Construction fences that for two years blocked passersby from accessing an open-air space amid the buildings and asphalt of the urban core have come down to reveal an oasis of rolling green lawn and shaded promenades.
Weston Urban recently unveiled the newly landscaped park that sits along Houston Street though without the bustle that came with last year’s opening of the gleaming Frost Tower at a time when downtown streets were busier.
The developer, which owns and manages a number of properties downtown, acquired the languishing 1.2 acres from Frost Bank with the agreement that it would remain a park. Remaking the park coincided with the construction of the bank tower.
“Maybe there is a point where you can have too much activated green space in an urban core, but I haven’t seen it yet,” said Randy Smith, president of Weston Urban. “Not only will it drive value to our other properties, but it’s just what the community needs.”
The park, which hasn’t yet been named, was completed in March. “But then COVID hit and the world went on pause,” said David Robinson Jr., the son of former Spurs center and NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. Robinson Jr. had helped found San Antonio private equity firm Blueprint Local before joining Weston Urban three weeks ago working as director of parks and recreation.
It turns out no one needed a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. “It’s funny, I’ve never opened a park before so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Robinson said. “But people don’t need a user manual – you take down the fences and people right from the start know exactly what to do.”
In the Tuesday morning chill, a couple strolled through the park with their dog as Robinson gave a brief tour.
Where for years a small statue stood vigil over a neglected city block, now mature oaks and sycamore trees line walkways, a healthy green lawn carpets the landscape, and a restaurant is set to open in the coming months.
Along the Houston Street or south side of the park, a wide paved path is designed to mimic the aisle of a church that once stood on the site. Large, plant-covered berms on two sides shield the sloping center of the park from passing traffic. Elms and crepe myrtles dot the landscape. A vine-draped pergola leads visitors along the N. Flores Street side.
The park was designed by GGN, a Seattle-based landscape architecture firm whose work includes the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago, and the design plans for Civic Park at Hemisfair. It was built by Turner Construction Company.
On the north side of the park, construction is nearly complete on Pinkerton’s Barbecue, which originated in Houston and is a newcomer to the San Antonio area. It is slated to open early next year.
“I love barbecue,” said Randy Smith, president of Weston Urban. “It has long frustrated me as a lifelong carnivore that we do not have world-class barbecue in downtown San Antonio. It was a very personally felt void.”
Space for six food trucks also is planned into the park as are at least 200 annual activities and public events Robinson is spearheading.
Due to concerns over the highly contagious coronavirus and restrictions on gathering indoors, the city needs parkspace now more than ever, Smith said.
“I think consumer confidence right now is a little higher when you’re outside,” he said. “Today, we see this as an ideal gathering spot.”
Maintained by Weston Urban with help from Centro San Antonio, the park is currently open during daylight hours.
David Robinson Jr. is a member of the San Antonio Report Board of Community Advisors.