Rendering of Hemisfair's Civic Park shallows. Courtesy rendering.
Gustafson Guthrie Nichol rendering of Hemisfair's Civic Park shallows.

Hemisfair’s eight-acre Civic Park will be built by 2021, but the Hemisfair Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) and Centro San Antonio will have to work with the City of San Antonio on some innovative funding approaches to close a $20 million gap, representatives of the three principal stakeholder entities said in separate interviews this week.

Their renewed statements of commitment to the project came in the wake of a Sunday column here that focused on HPARC and Centro’s funding request being cut in half to $20 million. Without those funds from the 2017 bond or other sources, Civic Park could not be built to the world-class standards HPARC has promised.

Several citywide bond projects, defined as those that benefit the entire city rather than a single Council district, in the downtown and inner city are receiving an unprecedented level of bond funding in the 2017-2022 cycle, assuming City staff recommendations are approved by City Council early next year and by voters in May 2017.

The redevelopment of Lower Broadway, Brackenridge Park, Hemisfair, investments in the Zona Cultural, San Pedro Creek, and World Heritage district, together exceed $200 million, more than double the allocation in the 2012 bond.

City Council was briefed on City staff’s “rough draft” of project priorities last week, and citizen committees will soon be seated to conduct independent reviews of staff recommendations and to engage the public in the process at a series of public meetings this fall. Typically, more than 90% of the staff recommendations are approved by Council and the citizen committees.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston
Assistant City Manager Lori Houston

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston, who is overseeing the work at Hemisfair and other citywide projects that are seen as catalysts for economic development, provided the Rivard Report with a lengthy statement following a meeting she hosted with HPARC CEO Andrés Andujar and me to discuss the project financing on Monday.

“The 2017 Bond recommendation represents a continued commitment to finish the Hemisfair transformation, particularly regarding the vision to expand and improve the Civic Park, and to reconnect the district to the surrounding neighborhood,” Houston wrote. “The City and Hemisfair have been working diligently to get the Civic Park funded. In June 2016, City Council approved a funding agreement with HPARC that provided annual operating dollars for Hemisfair for four years and $21 million for the Civic Park: $3 million to complete the design and $18 million for Phase 1 of the Civic Park.

“The $20 million recommended for the 2017 Bond will fund Phase 2 of the park,” Houston wrote. “The funding for Phase 3 is expected to come from philanthropy and/or other funding sources, such as debt issuance backed by future revenues and other value created at Hemisfair by the balance of park dedication and allowable developable sites. HPARC was created to help leverage such opportunities and in January 2015 HPARC created the Conservancy. Phase 1 and 2 of the Civic Park will be synergistic with the Zachry/NRP Proposal and all parties are working together to make sure it is transformational.”

andres andujar headshot
Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment CEO Andrés Andujar

The Hemisfair Conservancy recently erected a plaque at Yanaguana Garden thanking its nearly 300 founding donors. Major gifts and various naming rights options in Hemisfair are among the financing mechanisms that HPARC and the Conservancy are pursuing to close the funding gap, Andujar said Monday.

Houston also allowed me to examine financial projections of lease revenues that will be derived from park tenants once the Zachry/NRP development is completed. The revenues from those leases will help repay the $21 million the City is borrowing and providing Hemisfair outside of the 2017 bond, with $3 million going to the park’s design and $18 million going to utility and underground infrastructure work.

Tara Snowden, director of public and government affairs for Zachry Corp., expressed support for the Civic Park project and the P3 development around it.

“Please know that the Zachry-NRP team is fully committed to the success of Hemisfair Park,” Snowden said. “Regardless of challenges, we will continue to be a collaborative development partner with the City of San Antonio.”

The City’s goal is to see HPARC and Hemisfair stand on its own by 2020. Although HPARC leaders expect the fully redeveloped park to attract a steady flow of locals and visitors to its restaurants, cafés, bars, and shops, relying too heavily on lease revenues to service debt and cover HPARC’s operating expenses does come with some risk. Delayed project completion, the possibility that some of the small businesses that set up shop at Hemisfair will fail, even another economic recession, all could affect HPARC’s financial performance.

