The City’s design review commission approved preliminary plans Wednesday for a proposed visitor center serving San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions. 

The World Heritage Center will serve as a gateway to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site along with the Alamo in 2015, and will be located at Mission Marquee Plaza, 3100 Roosevelt Ave. Construction is expected to start in 2023. 

Designed by Dunaway Associates, a planning and landscape architecture firm with offices throughout the state, and Muñoz, the San Antonio firm behind the Mission Branch Library, the World Heritage Center is an $8 million project intended to showcase for visitors the history of the missions and provide residents with community gathering space. 

Digital rendering of the future World Heritage Center. Construction is set to begin in 2023.
A digital rendering shows the future World Heritage Center. Construction is set to begin in 2023. Credit: Courtesy / Dunaway Associates and Muñoz & Co.

Architectural renderings show a one-story structure with design elements found historically in the area, such as archways, vaults, and facade openings that refer to those at the missions. The center will be connected by a landscaped walkway to Mission San José. 

The Historic and Design Review Commission granted conceptual approval for the design with the stipulations that landscaping be used to buffer parking from the right-of-way on Roosevelt Avenue and a detailed signage plan is submitted to the commission for approval.

The site chosen for the center is City-owned property adjacent to the Mission Marquee Drive-In, Mission Branch Library, and the Harvey E. Najim Family YMCA. The City considered several properties for the center, including privately owned land, before choosing the location on Roosevelt Avenue, said Colleen Swain, director of the World Heritage Office. 

“We wanted to invest as much of the funding as possible into the actual building,” Swain said. “I’m also wanting to have the visibility … [and] it’s a nice addition to the campus that is being created there.”

The World Heritage Center is being funded through the $37 million allocated by the 2017-22 city bond program for World Heritage-related projects that include improvement to roadways in the historic district, installing new signage and wayfinding, rehabilitating parks, and acquiring land. 

A total of $5 million from that budget was set aside for the World Heritage Center building and $2.25 million for landscaping and roadway improvements. Another $845,000 from the Tricentennial Commission will be added to the project budget. 

The World Heritage Center will be unlike the visitor center at Mission San José, which is operated by the National Park Service, and a faith-based visitor center being developed at Mission Concepción by the Archdiocese of San Antonio. 

Visitors pass by the famous Rose Window at Mission San José. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“This is going to be complementary of everything else in this area,” said District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran. “Whatever the National Park Service chooses to do with their visitor center and whatever is going downtown at the Alamo, this is going to be for our Spanish colonial missions that are south of the city, but it will connect and interweave throughout all of our World Heritage designations.”

The City will own and staff the center, Swain said. Witte Museum officials will oversee the interpretive plan for the center, allowing people with both present and historic ties to the missions to share their memories.

“One of the main reasons we were able to get [the World Heritage designation] was because of the stories of the families and the investment of the families that live and still are part of the churches of the missions,” Viagran said. “It was that intangible heritage that continued to tell the story that made a stronger case for our submission.” 

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...