Hemisfair’s long-awaited Civic Park is looking for construction bidders, City Council heard Wednesday. But the project now will be split into two phases.

San Antonio voters allocated $26 million to construct Civic Park and finish out streets in Hemisfair in the 2017 bond program, when Civic Park was still a one-phase project. Of that bond money, $21 million now will go toward building Phase 1 of Civic Park, which encompasses 5 of the 9 total acres of the park. Another $7 million from philanthropy and monetization of Hemisfair’s ground leases also will fund Civic Park’s construction, spokeswoman Thea Setterbo said, bringing the total Phase 1 price tag to $28 million.

Hemisfair is still searching for funding sources for Phase 2; potential avenues include philanthropic organizations and the 2022 municipal bond, according to Omar Gonzalez, director of real estate at Hemisfair. The estimated price tag for Phase 2 of Civic Park is $20 million. That part of Civic Park abuts a public-private partnership project with Zachry Hospitality, which will yield mixed-use developments with residential units, food and beverage establishments, a hotel, and potentially office space in the Civic Park area. All parties are still committed to that partnership, Gonzalez told Council members.

Hemisfair's Civic Park phases. Phase 1 is in green, Phase 2 is in yellow.
Hemisfair’s Civic Park phases: Phase 1 is in green; Phase 2 is in yellow. The northern border is East Market Street, and South Alamo Street appears on the left side of the rendering. To the east, a small portion of the Henry B. González Convention Center is shown. Credit: Courtesy / Hemisfair

“Obviously, like many other hospitality-focused developments, that project has been impacted by the pandemic,” Gonzalez said. “The development team is currently investigating revised financial sources and a plan to accelerate development as soon as possible. We do anticipate in the next few months coming back to Council with an updated plan for your presentation and consideration.”

Before the pandemic, Civic Park was projected to open in 2022 and the whole area was to be developed at the same time, Hemisfair CEO Andres Andjuar said. But then the coronavirus pandemic ground operations to a halt and Hemisfair officials decided to provide more park space to the public as soon as possible with available resources.

“With the pandemic, the idea that we need to execute on the promises to the community on delivering the Civic Park – we figured out that we have money to do a fully functioning park that is entailed in Phase 1,” Andujar said in a Tuesday interview. “So it was a changing strategy … we returned to building what we can right now. We do what we can control and proceed with that now. It does not diminish the vision in any way, it just accelerates the delivery from further delay.”

Now, Hemisfair anticipates beginning construction of Phase 1 this fall, with an opening date of 2023, Gonzalez said.

“We did lose some time in getting started, but I think it’s only been to our benefit,” Gonzalez told Council members Wednesday. “We think by the time we can get this plan underway and developed, by opening in 2023, hopefully we’ll be beyond the pandemic and be able to host large events.”

Councilman John Courage (D9) demurred over the project’s price tag and schedule.

“I just feel like it’s taken a long time, and we don’t have much to show for it yet,” he said.

“Yanaguana Garden is great,” Courage said, referring to the first of Hemisfair’s three parks. It was completed in 2015. “And the apartment complex we built over there, that’s great, no doubt about it. But the biggest part of this project was the economic generation that was supposed to come out of all of the development around the Civic Park and there’s nothing there.”

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10), who returned to City Council meetings Wednesday after testing positive for the coronavirus and being hospitalized at the beginning of the month, echoed Courage’s concerns.

“We’re spending an awful lot of money on this park,” he said. “We’re in a pandemic. Who knows when this is all going to be over with? Who knows if we’re even going to be able to use this for large public gatherings in the future?” 

A rendering of The Shallows and Promenade at the future Civic Park.
A rendering of The Shallows and Promenade at the future Civic Park. Credit: Courtesy / GGN

Courage also asked how the second phase of construction would impact the completed portion of Civic Park. Assistant City Manager Lori Houston assured Courage that it would not be an issue.

“We are phasing this so we do not have to undo any of the work when we start the private development,” she said.

Seattle-based firm GGN provided the original design and the phased redesign for Civic Park. GGN also has designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago.

To ground Civic Park in San Antonio, the firm included a water feature in Civic Park called “The Shallows,” Gonzalez said. In a nod to the acequias of San Antonio, recycled water will wind through Civic Park, and its levels will fluctuate throughout the year, mimicking drought conditions in South Texas. The park streets also will have stormwater capture functionality, returning water to the San Antonio River.

Several Council members did express their support for Hemisfair as a city amenity and a project worth funding.

“I absolutely believe in these kinds of projects for our city,” Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said. “When we used to go all the time we always tell people from all over, and so having that Civic Park, we do look forward to a day when we can have big events and big concerts.”

Hemisfair has already started conceptual designs for Tower Park, Hemisfair’s third and final park, Andujar said.

Council is expected to consider a construction agreement in August. The application period for the construction contract opens Monday.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.