The success of the four-acre Yanaguana Garden, which has attracted hundreds of thousands of families with children since it opened last October, has led Andujar and others on his team to believe that Civic Park will exceed the most optimistic expectations too.

“Phase 1 of the community developed master plan approved by Council in 2012 – Yanaguana Garden – has become one of the most visited parks per acre in Texas,” Andujar said this week. “San Antonio residents from every city council district are using the park, and they are of every ethnicity and income level. And 65% of the guests are women, which shows that Hemisfair’s efforts to provide a beautiful, safe, and clean environment inviting to children of all ages is a reality.

“The proposed Phase 2 Civic Park will be one of a kind in San Antonio, but not in the nation,” Andujar said. “Every great city has a great urban park, including Chicago’s Millennium Park, Houston’s Discovery Green, and Dallas’ Klyde Warren. Investment in these parks isn’t inexpensive, but all have proven to deliver substantial community and economic impact.”

Construction of Civic Park will be halted in late 2017 or early 2018, the security fences enveloping the park’s south and west perimeter will come down temporarily, and the eight-acre park site will be sodded with grass and turned into a temporary green space to host fans attending the NCAA Final Four tournament in March 2018.

The same green space will be used for events during the City’s 300th anniversary celebrations in May 2018. Afterwards, the turf will be removed and fences will be put back in place. Work on the Civic Park will resume while the Zachry/NRP residential, retail, and hotel projects are underway. Those are also scheduled for completion in 2021.

“The City’s commitment to the Center City also remains strong,” Houston said. “Centro is a great partner and its effort to identify projects for the 2017 bond program was greatly appreciated and acknowledged through the staff’s recommendations. Staff’s recommendation included funding for every project Centro recommended, plus funding for the Alamo, Brackenridge Park, and the World Heritage Buffer area. HPARC and the City remain committed to the Civic Park, and in partnership with Centro, will explore several strategies that will allow the Civic Park to get completed as envisioned through a public-private collaboration model, which is why HPARC was created.”

Clearly, City officials would like to see greater philanthropic participation in the project. Hemisfair Conservancy leaders do have a compelling story to tell. HemisFair ’68 ushered in a new era in San Antonio and served as the birthplace of the city’s convention and visitor economy. Where millions once came to attend a world’s fair, officials now believe just as many people can be drawn to a great park in the city’s urban core. The redevelopment of Hemisfair, like the redevelopment of the San Antonio River, could prove to be equally transformative for the city.

Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni
Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni

“The history and legacy of Hemisfair is well documented,” said Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni. “HemisFair ’68 put San Antonio on the national scene. We now have the opportunity to once again capitalize on this wonderful city asset.  We cannot afford to compromise quality design, nor its completion.  Centro looks forward to working closely with the City and HPARC on alternative and creative financing solutions to close the gap.  We are all passionate about delivering the incredible city park that San Antonians envisioned and now deserve, on par with many of America’s greatest public spaces.”

Various other mechanisms to leverage future HPARC revenues could be used to finance construction outside the bond cycle. One significant revenue-generating project remains to be finalized: The City plans on building an 800-space underground parking garage beneath the northwest corner of Hemisfair. Construction would cost about $25 million, but the garage will generate substantial revenue, helping to reduce or negate the cost of its annual support for HPARC.

The City’s fiscal year 2016 budget, which ends on Sept. 30, included $1.7 million for HPARC operations and $699,000 for the operations and maintenance of Yanaguana Garden.  The City will fund HPARC operations through its fiscal year 2020 budget. In fiscal year 2021, the Civic Park will be completed and the City will assume responsibility for its operations and maintenance, expected to cost about $1.1 million a year. That will bring the City’s annual contribution to about $1.8 million for operations and maintenance of Yanaguana Garden and the Civic Park.

Top image: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol rendering of Hemisfair’s Civic Park shallows. 


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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report, is now a freelance journalist.