The western face of San Antonio’s historic downtown has won newfound recognition from the Texas Commission on the Arts, which last week approved the application for the Zona Cultural as the state’s newest metro cultural district. The Zona Cultural’s 44 contiguous blocks that include San Pedro Creek, Main Plaza, San Fernando Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, the Spanish Governor’s Palace, Market Square, and Alameda Theater, among many other historic structures and places.
The newly recognized Zona Cultural is the second officially designated cultural district in San Antonio, joining the King William Cultural Arts District. Commissioners also approved the application for the Wimberley Valley Cultural District, making a total of 28 cultural districts statewide.
The Zona Cultural is a rectangle that stretches from Main Plaza on the east to the railroad tracks just past the UTSA Downtown Campus on the west, and Nueva Street to the south to Houston Street on the north. It extends slightly north of UTSA. All together it will serve as the arts and cultural gateway to the city’s Westside.
Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) who represents the Westside, was unsuccessful in winning city funding in the 2016 fiscal year budget that takes effect on Oct. 1 for the redesign for the Commerce Street Bridge that takes people from the Zona Cultural into the heart of the Westside. City staff recommended the project be considered as part of the 2017 city bond program.
Recognition of Zona Cultural is a huge affirmation of the major public and private redevelopment efforts that are beginning to take shape in the western and northwestern downtown sectors, including the public-private partnership involving Weston Urban, Frost Bank and the City of San Antonio and the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project (SPCIP).
The TCA designation of Zona Cultural is a big win for Centro San Antonio, too, which led the stakeholders group and submission of the application. News of the cultural district designation came Thursday during a meeting of the SPCIP Subcommittee at the San Antonio River Authority headquarters.
Responding to a question from Subcommittee Co-Chair Jerry Geyer about the status of the Zona Cultural application, Centro SA’s Scott Gustafson confirmed its recent approval by the TCA, which Friday issued a press release announcing $4.4 million in grants to arts organizations around the state that also announced approval of two new cultural districts.
“We are pleased to be able to designate Zona Cultural as an official cultural district,” Dr. Gary Gibbs, the TCA executive director, said in a statement to the Rivard Report after we contacted the TCA offices to confirm the designation. “Zona Cultural includes important pieces of San Antonio’s history and culture, while showing how intrinsic the arts have been in representing the city’s heritage and appeal.”
Gustafson said Centro SA is organizing a press conference and celebration of the designation that Gibbs and other TCA officials are expected to attend.
A total of 82 San Antonio arts organizations received $439,701 in TCA grants, including the City’s Department for Culture and Creative Development, which received the largest grant of $3o,500. The McNay Art Museum received $18,500, the second highest grant, and the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio received $14,500. Three organizations received $13,500 grants: Artpace, The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, and SOLI Chamber Ensemble.
Thursday’s Subcommittee meeting will be the subject of a second story to be posted here on Friday.
Weston Urban President Randy Smith, who was one of several stakeholders to attend Thursday’s meeting, told Subcommittee members that his development firm was close to announcing its selection of a lead design architecture firm for the new Frost Tower adjacent to San Pedro Creek. Weston Urban also will hire a landscape architecture firm, Smith said, noting that Weston Urban controls or will control nearly 20 acres of property on or near San Pedro Creek and has a major interest in the outcome of the improvement project.
The initial design work by Muñoz & Co. architecture firm was the target of widespread criticism among stakeholders for its splashy color palette and some of the central design elements that have since been toned down. Architect Steve Tillotson, a principal at Muñoz, presented several 70% design renderings Thursday that show the difference between the 40% renderings and the current work. Those before and after images will be included in the Rivard Report story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly states that the Texas Commission on the Arts press releases did not name the two new cultural districts. Both were named. Also, the name of the new cultural district was changed from El Mercado Zona Cultural, its original designation, to simply Zona Cultural.
*Top image: Market Square, at the corner of Dolorosa and South Santa Rosa streets, is included in El Mercado Zona Cultural. Photo by Scott Ball.