Maverick Plaza at La Villita.
Maverick Plaza at La Villita. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

More than 70 residents went to the Central Library on Tuesday night to discuss the planned renovation of Mayor Maury Maverick Plaza at La Villita, a project that will feature the construction of three new restaurants.

In 2016, the city tapped Chef Johnny Hernandez with Grupo La Gloria to interpret the culinary history of San Antonio by launching the new eateries, and City Council agreed in late 2017 to commit $4.4 million in public improvements at Maverick Plaza to accommodate construction.

Hernandez is set to build a Mexican restaurant there. Chef Steve McHugh, who is the owner and chef at Cured in The Pearl, will develop a German-themed eatery with a beer garden. Chef Elizabeth Johnson, who is the head chef and founder of Pharm Table near the Tobin Center, will set up a restaurant with a focus on Spanish and indigenous food.

Grupo La Gloria will spend $7.6 million to build the restaurants, which City officials said would be housed in two historic structures that will be renovated and expanded.

Upon notifying the public about Tuesday’s meeting, the City said the plaza would remain open and available to the public for special events, including A Night In Old San Antonio, a major Fiesta fundraiser that the San Antonio Conservation Society has held at La Villita for decades.

The City and Grupo La Gloria will partner on future programming and maintenance of Maverick Plaza.

Patti Zaiontz, first vice president with the San Antonio Conservation Society’s board, said the redevelopment must adhere to guidelines defined by the La Villita Historic District.

Zaiontz acknowledged there’s some concern that NIOSA will lose some of its physical footprint as a result of the new construction and improvements inside Maverick Plaza.

“We can only hope that [the City] works with us and make sure we have places for our pits, booths and being able to do what we do best because NIOSA isn’t just a fundraiser for the conservation society, it’s a cultural festival,” Zaiontz explained.

“We reflect our cultural areas and that is a very important part of why we do what we do.”

Project representatives said the collective improvements will activate Maverick Plaza and La Villita as a full-time community gathering spot, a destination for special cultural events, and a place to explore San Antonio’s culinary legacy.

Hernandez told the crowd that La Villita has long been special to him and that Maverick Plaza is based upon Mexico’s lively plazas, which have long been vital to local communities.

“It’s a plaza that’s full of life, entertainment, music, and culture, and that’s what I want to see La Villita turn into 365 days a year,” he added.

Many people gather for the Maverick Plaza public meeting.
Many people gather for the Maverick Plaza public meeting at San Antonio Public Library. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

MP Studio and Fisher Heck Architects are partnering on the landscaping and structural designs for the Maverick Plaza revamp. The City plans to begin construction in spring 2020 and finish up sometime in 2021.

Fisher Heck Principal Lewis Fisher said the design/architecture teams are dedicated to making “a vibrant plaza to be enjoyed all days of the year and activate the space for all citizens of San Antonio.”

Aside from the three restaurants, the current concept for Maverick Plaza includes an outdoor demonstration kitchen, kiosks for selling food and merchandise, and additional parking along the north side of Nueva Street.

The extra parking will necessitate the demolition of two small non-historic buildings and the wall that surrounds Maverick Plaza.

Fisher Heck President Mark Navarro said the renovation plan would address visibility, focal points, entrances and dead-ends around Maverick Plaza.

“We want to improve Maverick Plaza and enhance the rest of La Villita through those improvements,” he added.

Kerry Niester, MP Studio principal, said improvements also should address the lack of shading and seating options inside Maverick Plaza.

The architecture teams at Tuesday’s meeting guided nine tables of attendees, asking them to prioritize their preferred design element. Many attendees said shading, planting, more lighting, and seating would work best to make Maverick Plaza more inviting.

The envisioned food and merchandise kiosks were the least popular of the potential design elements.

Lynn Maverick Denzer, granddaughter of Maury Maverick, told the Rivard Report she is intrigued by the redevelopment plan. But she is worried about how the redevelopment could affect a statue of Maury Maverick.

Denzer said the statue and any other element that emphasizes the history of the Alamo should remain preserved and integrated into a revamped Maverick Plaza. She added that her grandfather had the vision of restoring La Villita as a historic arts village.

“This thing about Maury Maverick Plaza, it might be a nice juxtaposition, it’s going to be different. But I hope the history of La Villita stays intact,” Denzer said.

Results from Tuesday’s meeting and other details from the Maverick Plaza plan will be available on the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements Department website.

The City will hold a follow-up public meeting later this year to get more input and show how feedback from Tuesday’s gathering is incorporated into the plan.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.