The nonprofit agency guiding redevelopment of Hemisfair hopes the planned Civic Park becomes the centerpiece of a yearslong remake of the downtown space.
Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. had a recent briefing for the City Council on a plan to solicit bids from companies.
The selected contractor would be responsible for Phase I of Civic Park, a 9-acre recreational venue with an expansive lawn, shaded promenade and water features.
Work to continue revamping the 1968 World’s Fair site is estimated at $27 million, with some funds coming from the city’s 2017 bond issue.
HPARC officials expressed confidence Civic Park will be as popular as Hemisfair’s Yanaguana Garden, likely to welcome its 3-millionth visitor this May.
“We seek to deliver at least the success we have found at Yanaguana Garden, the second busiest park per acre in the state of Texas, and a truly beloved space,” said HPARC CEO Andres Andujar.
If all goes well, HPARC officials said, Civic Park construction will start this fall.
The Shallows will be a key water feature there, featuring an artificial stream cascading through limestone blocks.
Guests can dip their hands or toes into the water, unlike Yanaguana Garden where visitors are allowed to run around the existing splash pad.
The Shallows will be in the park’s southern end near The Great Lawn, a 2-acre bowl-shaped green space accommodating concerts and other events, with 15,000 as capacity.
Next to Civic Park is a dedicated tract of land where a new, mixed-use development was supposed to be completed this summer, but those plans are delayed.
The city in 2017 tapped Zachry Corp. to build the component, but for now the site lies underdeveloped and quiet as the company retools.
Zachry envisioned restaurants, shops, cultural and educational amenities, an office tower, apartments and a boutique Hilton hotel — all to complement Civic Park in the shadows of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
The firm has yet to announce specific changes to its proposed development, estimated at $200 million at one point.
According to HPARC’s real estate director Omar Gonzalez, the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on the hospitality industry, and retail and office occupancy, forcing Zachry to rethink objectives.
“It’s just about recasting their obligations based on today’s market conditions,” Gonzalez said. “We’re keeping the same structure, one of urban mixed-use development. We’ll just have to define how much, how big — it’s more of a conversation about that than completely changing (Zachry’s) role.”
Plans for Tower Park, the third and final park within a redeveloped Hemisfair, are proceeding. HPARC received responses to a request for qualifications for designers to handle its conceptual design, which would enhance dedicated parkland between Yanaguana Garden and the Tower of the Americas.
Andujar said even in the middle of a global outbreak, it’s important to maintain momentum by developing centrally located public spaces, and creating new places for businesses.
“Construction of a large park is going to bring jobs to the community and that’s urgent because of the effects of the pandemic,” Andujar said.
He and Gonzalez said Hemisfair’s redevelopment has so far been successful, given the numbers of Yanaguana Garden visitors, completion of The `68 apartment complex and efforts by small businesses to call Hemisfair home.
Re:Rooted 210 Urban Winery is opening at Hemisfair, followed by a brick-and-mortar spot for Box Street Social food truck. Bombay Bicycle Club, a busy Brackenridge Park restaurant, will launch a second location there, too.
Meanwhile, existing tenants such as Paleteria San Antonio and CommonWealth Coffeehouse & Bakery have adapted to the pandemic, serving a steady stream of customers who take their food and drink outdoors.
Gonzalez admitted things seem muted around Hemisfair because of an absence of tourists and conventioneers, but added, “Fingers crossed, the world gets back to 2019 levels in the next year or two.”
Andujar said 84% of Hemisfair guests are locals, noting the staff works to ensure safety during the outbreak.
Gonzalez echoed the summary of a City Parks Alliance 2020 report stating public parks should be considered critical infrastructure because folks see them as safe outlets.
“People are now really inspired to go outside and be safe outside, and go to spaces to relax and reset, kind of like (addressing) mental health,” Gonzalez said.