While San Antonio prepares to begin construction on a 2017 bond project that has been in the planning stages for at least two years, the stewards of the park where it’s located are suddenly pushing back.
As part of its $850 million bond package in 2017, the city planned to construct a new building big enough to house both a San Antonio Police Department substation for the central city and a Park Police headquarters.
When that plan ran into difficulty, city staff pivoted, proposing in 2019 separate facilities: a new building on North St. Mary’s Street for the substation and repurposing an existing building, known as Building 277, in Hemisfair Park.
The Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. (HPARC) opposes that repurposing, apparently to the surprise of city staff, who told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee they had just learned of the objection “less than two weeks ago.”
In a Sept. 20 letter written to Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), who chairs the Public Safety Committee, the HPARC board of directors said the decision to relocate the Park Police headquarters to Building 277 in Hemisfair was done without getting input from “the public or other stakeholders.”
“It would be prudent and appropriate for the HPARC Board of Directors to be meaningfully involved in this type of decision, as we are appointed by City Council and charged with the responsibility to oversee the planning, development, and operation of the 40-acre Hemisfair District,” they wrote.
The proposal does not fit with the 2012 Hemisfair Master Plan, the board wrote, which states that buildings facing the park should be accessible to the public on the ground-floor.
Developer and HPARC board treasurer Steve Yndo also criticized the city’s process of selecting a park police site, according to the San Antonio Heron, which first reported the conflict.
“Locating the Park Police in Hemisfair is emblematic of some of the poorest decisions made in San Antonio’s past,” Yndo wrote to the committee. “Instead of an urban park that rivals those of other great cities, we would have yet another example of an expedient solution that results in a mediocre and underperforming public space as collateral damage.”
The city created HPARC as a local government corporation in 2009, tasked with helping the city redevelop Hemisfair Park.
Razi Hosseini, city engineer and director of the Public Works department, took issue with HPARC’s assertion that it hadn’t been involved in the process. The city has worked closely with HPARC to find a new home for park police headquarters, Hosseini told the committee at its Sept. 21 meeting. The city toyed with the idea of shaving part of the building off to allow for a future road extension, but found that would not be structurally recommended.
“They were not very pleased about this location, but they were never against this location,” Hosseini told the committee, “[and] otherwise were willing to spend two years of time and half a million dollars” before coming out in opposition to the location just weeks ago.
As planned, the park police headquarters will move from its home now (also in Hemisfair Park) to Building 277. The department needs more space to house 137 staffers and equipment such as bikes, radios, and body cameras.
Renovating the 8,000-square-foot building has a total budget of $4.7 million, $503,000 of which has already been committed or spent, Hosseini said.
Council members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) and Phyllis Viagran (D3) both expressed their discontent with the plan. Viagran said she was concerned that the building renovations needed were deemed to be “moderate” in scope, while carrying a construction cost of $3.4 million. She also asked for more information about the working relationship between the city and HPARC regarding this project.
“I would like to see more conversation about what happened — the breakdown in communication between HPARC and city staff and the council members — because this was something that was brought to my attention when I arrived,” she said.
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston clarified that the decision ultimately rests with the city.
“There were master plans where they had a visioning for the Tower Park, which is not funded,” she said. “The design is not funded, and the Tower Park is not funded. They [Hemisfair officials] may have plans and proposed uses for it, but the city controls the building, and will continue to control the current headquarters and Building 277.”
The full City Council will take the park police headquarters project up in November, when staff will bring them a construction contractor recommendation.