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Hemisfair’s grand park construction begins this summer

Later this summer, construction crews will begin to transform the expanse of land at Market and Alamo streets into one of America’s great urban parks akin to Millennium Park in Chicago or Discovery Green in Houston, Hemisfair planners say.

The $58 million civic park, as it’s known, is considered the centerpiece of the Hemisfair revitalization effort. It’s envisioned by planners as an entry way into Hemisfair for people walking in from Market or Commerce streets, the River Walk or Alamo Plaza.

Plans show a large green space and other features framed by mixed-use buildings built by Zachary Hospitality and NRP Group — a mix of residential units, office space, and hotel rooms. The estimated cost of the civic park, the buildings, street upgrades — everything going into Hemisfair’s northwest zone — is $300 million. From the civic park, the options for park-goers fan out and take the form of smaller parks, including Yanaguana Garden, the not-yet-designed portion around the Tower of the Americas, and even La Villita on the other side of Alamo Street.

Planners envision green space, fountains, tree-lined promenades and acequias.

But the civic park won’t begin to resemble anything like a park until next year. This year, the work consists of “dirt being moved around” — below ground level, utility-type work — Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said.

“Super boring work,” he said.

For Hemisfair’s underground parking structure, crews will excavate 30 to 40 feet deep, which will eventually fit about 800 parking spaces. But that figure could be increased to 1,000 plus, Andujar said.

Some of the park’s features, like some of the fountains and the tree canopy, will depend on a capital campaign that’s currently underway by the Hemisfair Conservancy, an nonprofit separate from Hemisfair whose mission is to raise philanthropic funds specifically to execute the Hemisfair plan. The money raised will be the difference between a good park and a great park, said Anne Krause, the conservancy’s president and executive director.

Krause declined to give the campaign’s goal for civic park, explaining that she’s still lining up big-dollar donors and publishing the figure now could harm the fundraising effort. She did say that the conservancy has raised about $750,000 so far for civic park. Since the conservancy received its 501c3 status in October 2014, it’s raised roughly $2 million for all of Hemisfair, which includes the programming at Yanaguana Garden.

“Ninety five percent of the more than 600 events (held at Yanagauana) last year were free to the public,” Krause said. “That’s a great philanthropic story.”

At civic park, the capital campaign will fund mature trees there so that there’s a canopy providing shade on day one.

The park portion is due for completion in 2021, and the buildings, which will include office, residential and hotel space, will be done in 2021 and 2022, Andujar said.

The bulk of the $58 million for civic park comes from $21 million from the 2017 bond program, $18.1 million in 20-year bonds that will be repaid using revenue from the longterm ground leases from the Zachry and NRP buildings. Another $20 million or so flows in from an obscure Texas law that allows entities to receive rebates from the state on hotel occupancy and sales taxes if a hotel is developed within a thousand feet of a convention center.

Meanwhile, work on other segments of the park continues. The so-called Acequia Lofts, the 151-unit apartment project under development by David Adelman, is going up behind Yanaguana Garden. It’s scheduled for completion in June 2019. Fifty percent will be rented at market rate, while the remaining 50 percent will be rented to households making 80 percent of the average median income (AMI) — $63,500 for a family of four — and below.

This summer, Hemisfair planners will begin asking people what they’d like to see in the third and final phase of the park: the eastern segment that includes the Tower of the Americas.

At Yanaguana Garden, a mini culinary destination is beginning to form with Dough Pizzeria Napolentana, Con Safos Cocina y Cantina, CommonWealth Coffeehouse & Bakery and Paleteria San Antonio. Andujar said Hemisfair is looking to add two more restaurants in two of its historic buildings, and that those will be announced this fall.

Rendering courtesy Hemisfair

Yanaguana Garden photo by Alma E. Hernandez / Special to the San Antonio Heron

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