More than a dozen skateboarders, many of them teenagers, voiced their support for a skate park to be included in plans for a new park near the Hays Street Bridge.

Skateboarder Thomas Tate told more than 50 people at the first public meeting to discuss the park that he’d like to see something that combined history, art, and skateboarding. “That’d be sick,” he said Monday night, drawing applause and laughter from the crowd.

The planned park at 803 South Cherry St. on the near East Side is a result of a land swap deal the City of San Antonio reached over the summer with a developer who was ready to build a five-story apartment complex there. Instead, the apartments will be built less than one mile south on land the City traded for the land next to Hays Street Bridge.

The early 1900s bridge provided vehicles a route from the East Side, the center of black history in San Antonio, to bypass the traffic-stopping trains that cut through the near East Side.

“This bridge didn’t come from nothing and this project didn’t come from nothing,” said Marlon Davis, who was born and raised on the East Side and is a member of the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group. “An entire generation before us never lost sight of what was important to them and fighting for this. … The irony is not lost on me that once upon a time and even so today, this neighborhood is considered to be on the wrong side of those tracks.

“But here we are now we stand with this very rare opportunity to be authors of a new story, where this is a place of opportunity – because that’s what this bridge has always been, a symbol of connecting folks to opportunity.”

The City hired local and Austin-based landscape architects to help collect public input and design the park. There will be two more public meetings before a final design is formed, but more can be scheduled if needed, said Brian Mask, director of Dunaway Associates.

The meeting took place more than seven years after the Hays Street Bridge Restoration Group sued the City of San Antonio to prevent commercial development of the land. The City dropped an appeal of the case in September, but the underlying motion from the plaintiffs to enforce a lower court’s ruling is still pending.

Amy Kastely, the group’s attorney, said she’s glad the land will become a park, but the group doesn’t plan on dropping the lawsuit anytime soon.

The future site of a planned park at 803 South Cherry St. on the near East Side

“We still want to make sure this is going to be done,” Kastely said. “We have some concerns about making sure that it’s funded, but it’s wonderful to see community support.”

That funding could come from future annual City budgets or bond programs.

Members of the restoration group’s distrust of the City is born out of a long history of “backroom deals” and disingenuous agreements by the City regarding the land, said Nettie Hinton, who was born just blocks away from the bridge 80 years ago.

“This is black history here and I wanted to retain it,” Hinton said of efforts decades ago to save the bridge from destruction. She is one of the founding members of the group that formed to renovate the bridge into a pedestrian and bike bridge.

The group’s original intention was to honor the railroad’s history in the black economy and install bathrooms, a drinking fountain, and a skate park to give the neighborhood youth something to do in an area that experiences disproportionately more crime than the rest of the city, Hinton said.

“I hope that we do the thing we originally planned until the City, with its unholy self, gave it away,” she said.

The previous landowner, beer distributor BudCo Ltd., gave the land to the City in 2007 as part of the bridge restoration project with the condition that if it becomes a park, it must be called “The Berkley V. and Vincent M. Dawson Park.”

Sandy Jenkins, a project manager for the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, confirmed that will be the name of the park. While the lot has been on the books as a 1.7-acre lot, some records suggest it’s actually 3 acres, Jenkins told the Rivard Report.

The project team is approaching the park design without any preconceived notions, Jenkins said. “It’s a blank slate.”

Not everyone can use or wants a skate park, said Dignowity Hill resident Liz Franklin, but she is confident a compromise can be reached to satisfy the neighborhood.

“I think there’s a way to have a conversation where everybody can get something out of this,” Franklin said. “But I think we can have something that works for everyone. The historic significance is critical. If we don’t tell our story, it’ll be lost.”

Damien Sandoval, owner of Alta Vista Skate Shop, estimated that a half-acre to .60 acres would be needed to build a skate park large enough to host competitions.

The city doesn’t have many skateboard parks, especially not near the urban core – where the skateboarders often are ticketed for illegally skating on sidewalks and drainage infrastructure, he said.

The park could be “more than something just for District 2 – [it could be] something that will benefit the city,” he said.

Iris Dimmick

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