The Tower Life building seen between the hotel (right) and office tower planned for Hemisfair.
The Tower Life building seen between the hotel (right) and office tower planned for Hemisfair. Credit: Courtesy / Overland Partners

The Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved plans for a major mixed-use commercial development at Hemisfair following some community and commissioner discussion.

Most residents welcomed the transformative investment in the footprint of HemisFair ’68 that has sat largely underutilized since the world fair. But some said the more than $200 million development at the park, which will eventually include an apartment building, privatizes an otherwise public park.

Rosemary Kowalski, 93-year-old business woman and philanthropist, delivered passionate testimony in praise of the project and of its developer Zachry Hospitality, a subsidiary of Zachry Corp.

“I’ve watched the city grow with people like H.B. Zachry,” she said of the family and the company’s patriarch who was instrumental in bringing the World’s Fair to San Antonio 50 years ago. “[This project will] contribute once more to transform our city’s landscape.”

Rosemary Kowalski of the RK Group comments on the future of Hemisfair.
Rosemary Kowalski of the RK Group speaks on the future of Hemisfair. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The 14-story hotel, eight-story office tower, “urban market,” and up to 50,000 square feet of space for retail shops and eateries is the result of a public-private partnership between Zachry Hospitality and Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC). That agreement was approved by City Council in February 2017.

At first, there were some concerns that the buildings might block visual and physical access to the park, Commissioner Joel Garcia said, but the design is “very open and very inviting to everyone.”

The buildings will line the west side of Hemisfair’s nine-acre Civic Park that is still under construction.

“What we’re really doing is providing an amenity to the park, activation to the park, and all of this really aligns with what the community has talked about in the past,” Zachry Hospitality Vice President of Development Rene Garcia told the Rivard Report in response to some community members’ concerns that the public park will be taken over by commercial interests. “All of the public engagement meetings at Hemisfair started before we were even involved … the script was given to us when we started this journey with Overland Partners.”

The project, designed by local architectural firm Overland Partners, features an 825-car underground parking garage. The public will have access to 625 spots; Zachry will lease 200 for its tenants – which have not yet been selected.

The proposed parking strategy presented to HDRC.
The proposed parking strategy presented to HDRC. Credit: Courtesy / Overland Partners and Zachry Corp.

A unique lease agreement with Zachry and a newly-created tax increment reinvestment zone will allow Hemisfair to become self-sufficient, Hemisfair officials said, meaning the City will not have to maintain or pay for it.

The City is not giving this portion of Zachry’s five-acre total development any development incentives, but it might award some to the residential project off of East Market Street that designers have yet to finalize.

Zachry plans to finish the commercial components of the development in 2021, the same year Civic Park is slated for completion.

Construction has begun nearby on a separately developed residential project, Acequia Lofts. The 163-unit project in the southeast quadrant will feature 50 percent workforce housing.

HDRC’s vote Wednesday gave developers conceptual approval, allowing them to receive some construction permits. Zachry will still need to come back before the commission at a later date for final approval. Garcia said that will likely be by the end of this year and possibly at the same time the developer submits designs of the residential building.

HPARC has been working on redeveloping the park since 2010. Yanaguana Garden, the first phase of that work, opened in October 2015.

Maria Torres of the Pacuache Indian First Nation voices her opposition to the project.
Maria Torres of the Pacuache Indian First Nation voices her opposition to the project. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Of the 12 residents who testified Wednesday, a couple  accused developers of corruption and mismanagement of Hemisfair. Zachry’s grandson David served on the board of HPARC until 2011. Madison Smith, principal at Overland Partners, also served on the board. The contract with HPARC went through an extensive competitive bidding process before it selected Zachry.

Maria Torres, tribal chief of the Pacuache Tilijaya Coahuiltecan Tribe of Texas, rebuked the commission and the City for allowing HemisFair ’68 and continued development to occur on what she says is “indigenous burial grounds.”

As part of any development project that the HDRC reviews, archaeological review is required.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at