Children run through the water at San Pedro Creek Culture Park on opening day of the first segment.
Children run through the water at San Pedro Creek Culture Park on opening day of the first segment. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Pedro Creek, long a neglected urban waterway, is now the site of an incredible contrast near Santa Rosa Street.

On the upstream side is the old creek, a concrete drainage channel, speckled with trash and algae.

On the other side lies the newly built Plaza de Fundación, an oasis with a waterfall wall, aquatic plants and trees, and a fountain designed to emulate a spring bubbling up from the earth and spilling across a limestone creek bed.

The plaza is the highlight of this section of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park, formerly the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, that opened to the public Saturday with a ceremony focused on San Antonio’s 300-year culture and history.

Many visitors were impressed with the park’s design and art, especially the four tile murals by San Antonio artists Adriana Garcia, Katie Pell, Alex Rubio and Joe Lopez depicting water and scenes from San Antonio’s history.

“It’s so much different than any other project we’ve done because of the art and the cultural aspects and the tile murals,” said Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority. “It’s just adding a new dimension to a river experience.”

Construction costs for the stretch of the creek that runs south to Houston Street were $57.3 million –$5.2 million less than the $62.5 million allocated by Bexar County commissioners, according to county officials.

In total, the commissioners have authorized $132.7 million out of the total anticipated $175 million for the four-phase project. The City of San Antonio also will contribute $19.5 million in bond funds.

“I hope [the public feels] like we’ve [made] a great use of flood control money,” said Bexar County Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who grew up nearby. “In doing that, we not only provided flood control, we provided an enhancement to life and the pathway to the Westside of San Antonio.”

The nine-hour festivities marking the park’s public debut featured performances by American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, the Heart of Texas Concert Band, Olé Flamenco, folklórico dancers, and San Antonio Independent School District mariachis, among others.

Families sat in the shade listening to the music, and children hopped between rocks placed in a shallow current downstream from the man-made spring.

“I come by the highway all the time, but I’ve never really seen down here,” said Freddie Booker, there with his wife, Tiffany, and their kids. “It looks like a nice environment, nice and cool, to come down with the family and hang out for a little bit.”

“It’s out of this world,” said Margarita Gill Velez, who strolled down a creekside concrete pathway with her husband, Manuel Velez, admiring the newly planted trees along the river bank.

“They’re all bright green, and the air is moving them around like they’re dancing,” she said.

Officials chose May 5, the founding date in 1718 of the San Antonio de Bexar Presidio near the headwaters of San Pedro Creek, located at what is now San Pedro Springs Park.

The first phase originally supposed to stretch from just upstream of Santa Rosa Street through downtown to Cesar Chavez Boulevard, Scott said.

“When we started developing the project, we realized that we probably needed to do it in smaller sections,” she said. “We knew we could accomplish this within the time frame so we could have this celebration today.”

The next section of the first phase, likely to open in 2020, will stretch from Houston Street to Nueva Street and include an entertainment plaza and sunken garden, Scott said.

During the ceremony, two dozen activists and residents of the nearby Soap Factory and Towne Center apartments passed out flyers and spoke with visitors. They raised concerns about how pouring public funds into the creek’s redesign could spur gentrification and rising rents that force current residents to go elsewhere.

“There’s other things they can spend it on, like housing for example,” said Soap Factory resident David Segura, who also questioned who would benefit from the park.

“Nobody’s going to come down here,” he said. “Just a curious tourist every now and then. After that, it’s just going to fade like the Alamodome. Just another white elephant.”

(From left) Soap Factory residents Maria Quezada and Maureen Galindo hand out flyers describing their housing situation to the public along San Pedro Creek.
(From left) Soap Factory residents Maria Quezada and Maureen Galindo hand out flyers describing their housing situation to the public along San Pedro Creek. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Asked about the project’s impact on the residents, Scott and Elizondo both said the City of San Antonio’s housing assistance programs will help residents cope with the changes to the neighborhood.

“For every action, there’s a reaction,” Elizondo said. “And sometimes there are negative results for some people. The government should be able to help them find new housing. We have a lot of housing programs in the community.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.