"Villa Lagunilla" stretch of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company.
"Villa Lagunilla" stretch of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project. Rendering courtesy of Muñoz & Company.

The Bexar County Commissioner’s Court approved preliminary designs Tuesday for the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, a long-forgotten ditch that runs through the heart of the downtown San Antonio.

Construction is expected to transform urban portions of the creek into a linear park by May 2018, just in time for San Antonio’s tricentennial celebrations. These first two phases of the project, estimated to cost more than $110 million, will be funded by the County’s commitment of $125 million to the project. All together, the four phases have a $175 million price tag, leaving a $50 million shortfall.

Funding sources for the latter two phases have yet to be determined.

Henry Muñoz III of Muñoz & Company presented several tentative design renderings to the Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday, which were full of color, pattern, and vitality. Muñoz said he wants to bring these elements into the project to represent the city’s culture and history.

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“Spanish explorers founded some of the first permanent civil and religious settlements in Texas on the banks of this creek on the feast day of Saint Peter,” said Commissioner Paul Elizondo.

The San Antonio River Authority has been working with Muñoz & Co., Ford, Powell & Carson ArchitectsHDR Engineering Inc., and Pape Dawson Engineers Inc. to develop designs for the project.

The first phase would begin at the creek’s tunnel inlet at Interstate 35 and end at Cesar Chavez Boulevard. This phase includes converting the tunnel inlet into a plaza, digging a small town lake, and providing an amphitheater for outdoor performances. The final phase stretches into Southtown.

Muñoz aims to take away the industrial, boxy nature of San Pedro Creek today and turn it into a destination for local San Antonians and tourists alike to enjoy – day and night.

Plans include the revitalization of numerous bridges along the creek to make the two-mile project more walkable.

“Like the River Walk, somebody who lives here ought to be able to use it,” he said. “Some bridges must be replaced if you want to be able to continuously walk along San Pedro Creek.”

A later phase of the restoration project is modeled after High Line park in New York City, which was the brainchild of San Antonio native Robert Hammond. He revamped an industrial section of the city by planting greenery along an abandoned railway track. By reconstituting the forgotten rail line, the surrounding neighborhoods were united, which spurred economic development in the area. The San Pedro Creek project aims to reap similar results.

Jeff Mitchell with HDR Engineering said his team is also correcting the floodplain that surrounds the San Pedro Creek, designing the overall structure of the waterway, and widening and/or deepening the channel where needed.

Instead of leaving the creek as a ditch of stagnant water in forgotten areas of town, this team of San Antonians hope to create a citywide gathering spot for generations to come.

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Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....