The Riverside View of the Mays Family Center at the Witte Museum. Rendering Courtesy of Lake|Flato Architects.

The Witte Museum is finalizing construction on The Mays Family Center, the city’s newest event and education venue outside the downtown area, which will serve as a bold connection between the San Antonio River and the growing Broadway corridor. 

The $15 million center, part of the Witte’s $100 million renovation and development project, will open on April 12 with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The Mays Family Center will serve as a multipurpose venue for private events and museum exhibits as well as provide the museum with additional revenue and programming options.

(Read More: ‘New Witte Museum’ Opens its Arms to Broadway)

The center spans 19,000 sq ft., which includes the building and its porches, and can seat up to 750 people with a dance floor (800 people without) inside.

The large windows provide plenty of natural light. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Large windows will provide plenty of natural light in the new Mays Family Center. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

According to Kim Biffle, Witte vice president of external affairs, the center will be available for events such as luncheons, weddings, galas, nonprofit events and conventions, all priced accordingly.

“A lot of conventions are held downtown, but they want at least one event (outside downtown),” Biffle said. “We haven’t had a big enough place to accommodate them.”

That is, until now. The venue will also connect out-of-town visitors with the museum’s existing South Texas Heritage Center, which holds the stories and unique history of San Antonio.  

The center has already begun booking events for the fall into 2017. “We’re expecting a very busy season,” Biffle said.

Lake|Flato Architects, the architectural firm leading the project, has carefully chosen materials and colors that reflect the land, water, sky – in everything from the carpet to the cypress wood on the walls – while celebrating the nature surrounding the museum. The center will provide visitors with a clear view of Broadway from the front of the building, while the the Marie and Hugh Halff River View Gallery on the opposite end will overlook the river.

Large, open windows surround visitors with a picturesque view of the river. But with the flip of a switch, blackout curtains can easily be lowered to protect the museum’s light-sensitive collections. The center also features state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, drop down projectors and special lighting for presentation needs.

At the center of the room, Springtime in Texas, an installation mural by the late Mexican-American painter Porfirio Salinas hangs as the artistic focal point. 

Springtime in Texas, an installation mural by the late Mexican-American painter Porfirio Salinas is installed. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Springtime in Texas, an installation mural by the late Mexican-American painter Porfirio Salinas is installed. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

The center also features a fully-equipped catering kitchen with four ovens and stoves, a walk-in cooler, and a separate HVAC system.

“The completely separate HVAC system is important, it means that it will not combine the air with the rest of the room,” Biffle said. This allows the museum to host exhibits and events concurrently.

“The Witte pretty much outgrew its space for programs,” said Witte President and CEO Marise McDermott. The Mays Family Center will allow larger exhibits and events to return to the museum. “This space was built to accommodate some of the largest blockbuster exhibitions in the world.”

The center’s first blockbuster exhibition, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, will make its Texas debut when it opens to museum visitors on May 14. The large, traveling exhibit will explore the rich culture and history of the Mayan civilization and offer family friendly activities, that allow visitors to decipher hieroglyphics and learn how the Mayans built their impressive ancient temples.

“The museum community is watching us to see how things work out, because this is a model for the future for museum event spaces,” said Randall Webster, Witte vice president of exhibitions.

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The Zachry Family Acequia Garden, located just outside the center on Witte Campus, will show visitors the Acequia Madre and Diversion Dam, which were developed Mission Indians in the 16th century. 

The new Witte campus also features a pavilion where student groups can gather and be oriented on the museum’s history and  how it connects to the acequias and the San Antonio Missions, named a World Heritage Site last July.

“This is very exciting to have this over 300-year history,” McDermott said.

The dam was filled in the during the 1950s, rediscovered by the late archeologist Wayne Cox in the mid 2000s, and recently unearthed by construction crews. “We started really getting excited about it and decided to build our entire Master Plan around it. We just said, ‘This is too important and amazing (to ignore).’”

Though the Witte has taught a river-curriculum for years, the new Witte will feature a low water crossing that allows visitors to closely observe and learn about the area’s river habitat including animal and plant life like the cypress, oak and river bottom pecan trees that surround the museum.

Even with the ongoing construction, McDermott said, 100% of San Antonio’s school districts visit the Witte. The new entrance will hold seven school buses at a time, rather than two or three.

There will be visible connections to other museum exhibits, like the dinosaur tracks on the side of the Mays Family Center that will draw visitors to the new and permanent exhibits at The Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery, set to open next spring. 

“We’ve been doing this a long time,” McDermott said. The Witte currently sees 150,000 school age children each year, but she anticipates that three times that will visit after the construction is completed.

There aren’t many Texas museums that celebrate the state and its connections to other times and places, but according to McDermott, the Witte is “a Texas museum. This embraces the sciences, humanities, the history and the full gamut of what that means.”

Construction for the new Witte will be completed in 2017. For more information, or to work the construction via the WorkZone cam, click here.

*Top Image: The Riverside View of the Mays Family Center at the Witte Museum. Rendering Courtesy of Lake|Flato Architects. 

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Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.