In response to public blowback over plans for a renovation of the 1930s-era Sunken Garden Theater in Brackenridge Park, Councilman Mario Bravo (D1) has called a town hall meeting to take place Monday evening.
The 6 p.m. open meeting will be held virtually via videoconference and is accessible to the public here. A WebEx application download is required for access.
“I called a meeting because I was hearing a lot of concerns from people in the community, and I want to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to weigh in on this project,” Bravo said.
The $62 million renovation plan was announced in September but it drew added attention when city staff initially recommended $25 million in 2022 bond funding for the project, alongside $25 million from Bexar County, with the remaining $12 million to be raised by the conservancy. After City Council discussions, the bond amount was lowered to $10 million. A citizens bond committee then cut the amount in half to $5 million, while the conservancy upped its fundraising promise to $17 million.
The final bond amount will be decided by City Council on Feb. 10, with the parks and recreation portion of the bond to appear on the May election ballot as one of six propositions.
“It’s the people’s government, the people’s money,” Bravo said. “Ultimately, the people are going to have to approve this when it goes to the voters.” Bravo added that the meeting will help ensure that the public funds will be invested in a project that the public supports.
Bravo will be joined by Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), in whose district the theater sits, along with representatives of the Parks and Recreation Department, the city manager’s office and representatives of the Brackenridge Park Conservancy, which is overseeing the renovation plan.
While some have spoken out in favor of the renovation plan and proposed bond money to fund it, members of the River Road Neighborhood Association have been particularly vocal in raising opposition to the plan. Residents of the neighborhood nested next to Brackenridge Park nearly a half-mile from the theater are concerned about adequate parking, traffic congestion, and noise generated by up to 60 concerts and events annually. A visual survey shows approximately 140 homes in the two block-by-eight block area.
Association President Lucy Wilson has called for a new plan “more modest” in scale, and that takes into consideration the concerns of neighborhood residents.
Other complaints registered in social media discussions are that not enough information has been shared publicly by the conservancy.
One key piece of information yet to be made public, from an August 2020 special event traffic assessment done by Lee Engineering, is that parking availability in the area has been deemed sufficient. The study cites a need for between 1,800 and 2,520 parking spaces; there are currently approximately 2,974 spaces within one-third of a mile of the theater, and up to 5,671 total spaces within the Brackenridge Park area.
Other details from the traffic plan are available on the conservancy’s website.
Bravo said one goal of the meeting will be to counter misinformation that has been shared on social media. One example is the venue’s current audience capacity: it can seat up to 4,800, including 879 fixed seats, standing room, and lawn seating.
The renovation plan calls for a relatively modest increase to a capacity of 7,000, with 5,900 fixed seats and 1,100 lawn seats.
Opponents of the plan have said a venue of that size is unnecessary because comparable venues of that size already exist, pointing to other San Antonio venues including the Real Life Amphitheater in Selma, which has a capacity of 20,000 and lies 19 miles from the city center.
Capacities of currently operating San Antonio concert venues range from the Empire Theater’s 864 seats, the Aztec Theater’s 1,477 seats, 1,750 seats in the main hall of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts and the Majestic Theatre’s 2,264 seats. Larger venues include the Freeman Coliseum at 11,700 seats, the AT&T Center’s 19,000 seats, and the Alamodome’s variable capacity ranging from 19,200 to 43,800 seats depending on the configuration. (Audience capacity for Rosedale Park was unavailable at time of publication.)
Closest in size to the Sunken Garden Theater would be Rosedale Park with an approximate capacity of 4,500, the Illusions Theater, a configuration of the Alamodome that can seat between 3,670 to 11,602, and the new TechPort SA entertainment venue set to begin programming in May with general admission seating of 3,100.
Aaron Zimmerman, vice president of Tobin Entertainment, which has booked occasional concerts at the Sunken Garden Theater, said in general that shows are booked at venues of a size appropriate to the particular act, citing the example of a 2021 Snoop Dogg concert that drew 4,500 to Sunken Garden and resulted in no complaints of which he was made aware.
Bravo said the ultimate goal of the town hall will be to reach an agreement on how the plan will move forward.
“I hope that we can reach some level of consensus on what would be an ideal project that serves all of the community,” he said.
This story has been updated to clarify the capacities of San Antonio concert venues.