County Judge Nelson Wolff on Monday toured the newest segments of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park set to open to the public Oct. 14.
The opening marks the halfway point for completion of the four-phase, $300 million linear park project in downtown San Antonio.
“It’s really to me an engineering marvel to see what they were able to do with what they started with,” Wolff said of the narrow, undeveloped channel turned into a linear park where artwork reveals its history.
“We wanted a story told along the creek so people understand this is where the city began, not on the [San Antonio] River, but down on the creek, in 1718.”
Water is now flowing in the creekbed of a stretch of the urban waterway that stretches from Houston Street to East César E. Chávez Boulevard. Artwork and plantings have been installed, and workers are putting the finishing touches on a project that was scheduled for completion in 2020 but beset with multiple delays.
The first segment of Phase 1 opened in 2018 after two years of construction.
But work by the Sundt and Davila construction firms overseen by the San Antonio River Authority on the second and third segments was slowed when workers discovered the 1875 cornerstone of the historic St. James African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
The discovery of the federally protected site led to a lengthy redesign process incorporating community input that now honors the footprint of the church, as well as the Klemke/Menger Soap Factory and the Alamo Ice and Brewing Company.
At the Houston Street entrance to the creek, next to the Alameda Theater, sits a gathering space covered in green turf and another area outlining the foundation of the church. Interpretive signs will be installed to explain what once stood there.
“There were some challenges with this phase,” said San Antonio River Authority General Manager Derek Boese. “I think the end result, as you can see, turned out well with consensus from the community.”
The newly completed section transformed a former drainage ditch into a scenic waterway with sidewalks, lighting and pedestrian bridges that glow at night.
It is narrower than the first segment and also more natural in its appearance, said Christine Clayton, a river authority engineer who led the tour. Workers planted more than 75 native trees, 3,494 shrubs, 185 vines and 1,794 aquatic plants.
Ramps connect the creek walkways to street level and surrounding buildings, including Texas Public Radio’s Irma and Emilio Nicolas Media Center and the UTSA School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center, which is set to be completed in January.
Looking north, the gleaming Frost Tower bookends a view of the meandering creek, which also abuts the new federal courthouse and the historic Spanish Governor’s Palace.
The new creek section features several art installations, including poetry by John Phillip Santos etched into the stone banks of the river, a five-panel mural telling the story of the creek by local artists Kathy and Lionel Sosa and an art and water feature by Adam Frank.
An interactive feature called STREAM lets visitors convert sound into a light display by using a microphone installed in front of a 250-foot wall of water and LED lights.
Across the creek, a concrete podium awaits the installation of a statue honoring Wolff, who is in the final months of his two-decade career as county judge, and his wife, Tracy, for their work on the creek project.
Flood mitigation is one goal of the seven-year-long project, funded by the county, city and some federal funds. By deepening and widening the existing channel and replacing eight street bridges, the project will help to contain a 100-year floodplain within the creek’s banks.
A second flood control gate near West Nueva Street also works to improve the water quality and make the creek more habitable for the plants and native wildlife — fish, turtles and water fowl — that are starting to populate the creek.
At several points along the creek, limestone boulders and grassy areas provides places for visitors to relax in the park.
The entire project is expected to be completed in late 2023. Judge Wolff said it’s already starting to pay off in the number of new developments that have been built or are in the works, revitalizing an overlooked part of downtown San Antonio.
“Long-term, it will generate economic activity for this part of the city that will pay taxpayers,” he said.
Like the San Antonio River Walk, the San Pedro Creek Culture Park will be important to the development of the city, and linking the two also would be beneficial, he added.
A proposed project known as The Link, a pedestrian walkway that would run roughly along Savings Street connecting the two waterways, is being studied, with the river authority commissioned to develop designs and determine costs, Wolff said.
An event to celebrate the opening of the newly completed segments starts with a lighting ceremony at 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 14. A family-friendly event will be held at the creek throughout the following day, Oct. 15.
“We’re just trying to encourage everyone to come out and enjoy the creek, enjoy the wonderful amenities and just the serenity of the creek,” Clayton said.