Most of a 379-acre property near Mission Espada donated to the San Antonio River Authority and Texas A&M University-San Antonio will remain in its natural state, officials announced Tuesday morning.

The river authority will develop 4.5 acres, while across Espada Dam, TAMU-SA will develop 8 acres, including the creation of a field-based laboratory for students of various disciplines.

The intent is to protect the rest of the land, said Stephen Graham, assistant general manager of the river authority, and seek input from the community as part of a master planning process for the “Espada Property,” as TAMU-SA calls it.

The land, which already contains hike and bike trails that tie into the Mission Reach trail system, was donated to the university and the river authority in 2019 by TJX, the parent company of TJ Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods.

“There’s a real confluence with nature, history, the community and reserving this green space, telling the story of what ecology is in South Texas,” Graham said. The trails, the World Heritage area and an acequia that runs through the property call for preservation and public input from nearby neighborhoods, he said.

“What does the community want? What is important to them? How should this site be interpreted? What’s the stories we haven’t heard? We know the ecology, but we would love to hear from the Espada neighborhood,” Graham said. “Hearing from those indigenous people and families will be important.”

This is a one-of-a-kind project,” said TAMU-SA President Cynthia Teniente-Matson. “It is the only project of its size in Texas that has a partnership between a major university and the San Antonio River Authority in developing such a historic property.”

A map shows the proximity from Texas A&M University-San Antonio to the Espada Property.
A map shows the proximity of Texas A&M University-San Antonio to the Espada Property, which was donated to the university and the San Antonio River Authority in 2019. Credit: Courtesy / Texas A&M University-San Antonio

Last year, in a commentary for the San Antonio Report, former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros wrote that he would love to see an arboretum on the property. He noted that when TJX decided to build a 1.7 million square foot distribution center on the city’s South Side in 2017, it bought more land than it needed, and later donated the excess land to the river authority and the university.

“The undeveloped site borders dramatic cliffs along the river, is composed of soil enriched by river silt and has numerous legacy trees hundreds of years old,” Cisneros wrote in 2021.

Reached Monday, Cisneros said he’s still pushing for an arboretum, but not necessarily on the Espada Property.

“We’re not ready to announce where that will be yet, but we’ve been visiting other arboretums in preparation,” he said.

Former San Antonio Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, now director of workforce development and community partnerships with TAMU-SA, said community input meetings will begin in January.

In addition to creating an outdoor lab for TAMU-SA students, Viagran said she would like to see partnerships with Southside Independent School District and perhaps others “to have the students come out here, look at nature, look at water and learn [why] conservation is so important.”

Reporter Lindsey Carnett contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the school district that Rebecca Viagran mentioned.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. A 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, her work has been recognized by the Texas Managing Editors. She previously worked...