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There are only a few more hoops to jump through before San Antonio River Authority officials can break ground on Phase I of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project this summer, officials said Thursday.
Over the next two years, the project will reinvigorate about two miles of the creek to provide valuable and dynamic connections to popular destinations in the inner city. With various public art installations, the creek also will portray the early settlement history of the area. The $175 million project is expected to completed by San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations in May 2018.
Design Approaches 70%
The San Pedro Creek Project design team is finalizing technical details on the 70% design for Phases I and II and plans to submit the final product to the River Authority on Friday, June 17, said River Authority Watershed Engineer Kerry Averyt. At that point, the River Authority and Bexar County will do a “quick” internal review of the design.
“We really need to turn that around in a couple of weeks and keep things on track and keep our schedule going,” Averyt said.
Ongoing coordination with stakeholders and engineers over the past few months have allowed for further design developments. Designs for the area of the creek around the Alameda Ampitheater, from Houston to Commerce streets, are “lagging a little bit behind right now,” Averyt said, but officials are working to catch that up with the rest of the design.
“One of the important things that we need to do is get that design to the point to where we can get a cost estimate from our Construction Manager at Risk,” Averyt said.
The River Authority is currently in contract negotiations with its proposed project construction management firm, Sundt/Davila, which Averty said has experience on projects similar to the San Pedro Creek Project. Since the project is the River Authority’s first to involve a construction manager, he added, officials have spent more time than anticipated on developing a contract draft. Once negotiations are completed, the River Authority will officially recommend Sundt/Davila for the position to Bexar County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 21.
In the meantime, Sundt/Davila will start meeting with project managers and the design team, Averyt said. “There’s been a lot of great discussion, there’s really a great sense of team work and a team spirit on this.”
Bexar County recently released funds from its budget to acquire land for the project. Some of those procurements are still ongoing, Averyt said, but officials recently finalized an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for land acquisition, a process that typically takes years to complete.
The River Authority and the County are planning a special San Pedro Creek groundbreaking ceremony, which will portray the city’s history through an opera performance. They’ve partnered with a number of organizations including OPERA San Antonio, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, and the San Antonio Symphony, among others, to create the production that will include music and dance performances by Native American dancers, a chorus, two opera singers, an orchestra of about 36 musicians, and a visual screen that will act as a back drop for the story and music.
No exact date for the ceremony has been set, but officials are considering September, said River Authority General Manager Suzanne Scott.
“We want to make sure that that date aligns with an actual moving of dirt somewhere,” Scott said. “We’ve got a lot of moving parts right now in this process so we want to try to make sure we line those up.”
Design Overlay District
Throughout April, the River Authority and the City’s Office of Historic Preservation gathered feedback from community stakeholders and area property owners concerning a new design overlay for the areas surrounding the creek.
Using that feedback, and that from the San Pedro Creek Subcommittee and other community groups, the design team has completed an official draft for the overlay district and has handed it over to the Office of Historic Preservation to “walk it through the City approval process,” said the River Authority Executive Offices Administrator Bridget Hinze.
The draft already went to the Design Review Committee, a subcommittee of the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), on Tuesday, Hinze added. It will then go to the HDRC on Wednesday, June 15, the City Zoning Commission on Tuesday, July 19, the Neighborhoods and Livability Council Committee on Friday, August 15, and finally to City Council for consideration on either Sept. 8 or 15.
“We do have a web page on our website devoted specifically to this initiative, and we’ll keep the draft of the guidelines up throughout process there (and update them as) edits are made along the way,” Hinze said.
Public Art Program
Three out-of-town consultants have been brought in to determine the best structure and programming for the creek’s Public Art Program.
As part of Phase I of their assessment of the project and surrounding neighborhoods, art consultants Renee Piechocki, Jennifer McGregor and Ricardo Barreto have toured San Pedro Creek and parts of San Antonio over the past week and have met with elected officials, various community arts and cultural organizations, and local artists and historians such as John Phillip Santos to hear their visions of the creek.
“We’re very impressed with the (community’s) commitment to find structures that reflect the community, that reflect history, that reflect the traditions, and reflect what the community needs and wants,” Barreto said.
Compared to the San Antonio River Walk, he added, San Pedro Creek “is a very different kind of location” since it will actively tell the story of San Antonio’s unique, indigenous communities that once thrived along its waters. Barreto and his fellow consultants will incorporate such concepts into a draft report that lays out the framework for the art program and expect to present that draft to the SPC Subcommittee in July.
“It’ll be an opportunity to get reaction to that (framework), to make changes as needed, to see how people are looking at it and whether we’ve hit the mark or if need to go back and (make) certain adjustments,” Barreto said.
The group plans to have a final draft completed for review by the River Authority sometime in September.
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“We’re not here to recommend art or artists specifically, that will be a task that your structure will adopt and eventually take on,” Barreto said. “We’re looking at administrative ways of doing things, we’re looking at the things that have worked in different places.”
The group, Barreto said, is considering both temporary and public art installations as well as cultural activities to take place along the creek. He presented several examples of public art and programming from around the country as inspiration for the project on Thursday.
There are plenty of opportunities to honor history in “the most intriguing ways,” said San Pedro Creek Improvements Project co-chair Jerry Geyer. “But as we do this we still have to have this place where people congregate to get away from the rest of the hustle and bustle of this community that we’re working so hard to repopulate.”
Top image: A worker walks by the San Pedro Creek as it disappears under César E. Chávez Blvd. Photo by Don Mathis.