"El Merodeo" stretch of San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company.
"El Merodeo" stretch of San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company.

You might hardly notice the San Pedro Creek during a drive, bike ride, or walk through the western reaches of San Antonio’s center city. It’s hiding behind and under older buildings and parking lots, slinking through underground tunnels for entire city blocks, trapped in concrete channels, and trickling under highways.

Today, it’s not a creek. It’s a ditch. That’s about to change in a big way, perhaps more than most San Antonians can imagine or envision. By the time 2018 and the city’s 300th anniversary arrives, phase one of the project should be complete, presenting a very different center city than the one we live in today.

That excitement is why local leaders and the lead architect for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project are gathering Thursday evening at the Southwest School of Art, 300 Augusta St., before a live audience to explore the $175 million redevelopment project and its expected impact on the urban core.

The event, SATX Next is being jointly presented by the Rivard Report, the San Antonio River Authority, and Centro San Antonio and is sponsored by Ranger Creek Distillery and Brewery. Audience members will enjoy cocktails, craft beer and Central Market small bites in one of the city’s most historic venues.

Panelists include Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff; Suzanne Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority; Lori Houston, director of the Center City Development and Operations Department; Muñoz & Company Principal and Architect Steven Land Tillotson, and Centro San Antonio CEO Pat DiGiovanni. Robert Rivard will serve as moderator.

Click here for tickets and further information.

Take a look at this drone video of creek as it exists today, courtesy of the San Antonio River Authority:

YouTube video

And here’s a video that reveals the San Pedro Creek’s potential through conceptual renderings from Muñoz & Co. architectural firm:

YouTube video

See what we mean? San Pedro Creek is a game changer. One day, perhaps a Sunday afternoon, you’ll be able to walk from the new H-E-B Flores Market to the creek to enjoy a picnic lunch. Columbus Park, at the project area’s northernmost point, will be more connected to its surroundings instead of green dead-end. Market Square will have a stronger connection to the Southside, as the creek will provide a safe, separated pedestrian thoroughfare.

“There are wonderful placemaking opportunities for local San Antonians as well as visitors,” DiGiovanni said Tuesday. “When you look at the physical nature and the number of assets that exist up and down the cultural district, there are plenty of aspects to build off of.”

The creek will play directly into the area’s Zona Cultural. The City and Centro are seeking its official designation as a cultural district, so the area can be eligible for state funds through the Texas Commission on the Arts.

While there are nearby residential projects and neighborhoods that will benefit, “what we have to do is be practical about viable businesses” and uses that fit best directly on the creek and enhance opportunities for growth, DiGiovanni said.

“When we start to see physical improvements come to Commerce Street … I hope the County will see fit to find another place for that federal detention center,” he said.

The Central Texas Detention Facility on South Laredo Street sits on prime San Pedro Creek real estate – a use that certainly will not fit the creek’s new function.

“We’re working on it,” Judge Wolff said. “I’m trying my best to get (the jail) out of there.”

He said prospects look good for relocation and that it will be an even easier sell once the creek project breaks ground. The nearby development deal between the City, Weston Urban, and Frost Bank will give the San Antonio skyline its first new office tower in more than 25 years and set in motion the biggest real estate play in the central business district in decades.

KIPP San Antonio to Unveil New Campus

Further south, on the “phase three” end of the project where San Pedro Creek runs beneath I-35, KIPP San Antonio will open its second permanent campus to consolidate its elementary, middle, and high school programs from its various, leased locations.

The new Cevallos Street campus will house KIPP University Prep High School, KIPP Aspire Academy (middle school) and KIPP Esperanza Dual Language Academy (elementary school).

KIPP San Antonio purchased the 18-acre property about a year and a half ago, without knowledge of the creek improvement project, said KIPP San Antonio founder and CEO Mark Larson, who will reveal plans for the school on Thursday during the SATX Next event.

Rendering of KIPP San Antonio's new Cevallos Street campus courtesy of Alamo Architects.
Rendering of KIPP San Antonio’s new Cevallos Street campus courtesy of Alamo Architects.

“We bought (the property) not because of Southtown, not because of anticipated downtown development — it is very hard to find more than 10 acres anywhere close to the near Westside,” Larson said. “This is where most of our kids live.”

The nationwide network of free, open-enrollment public charter schools targeting inner city or low-income areas came to San Antonio in 2003 and has established a Commerce Street campus.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for our kids,” he said of the new campus’ proximity to the creek. There are educational collaborations in the works between SARA and KIPP as well as public-use considerations for some of KIPP’s acreage. A trail head and some public parking to allow for creek access. “There are great ways for us to continue to connect with the broader community.”

KIPP expects to open the campus in August 2017.

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Just like its unparalleled investment in the San Antonio River Improvements Project, Bexar County is leading the way for the development of healthier ecosystems, residents, and economies surrounding urban waterways.

The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) is also continuing its stewardship by leading the project management team for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project as it did recently for the Mission and Museum reach projects and historically for the original channelization project.

“The river authority has been a partner on these types of projects for a long time,” said SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott.

The cultural functions of a redeveloped San Pedro Creek will be substantial, but “we have to realize that we’re here in a watershed … (the creek) has been severely altered and what we need to do is bring back those ecological functions while still providing economic development opportunities.”

Of course, as an urban water way that has critical flood mitigation functions, it cannot be entirely restored to its natural state, but the redevelopment project will include bringing nature back to the creek.

“It’s important from a habit at and water quality perspective to have more vegetation than the concrete channel provides,” Scott said. “That can help filter pollutants … we’ll also be constructing a wetland area to enable the creek to provide more of the naturalized function.”

Adding vegetation and more “ponding” of water will hopefully bring back fish and other aquatic species, birds, and pollinators.

The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project will take an enormous amount of public and private support as property owners work with officials on what the final designs will look like. So far, she said, “no property owner has indicated a strong stance against the project.”

SATX Next will further explore the opportunities and challenges that face private and public sectors as they move forward on the project. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. with refreshments provided by San Antonio’s Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling. The panel discussion, which will include audience questions, will start at 7-8:30 p.m. Afterwards, panelists and audience members can visit informally until 9 p.m.

A public presentation and open house will take place this Saturday, 9-11 a.m. at St. Henry’s Catholic Church Hall, 1609 South Flores St. The community is invited to engage with the project team from SARA, Bexar County and the City. Click here for details.

*Featured/top image: “El Merodeo” stretch of San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company. 

Related Stories:

SATX NEXT: San Pedro Creek, the Next Big Thing

San Pedro Creek Project Designs Approved by Bexar County

San Pedro Creek: San Antonio’s Next Linear Park

Citizens Shape the Future of San Pedro Creek

Don’t Miss the Next San Pedro Creek Workshop

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org