Paused during the pandemic, a public-private development at Hemisfair five years in the making remains on hold even as plans for the grounds of the 1968 world’s fair move forward.
In 2016, Hemisfair officials selected a joint proposal by Zachry Hospitality and housing developer The NRP Group for a mixed-use development made up of office, residential, and parking structures, and a boutique hotel in the northwest quadrant of Hemisfair.
With approval from the city in 2017, the 5-acre project was set to be completed first in 2021, then in 2023, in conjunction with Hemisfair’s Civic Park. But the $200 million mixed-use project could be further out on the horizon.
In June 2020, after NRP dropped out of the project, a Zachry spokeswoman said that even though construction had not begun, her company was committed to the project and was working with officials to ensure its success in light of the pandemic’s impact on the economy.
Now the future of the development is in Zachry’s court. On Tuesday, Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said Zachry is analyzing the original agreement and he is waiting for a counterproposal if that is what the company decides to do.
But “there is no hard deadline,” he said. “It’s just the urgency everybody’s feeling, not only from a development perspective and the investment that Zachry is bringing to Hemisfair that’s costing money, but there is also a true community sense of desire for a space like this,” especially post-pandemic.
In the original agreement, lease payments from Zachry and other tenants would go directly toward Hemisfair improvements, programming, and operations, with Zachry paying $1.92 million for the first two years of the contract’s 50-year term.
In the third year of leasing, that base payment would drop to $1.45 million, with Hemisfair taking an additional cut of the revenue expected to total more than $500,000, increasing as Hemisfair’s popularity grows and retail becomes more established.
A spokeswoman for Zachry Hospitality’s parent company said it is currently renegotiating the agreement with the city and Hemisfair, “given the fact that so many things have changed,” since it was finalized in 2017. She would not reveal what terms of the agreement could be affected, if any, and stressed that discussions don’t mean the agreement itself will change.
“We are just needing to make sure that all the assumptions are correct,” said Tara Snowden, vice president of public and government affairs at Zachry Corp.
“It’s a large project — you’ve got residential and you’ve got hotel and parking and then you’ve got office,” she added. “And trying to make all of that work under one umbrella like the city wants is really difficult. But we’re getting there.”
The Zachry development would encompass the north and west sides of Civic Park, along East Market and South Alamo streets. Civic Park, west of the Henry B. González Convention Center, is envisioned as an 8-acre “great lawn” north of Hemisfair’s first phase, Yanaguana Garden, which was completed in 2015.
Before the pandemic, Civic Park was projected to open in 2022. In February, Hemisfair officials split the park project into two phases, with the first $28 million phase to get underway later this year while they search for funding sources for the second phase.
“Initially, we had wanted to time that with the opening of the [Zachry development], but given the delays … what we were able to do is look at Civic Park as a two-phase project and, with the money that we had in hand, deliver phase one,” said Omar Gonzalez, director of real estate at Hemisfair.
A “really amazing” groundbreaking is set for the fall, he added.
Concept planning is underway for the third phase of Hemisfair redevelopment, Tower Park, with that work in the area surrounding the Tower of Americas being developed by Seattle-based landscape architects GGN and paid for through donations.
Gonzalez said funding for Tower Park could come from the 2022 municipal bond or other sources.
In addition to structures built for the 1968 world’s fair repurposed as pavilions or for other uses, the Tower Park site could feature amenities intended for dog owners and for young people who are into skating and climbing.
Plans also call for some residential development, what Andujar considers the secret to a successful park; a road that will connect the park to the East Side; and possible development where the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) is situated.
Andujar and Gonzalez are serving on task forces that leaders of the University of Texas at San Antonio developed to reimagine the role and presence of the ITC as a prominent Texas museum.
“If they can do something with the current ITC footprint, I think all that just is going to make for a more vibrant, open, walkable urban neighborhood,” Gonzalez said.
Despite delays resulting from the pandemic and its impact on the economy, Andujar believes Hemisfair has the potential to bring billions of dollars of improvement to the downtown area.
“Our vision has not been affected by the pandemic — we will continue down the road of the approved master plan,” he said. “Our goal is to deliver one of the world’s great, great public places, and we are unchanged.”
He touts the redeveloped fairgrounds as a park for all of San Antonio, creating not only connections between the surrounding neighborhoods but also people from across the city. “We look like San Antonio when you come to an event here — we look like who we are,” he said.