
“That report didn’t have full drawings, full cost associated with utilities, properties, bridge costs – it was just a high-level estimate,” Scott said.
The original number did not factor in the cost of goods, construction work, or real estate, Scott said. And as construction for different phases of San Pedro Creek continue, planners have a better idea of price tags on utilities and other aspects of the project.
There are still unknown factors that may arise, Averyt explained, but phase 1.2 is still within its $74 million budget. Phase 1.1 came in $5 million under budget, and Scott hopes that future phases can continue that pattern.
“We also tried to take advantage of lessons learned in this project so as we move through these final phases … we can try to save some money as we move forward,” she told county commissioners.