Progress continues on developing a South Side centerpiece facility to showcase the historical Spanish missions as part of a World Heritage Site.
The World Heritage Center and an enhanced Mission Marquee Plaza will be complemented by improvements to several roads around the landmarks.
However, some residents fear efforts to promote the missions corridor will lead to unwanted redevelopment and gentrification in surrounding areas.
“We’re telling the stories of the community, of the neighborhood, what the significance of World Heritage is, and the process by which we got there,” said District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran.
It’s been five years since UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee awarded the World Heritage designation to all five missions of the former Spanish empire: San Antonio de Valero, otherwise known as The Alamo; San José; Concepción; San Juan; and Espada.
The end of July marked the conclusion of two public-engagement surveys on future development.
Residents gave input on the planned World Heritage Center, to be located on city property near Mission Marquee Plaza — the former Mission Drive-In — and Mission Branch Library.
City planners describe the center as a place for informal activities, community events, education, meetings and outdoor displays.
Respondents suggested what they’d like to see there, and offered views on the image the new facility should convey to the world.
Viagran said many neighbors are excited.
“There’s a lot of ideas of people wanting (the center) to continue telling the story of our Indigenous community,” she added. “That is the intangible heritage that really took us over the edge with our (designation).”
The city is leveraging $7.25 million from its voter-approved 2017 bond to design and build the center. Additional bond money will fund new public art along the missions corridor.
However, some locals said the municipality is overlooking what they see as unintended consequences. In 2018, the City Council unanimously approved downzoning dozens of area commercial properties in hopes of encouraging redevelopment.
Olga Martinez, Villa Coronado Neighborhood Association president, said the city is concentrating on redevelopment and not enough on preserving the community.
“The only change should be to improve infrastructure — streets, adequate and safe bike lanes and safe crosswalks,” Martinez said. “Development should be smart and with respect to the surrounding communities, while preserving its World Heritage designation.”
Brady Alexander, Hot Wells Mission Reach Neighborhood Association president, said the municipality is giving lip service to efforts to collect public input about the World Heritage Center.
“We wish the city would put the same effort into preserving the areas around the missions and the San Antonio River as it does incentivizing private-developmental interests,” Alexander added. “Exploiting the locals is one authentic aspect of the missions the city has preserved, unfortunately.”
Local officials are set to upgrade some nearby thoroughfares. The 2017 bond contains $18.6 million for improvements along Roosevelt Avenue between South St. Mary’s Street and Loop 410.
Those betterments include restoration of the Union Pacific Railroad Bridge at Lone Star Boulevard, and additional sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and a pedestrian bridge over the river.
The $18 million figure covers World Heritage-related signage and navigating the missions corridor. Work starts in November.
One unnamed resident, who interacted with city staff during one of three virtual World Heritage presentations, expressed delight over the Roosevelt Avenue plan.
“This section of our neighborhood has waited many years to get the development of infrastructure like sidewalks, drainage and crosswalks,” the neighbor said.
In addition, the bond includes $37 million for other planned enhancements to the following routes: Mission Road from Southeast Military Drive to the river; South Presa Street from Southcross Boulevard to Southeast Military; and Southcross between Roosevelt and Pleasanton Road.
The projects, scheduled to start at various times within the next year, begin this October with the Mission Road upgrades.
Residents used the other recently ended survey to comment on eight proposed street-name changes along the World Heritage Trail.
A 2016 study commissioned by the San Antonio River Authority found renaming thoroughfares such as Mission Road near Roosevelt Park and Lone Star Boulevard would help create a continuous Mission Road and eliminate confusion for residents and visitors.