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There are plenty of ambitious projects around the city to complete by San Antonio’s Tricentennial celebrations in May 2018, but if developments continue at a steady pace, the city could ring in its 300th anniversary with improved infrastructure, transportation connections, and booming cultural and historical hubs around the San Antonio Missions and downtown, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said Tuesday.
Along with the approaching Tricentennial, the UNESCO World Heritage designation of the city’s Spanish-colonial missions is another key driver of development in the Southside in the coming years, Sculley told about 300 people gathered for a luncheon hosted by the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce at the Frost Bank Plaza Club. Many of the proposed plans will enhance key Southside and downtown corridors to accommodate thousands of visitors expected to visit unique World Heritage site – it’s only the 23rd in the U.S. and first in Texas.
“(The designation) means a lot more opportunity and a world stage, really, for San Antonio,” Sculley said. “We’re gaining even more national attention now as an international city and leader among the cities in the U.S. and that of course means that the space of that 12 miles (around the missions) that includes hundreds and hundreds of acres will have more tourists.”
World Heritage and Alamo Master Plan
Since the July World Heritage designation, Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district includes four of the missions, World Heritage Director Colleen Swain, and other City officials hosted several public meetings with community stakeholders to gather feedback about the future of the World Heritage sites in terms of land use and development, and the preservation of history and culture in the missions buffer zone.
The feedback was used to create a World Heritage Work Plan that officials will look to as a guide as various infrastructure and business developments in the area begin to take shape. A priority consistent throughout the work plan is balancing the needs of visitors and the economic boost they will bring with maintaining the Missions’ histories, neighborhoods and small businesses that make up the spirit of the Southside.
The inaugural World Heritage Festival will take place Sept. 9-10 with a host of activities that will encourage locals to get out an explore the Missions in new ways. The festival will be organized through a partnership with the Rivard Report, the City, Bexar County, National Park Service, and the San Antonio River Authority.
“We have a number of different projects and work assignments that we need to accomplish before we can accommodate all of these visitors,” Sculley said. Along with infrastructure improvements, the city should “capitalize on the business opportunities” in the area while making sure to keep the small businesses adjacent to the missions authentic.
“We want to make sure that the businesses there create an experience for those coming to San Antonio that’s not like any other city necessarily in the U.S., but rather unique to San Antonio because that is what our city is about,” Sculley said.
Funds from the 2012 bond will go to a number of street projects that will complement the World Heritage designation, Sculley added. There’s already $1 million in the last bond program for Alamo Plaza, $1.2 million for the Ashley Road Hike/Bike Trail enhancements, $6 million to widen and improve Espada Road, $7 million for freeway ramp connections for Highway 90 and Presa Street, and $650,000 to improve Stinson Park.
Viagran advocated for $2.7 million in the annual maintenance budget to accomplish a number of street and sidewalk improvements adjacent to the missions as well, Sculley said.
(Read more: Philadelphia Firm Will Lead Alamo Master Plan)
Through a partnership among the General Land Office, the Alamo Endowment, and the City of San Antonio for the project, the master plan management committee consists of Sculley, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), Gene Powell and Ramona Bass from the Alamo Endowment, and two representatives from the General Land Office who meet every Tuesday morning to discuss developments in the master planning process, Sculley said.
Citizens are “invited to attend community meetings that will take place (to discuss) the reimagination, reinvention, and restoration of the Alamo,” Sculley said. “The goal is to have the master planning concept completed about 60-70% by the end of this calendar year so we have enough information for the (Texas state) Legislature to consider additional funding for the Alamo restoration.”
In its lastest session, she added, the Legislature approved about $30 million which has gone into the master planning effort and acquisition of the three buildings across the street from Alamo Plaza.
As the planning process continues, the City will work on a number of right of way improvements, and several historians and archaeologists have already lent their knowledge and insight to the process, Sculley said. A detailed work plan with information on future projects for the next six months will be presented to City Council at B-session on Wed., June 29.
The official Tricentennial celebration kick off will be on New Year’s Eve of 2017, going into 2018, allowing for five months of cultural and historical events to take place throughout the city until San Antonio’s official 300th birthday in May 2018.
Last winter, the City and Bexar County created the Tricentennial Commission, which is comprised of five commission chairs and 19 commission members appointed by the City and the County to spearhead the implementation of programming and initiatives among various cultural groups in the city.
“There is a tremendous amount of dialogue (about) all of the activities, and they don’t necessarily have to be created by the commission,” Sculley said, but many “will incorporate some aspects of the Tricentennial, the history and culture of San Antonio.”
The celebration will include a variety of activities like art installations, historical presentations, concerts, and other community initiatives aimed at commemorating the city’s 300-year-old history. There is even talk about having “300 days of community service,” Sculley said, as part of the Tricentennial efforts, “so that everyone of all income levels and all areas of the community have a chance to learn more about San Antonio, but also to participate in a meaningful way.”
The overall fundraising goal for the celebration is about $12 million and it is recommended that the City and Bexar County each contribute about $3 million, Sculley added. The remaining funds will be sought out from the private sector.
2012 Bond Status and 2017 Bond Planning
The completion of the 2012 bond program, which has nearly 150 additional streets, drainage, sidewalk improvements, parks, libraries and community center projects, is approaching, Sculley said.
There are 71 projects that have been completed, 46 are under construction, 10 are under design and 13 have funding agreements between the City and the private sector to leverage additional dollars for capital improvements in the program.
“All of (the projects) are either completed or (will be) under construction by this fall, so we will be able to say that we’re substantially completed on this program as we embark on a 2017 program,” Sculley said.
Some of the key 2012 bond projects are on the Southside. The $7.5 million Pearsall Park project, which had its official grand opening last weekend, was transformed from a landfill to a destination multi-use park. A $6.5 million drainage project on Cupples Road is underway and will reconstruct and widen a portion of the road, with an anticipated completion date in 2017. Construction on the $6 million District 3 multi-purpose community center on Pecan Valley Drive, which Viagran advocated for, began in November 2015 and will be completed by December 2016.
All of the 2012 bond projects were undertaken without a property tax rate increase, and Sculley anticipates doing the same with the 2017 bond projects. Council members are already working with their community representatives in their districts to discuss what kinds of projects they want to see in the 2017 bond program, which is expected to total $850 million – the largest bond program in the city’s history.
“But when you think about 4,000 miles of streets and the kinds of drainage needs that we have, given all of the rain that we’ve experienced this past year, we know that there is still a lot of work to be done,” Sculley said.
Basic infrastructure needs like streets and drainage improvements make up about 80% of the bond program, and council has been working to prioritize those improvements by having discussions with the community to determine what projects “fit in with the budget.” City Council will adopt the fiscal year 2017 budget in September.
Before the bond projects are taken to the voters in May 2017, Mayor Ivy Taylor will appoint tri-chairs for the overall bond program, and four sub-committees will be created for streets, drainage, parks, facilities, with the possibility of an additional committee for housing. Each council member will appoint three community representatives to each of those committees by Sept. 1.
Along with infrastructure improvements around the city, another priority moving forward is growing local businesses, Sculley said. In partnership with the Economic Development Foundation, the City has “an extensive business retention and expansion program to talk with local businesses about opportunities for expansion” in San Antonio.
“With the development (on the Southside) and the hundreds of jobs being created through business expansion and (new business) attraction, we are able to grow the economy,” Sculley said.
Top image: City Manager Sheryl Sculley says that the city is on track to complete certain infrastructure projects by the Tricentennial in 2018. Photo by Camille Garcia.