Design consultants on Wednesday revealed two preliminary design concepts for The Berkley V. and Vincent M. Dawson Park next to the historic Hays Street Bridge in San Antonio’s East Side at a public input meeting held at the Ella Austin Community Center.
Both options include elements that have been generally agreed on through community meetings and input: storytelling associated with displaying the history of the African American population of San Antonio, the railroad industry, and of the bridge and its preservation, as well as a skate park, bathrooms, drinking fountains, public art, and trees.
One has a more whimsical, playground-like feel, the other has a slightly more reverent tone. Click here to download the presentation outlining the different options.
Bryan Mask, regional manager for of Dunaway Associates, which was hired by the City to design the park, likened the park design process to deciding what food should be on a dinner plate.
“We need to figure out what we can fit on the plate and what’s important to y’all,” Mask said.
Concept One includes a playground at the center of the park with a “timeline walkway” that runs north-south through the park. Designers suggested the playground feature bridge and train elements for kids to play on that would also have an educational component.
Concept Two replaces the playground with a central plaza that offers history-telling features in addition to a timeline walkway. It includes a larger open green space area.
None of the specific design elements or technology used to tell these stories have been finalized, said Donna Carter, president of Carter Design Associates. “There is more than just one story to tell … and there’s not just one way to tell it.”
Both options have entrance plazas at the neighborhood-adjacent corners.
The inclusion of a skate park appears certain, given the general neighborhood support and consistent turnout of skaters at the public meetings so far, but the question is: how big should it be?
Option one has a 12,000-square-foot skate park, just 1,000 square feet less than the skate park at Pearsall Park but far less than the estimated more than 20,000-square-foot park that would be needed to host professional competitions. Option two has a 10,000-square-foot skate park. There are no skate parks in the City’s East Side.
Some skateboarders and neighbors advocated for an even bigger skate park, but most residents that spoke during the meeting at Ella Austin Community Center said the park needs to be welcoming to a broader community.
“This is not just a neighborhood park, this is a destination park for people all over town … the bridge is a destination,” said Gary Houston, a longtime East Side resident, urban planner, and former university lecturer.
The planned park at 803 S. Cherry St. on the near East Side is a result of a land swap deal the City of San Antonio reached over the summer with a developer who was ready to build a five-story apartment complex there. Instead, the apartments will be built less than one mile south on land the City traded for the land next to Hays Street Bridge.
It’s unclear how that history will be represented in the park. A lawsuit, filed by the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group against the City, that challenges the sale of the land to a private developer, is still pending.
“It’s long been a controversial item,” said City Manager Erik Walsh, who attended most of the public input portion of the meeting. “I wanted to come by and hear what the public was talking about.”
The land swap deal that City Council approved this summer requires that at least a “rough plan” be presented to Council for its review by the end of December.
“That doesn’t mean that everything will be figured out, but there’s got to be a general plan so we can start working on the funding,” Walsh said.
That funding is expected to come from the City’s 2022 bond program. Community meetings and public input will continue beyond December, he said.
At the first public input meeting for the park last month, City officials said the property was 3 acres, which contradicted previous reports of it being 1.69 acres.
Sandy Jenkins, a project manager for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, confirmed that it’s actually 1.69 acres.
The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 11, 6 p.m. at the Ella Austin Community Center, Jenkins said.