Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff surprised Phil Hardberger Park officials Tuesday when he said he’d try to secure $1 million in the County’s annual budget for the park’s land bridge project, which would leave only $1 million left for the Hardberger Park Conservancy to raise for the $23 million project.

“Well that makes my job a lot easier,” said former Mayor Phil Hardberger, who serves as president of the Conservancy. “I’m going to take a nap.”

Hardberger said he was unaware of Wolff’s efforts, as were the rest of the attendees at the press conference during which Hardberger announced three $1 million contributions from Phil and his wife Linda Hardberger, the Bill Klesse Foundation, and the Voelcker Trust, respectively. These gifts will be combined with the $13 million allocation in the City’s 2017 bond, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters Saturday, and $5 million in private dollars already secured by the Conservancy. About $760,000 has already been spent on preliminary construction and design bills, Hardberger said. His is one of the largest private, non-foundation gifts towards the project so far.

Wolff told the Rivard Report that he had only talked to one of the four County commissioners about the matter, but was confident that the County’s 2018 fiscal year budget could include $1 million for the land bridge that would connect the two sides of the 330-acre park that is nearly bisected by Wurzbach Parkway.

“We’ll have to work our way through some legal issues and what not but I think we can work our way through it,” he said. “When voters approved [the parks portion of the bond] overwhelmingly, they approved $13 million for [the land bridge] … argue about it all you want before [that], but now the deal is over with so we need to step up and make sure it’s done right.”

Hardberger is confident that the Conservancy can raise $2 million before the end of December and break ground on the project in January.

Instead of having to get in a car and drive two miles to get to the other side, he said, San Antonians and visitors alike will be able to walk right over traffic. The 150-foot wide land bridge would complete the park’s master plan that was approved by City Council in 2008.

“Once it’s complete a few thousand animals, searching for water and food, will also be rejoicing,” he added.

The land bridge received some criticism in the bond process, and $2 million was taken out of its allocation by the parks committee. Initial estimates put the total project cost at $25 million, but engineers and other professionals working on the project now estimate it will cost $23 million, Hardberger said.

Hardberger and Wolff were joined at the press conference at the park’s Urban Ecology Center by Linda and Amy Hardberger, mayoral candidate and Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), and Parks and Recreation Director Xavier Urrutia.

Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy member Doug McMurry delivers a check at the Urban Ecology Center at Phil Hardberger Park.
Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy member Doug McMurry (right) delivers a check for the park’s land bridge from the Bill Klesse Foundation to the applause from (from left) Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), Amy Hardberger, and other park supporters gathered for the donation announcement. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org