Decision-makers weighing the future of the Institute of Texan Cultures have received input from more than 640 people as part of ITC Centennial 2068‘s community stakeholder visioning process.

Some participants in the online survey, which the University of Texas at San Antonio published in June, shared childhood memories dating to HemisFair ’68 when the ITC was the Texas Pavilion, while others offered views on how and where to create a 21st century museum worthy of a major public university and the state’s rich cultural heritage.

The ITC survey posed three different future scenarios:

In one scenario, the ITC would move to a new or existing building outside the Hemisfair development area, presumably downtown, where improved visibility and access would help attract more visitors. The university then could redevelop the 16 acres that form the 100-acre Hemisfair’s southeastern corner.

In a second scenario, the ITC could be relocated to another location within Hemisfair, either in an existing or new building, again leaving the 16-acre parcel available for redevelopment.

In the third scenario, the ITC would remain in the former Texas Pavilion, possibly as part of a redevelopment project that would involve replacing or expanding the current building.

A report presenting the range of public views and the task force’s recommendations will go to UTSA President Taylor Eighmy this month and be made available to the public as the university considers its options.

I would suggest two important considerations for interested readers to contemplate.

One, the museum as it has existed is badly dated and underfunded, with poor visibility and access. It will take significant investment to build a state-of-the-art, interactive museum that attracts both locals and visitors in a highly visible and attractive venue. Winning funding from the Texas Legislature will be a challenge and undoubtedly will involve a significant private fundraising effort, much as redevelopment of the Alamo and Alamo Plaza is proceeding as a public-private partnership.

Two, the redevelopment of Hemisfair, which began in Mayor Phil Hardberger’s second term when he first challenged the city to turn its attention to HemisFair Park, which sat badly neglected for 50 years after the world’s fair, now appears to be a 20-year project.

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures occupies a 16-acre plot on Hemisfair's southeastern corner.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures occupies a 16-acre plot on Hemisfair’s southeastern corner. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

That long timeline is due primarily to incremental funding in the 2012, 2017 and 2022 city bond cycles. The current City Council pushed back against major funding in the 2022 bond for so-called citywide projects in favor of more funding directed to individual council districts, which resulted in less funding for Hemisfair than many of us hoped for this cycle.

The pandemic brought progress on the northwestern corner of the park to a near halt, too, and led the city and Zachry Hospitality to amend the company’s original development plan and cancel a planned office tower.

In the coming year, public attention will turn to the southern flank of Hemisfair, and not only because UTSA is deciding the future of the ITC. There will be a transformative opportunity to develop a mixed-use neighborhood with significant residential units connecting Southtown to Hemisfair and downtown.

That opportunity started this year when the last of the federal employees vacated the Hemisfair properties and moved into the new federal courthouse at 214 W. Nueva St., a vacant parcel that formerly belonged to the city and was swapped in anticipation of the city acquiring federal properties in Hemisfair.

Assistant City Manager Lori Houston is leading the process with the General Services Administration (GSA), the federal government’s property management arm, to transfer ownership of the former John H. Wood Federal Courthouse and the Adrian Spears Judicial Training Center to the city. Both buildings were built for Hemisfair ’68 as the United States Pavilion and Confluence Theater and the adjacent Confluence Exhibit Hall.

That transfer is expected to be completed in the coming months. Once done, the city and the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. led by CEO Andres Andujar, will launch a public process to determine the future use of the properties. The key issue will be whether to preserve or demolish the former cinema-turned-courthouse, a circular structure with significant problems. The Spears building is not considered historic and likely will be demolished.

Frankly, I hope the former world’s fair cinema in the round building goes, too. The opportunities of starting with a fresh vision, in my view, greatly outweigh the preservation of a building that was never meant to be preserved.

Meanwhile, the GSA is expected in the coming months to offer for sale its other federal properties on the southern edge of Hemisfair, including the eight-story office building and parking lots within Hemisfair and across César Chávez Boulevard.

The possible result of all this? The entire length of Hemisfair along César Chávez Boulevard from Interstate 37 west to South Alamo Street will likely come into play for redevelopment.

The possibilities are exciting. It’s too bad it will take so long to accomplish.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at San Antonio is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.