Great cities have great downtowns. And great downtowns have great urban parks, so says Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar. Imagine the grand urban centers across the globe – Paris – Mexico City – Barcelona – New York – Buenos Aires.
In each of these cases, urban parks populate these city centers as a place to meet, to relax, to enjoy the company of others—or to reflect by oneself. An undeniable energy beckons people to urban public spaces where life abounds.
Here, in the center of everything, Andujar encourages everyone to dream about the possibilities of San Antonio’s “front porch”—Hemisfair.
For those unfamiliar with Hemisfair, the vision for its transformation includes a multiuse central gathering place for all of San Antonio, with rolling green lawns and shaded natural groves, programmed activities, and an abundance of new amenities and places to eat, drink and gather. With current development efforts led by the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC) and support from the City of San Antonio, the park will ultimately be selfsustaining with funding raised by the Hemisfair Conservancy Board, similar to the Central Park Conservancy.
“Hemisfair is becoming so much more than a park…it will be a district of three parks, connecting park streets, restored historic buildings with an emphasis on ‘local’—cafés and restaurants, ice cream shops and more—places that feel authentic,” explains Andujar. Anne Krause, who leads the Hemisfair Conservancy, is equally enthusiastic about life for those who live near the “front porch,” such as those in Alteza Residences. She quickly ticks off a list of amenities residents will enjoy, including a vibrant, cool neighborhood—made possible thanks to Hemisfair.
“It’s a great honor to be a part of this momentous effort …we imagine it as our ‘Central Park’… a place where everyone makes memories…Hemisfair will provide a legacy that will last for generations to come.”
Andujar emphasizes the idea of “connection” and the way it makes a space feel. He says that by reconnecting the surrounding neighborhoods with accessible, multimodal streets and pathways, Hemisfair will have an abundance of shade and sustainable water features and will offer cafés, live music, and places to eat and drink under the stars. In the next few months, the first phase of park expansion, will open to the public. “Yanaguana Park will be a play environment for those that are pre-K to gray, from every zip code in San Antonio,” Andujar says, passion evident.
“A beautiful shaded promenade will connect Cesar Chavez Boulevard to East Nueva Street and will be surrounded by a splash pad, sand play, climbing structures, plazas and courtyards, all in a picturesque landscaped setting. It will be where San Antonio meets.”
Downtown residents noted that the first phase of street construction, the Market Street realignment, opened in the last few months which is a good example of the “complete” streets intended for Hemisfair. These streets are categorized as park streets, with hundreds of new trees, lighting, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and storm water retention and filtering technologies that reduce flooding and increase the quality of water runoff. The next phase of streets, slated to open in 2016, is located in the alignment of such historic streets as Goliad and Water, and will provide access to Yanaguana Garden.
Residences, shops and cafés, along with parking infrastructure for park users, will also be built at the southwest quadrant of the district, with completion expected by the end of 2016.
So, just how does an uninspiring parcel of land become a “world-class” park? That’s where talent and community voices come in. Seattle-based Gustafson Guthrie Nichol (GGN) was tapped to design the second phase of park expansion, the Civic Park. GGN arrives with extraordinary credentials and is responsible for projects at Millennium Park, London’s Hyde Park, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Similar to the public input sessions for Yanaguana Gardens, GGN along with the Hemisfair team led the Civic Park public input session which was attended by several hundred passionate San Antonians. Comprised of culturally and economically diverse members, the team employed tremendous effort to ensure that local community input contained voices from every corner of the city—both urban and suburban dwellers—because as Andujar stresses, “Hemisfair belongs to everyone.”
In December 2014, the Hemisfair organization presented the schematic design for the Civic Park located on the northwest quadrant of the district adjacent to the Torch of Friendship Plaza at the corner of Market and Alamo streets.
The design will be the most iconic of the Hemisfair parks. It is being designed to become the front porch of San Antonio, a gathering place where our community meets to celebrate, play and simply enjoy a beautiful urban park full of activity.
The Civic Park is slated to open in 2018, in time for San Antonio’s tricentennial.
GGN principal Kathryn Gustafson agrees and echoes Andujar, insisting that it’s about making a comfortable place for San Antonians. But wait—there’s more. Additional construction will follow on the northwest quadrant. The finishing efforts will take place as the Tower Park is constructed in the shadow of the Tower of the Americas, which will include access to park streets and projects containing neighborhood retail, offices and parking, in addition to other uses. The entire project could be completed by the year 2020, says Andujar.