Published by expressnews.com
Written by: Dylan McGuinness, Staff writer
Bexar County on Tuesday advanced its ambitious plan to revitalize San Pedro Creek, devoting another $60 million to extend the new downtown park by three blocks.
Plans for the next leg — called “Phase 1.2” — include an outdoor event venue near the Alameda Theater, a large mural behind the Spanish Governor’s Palace and a water wall. Officials initially planned for the extension to be ready by 2020, but they revised their goal Tuesday to March 2021.
The county’s four-phase plan to renovate the creek was first approved with $125 million in 2013 as a way to develop the western section of downtown and control flooding. The first portion of the park opened in May between Santa Rosa and Houston streets.
Commissioner Paul Elizondo said the project presented a rare opportunity — not many cities have a drainage ditch running through downtown, he joked. The park helps restore a part of town that he said was lost to urban renewal and the diverted creek.
“It’s an opportunity to regenerate, vigorously, that particular historic area of our home,” Elizondo said.
Much of the money approved Tuesday had already been budgeted for, according to the San Antonio River Authority, which is managing the project. New funds made up about $16 million of the package and will come from federal reimbursements for the Mission Reach projects.
The total cost of the San Pedro Creek Culture Park is roughly $178 million thus far, officials said.
The extension will take the park past Commerce Street and Dolorosa to Nueva Street. The full blueprint calls for connecting it with city projects near Mission Concepción.
Both Elizondo and County Judge Nelson Wolff listed the San Pedro Creek as a top priority after winning reelection in November. Wolff said he hopes the full project will be finished during his four-year term, which he expects to be his last.
But Tuesday, engineers tempered expectations about how soon the new leg would be finished.
“These three blocks are by far the most difficult,” said Kerry Averyt, SARA’s project manager for the park.
The extension is also running about 20 percent above its estimated cost. Averyt said that’s due to design changes, market forces and the extended construction schedule.
Wolff said the first two legs are pricey because they’re narrow. He hopes the costs will come down after the development reaches Cesar Chavez Boulevard, which is Phase 1.3 of the plan. After that, the park will take a more natural layout.
About $3 million of the funds approved Tuesday will go toward finishing designs for the next two extensions.
Crews have been working on demolition and utility work for the new leg since May. The court’s action Tuesday means there won’t be a pause in construction.
County officials said the segment that opened in May was completed $8 million under budget, but the project has had a couple of gaffes.
Soon after its unveiling, officials closed and redesigned a portion of the park because children were swimming in the 2-feet-deep channel.
The river authority had encouraged visitors to wade — but not swim — in the channel, and it grew concerned about potential bacteria exposure for those swimmers.
“This is a creek,” SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott said.
They redesigned that part of the park to make the water shallower and installed a valve system to drain the small pools in the days after rain.
On Tuesday, Elizondo said designers should be able to come up with a way to redesign that portion of the park so children can wade or swim regardless of the weather. He called it an “E. Coli oops factor.”
“We’re paying some very expensive people a lot of money for us to come up with a very attractive thing,” Elizondo said. “Then we tell people, ‘Oh, it’s pretty, but you can’t use it.’”
Scott said they’re examining options to do that, but there aren’t yet any plans in place.
There was also a high-profile blunder involving a $735,000 statue that was supposed to greet visitors to the new park. It was beset by cost overruns and never materialized.