Walking the path of San Pedro Creek’s downtown reach these days means touring some of the most mundane concrete gullies, back alleys and parking lots in the western quadrant of downtown San Antonio, but the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project is poised to completely transform the largely hidden waterway into a linear park.
About 40 members of Centro San Antonio, a downtown advocacy group, took a tour of the creek led by project leaders and representatives of the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) on Wednesday. The curious attendees walked over hot concrete on the muggy afternoon and never came within five feet of the water – the heavily channeled creek was not designed for human interaction, it was designed for flood control. No humans allowed.
Passersby questioned the logic of touring a cementscape only a 1950s engineer could love, but the tour groups on Wednesday – and other stakeholders in the improvements project – saw a vision of the interactive landscape it will become. All humans allowed.
“The work (in the creek) is essentially to do something that celebrates the sense (of) origin in San Antonio and recognizing Mission San Antonio,” said Steve Tillotson, the project’s lead architect and a principal at local firm Muñoz & Co.
The mission is believed to have sat just 50 yards from the tunnel inlet at I-35 and West Quincy Street near Fox Tech High School. The creek served as a vital water source for the presidio, but is currently used solely for flood control.
“The work that we’re going to do here (will) widen and deepen down (the creek), and essentially celebrate the idea of water coming up out of the springs and flowing into a marshy area with cypress trees, and then cascading down a series of steps that forms this whole notion of a tree of life,” Tillotson said.
The northern stretch of the creek, from Kingsbury Street to West Travis Street, will be widened on the eastern bank to two times its current width, about 30 feet. New cypress trees will be planted there and the oldest oak trees along the bank will remain.
“Part of the features that we’re working with for the design are not just the planting and the (paseo) area, but we have a fairly robust design that goes up the creek and incorporates aquatic planting,” Tillotson said. “This is really to improve the water quality and to help restore wildlife back into the creek.”
“I think the redevelopment is important for the city, but it’s also a revitalization for this area,” said Centro San Antonio board member Kay Harig. “I think it’s going to help this area a lot. Like how the Museum Reach and Mission Reach have been really great projects, I’m hoping this is going to be equally great.”
But don’t expect the finished San Pedro Creek to be too similar to New York City’s linear park, The High Line.
“This is ‘The Wet Line,’” Tillotson said to laughs from the group of attendees. “But it will be plenty wide enough for people to jog or to stroll.”
While the paseo will remain almost exclusively at street level, he said, it will still be safe for pedestrians.
“Where you don’t have a street signal to take advantage of, we are going to be installing some sort of signal system to protect people crossing the street,” Tillotson said. “We’re still working that out with the City” to figure out what kind of system that will be.
Josie Garcia, a King William Association board member, said that generations of her family have lived downtown and that revitalization of the historic creek will be important for the area.
“I live downtown, and I didn’t know actually that we were doing anything down here, so I wanted to see exactly what they’re doing and to know if it’s something I can take advantage of on weekends,” she said. “The (artist renderings) look absolutely beautiful.”
Kerry Avert, a watershed engineer with the River Authority, said that the City has acquired approximately half of the private property along the creek, which they plan to use for expansion of the paseo and landscaping.
“Construction, in earnest, will start in January 2017,” Tillotson said, and the creek project will ideally be finished in time for the City’s Tricentennial celebration in May 2018.