Celebrate SA
When: 6 p.m.-midnight Monday
Where: Hemisfair, 434 S. Alamo St.
Admission: Free

Celebrate SA will help San Antonians close an eventful 2018 with free family-friendly activities, live music, craft cocktails and fireworks scheduled for Monday night at Hemisfair and La Villita.

"This year's Celebrate SA will definitely be a big show—it's a goodbye to the city’s 300th year,” said Adam Fleming, the parks foundation's director of marketing and outreach.

The foundation expects more than 50,000 people will attend San Antonio's New Year's Eve celebration, where all proceeds benefit the foundation's park beautification, conservation and accessibility efforts.

"Admission is free, but we encourage people to bring their wallets to enjoy themselves and help support the foundation and our city's parks," Fleming said.

Getting around

Be aware that South Alamo Street will be closed from Market Street to East César E. Chávez Boulevard. Find more parking options here. Attendees are permitted to ride electric scooters to the event, but all dockless vehicles must be parked and remain outside the venue footprint.


Head to the main stage at Hemisfair for a local music lineup starting with DJ Red Mamba, better known as former Spur Matt Bonner, who will kick off his set with several members of the Spurs’ hype squad. Other acts includes The Texases, Eddie and the Valiants and the SAtisfactions, a Rolling Stones tribute band featuring Garrett T. Capps and DT Buffkin.

The Hemisfair grounds will offer wares by local artisans, carnival rides, and lots of options from local food trucks. A special Tricentennial Commission video, which will highlight 300 moments that happened over the Tricentennial year, will play on huge screens throughout the festival.

The countdown ends at midnight with fireworks next to the Tower of the Americas.

La Villita

The H-E-B Celebrate Family Zone includes face painting, balloon art, street entertainment and photo opportunities from 6-9 p.m. Also, check out Arneson River Theater for programming from Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Maverick Plaza

Food trucks and pop-ups at the plaza will offer more food and cold beer, and speciality cocktails via Deep Eddy vodka: a Lemon Eddy Mimosa, Spiked Tea Toddies made with apple cider, and a Ruby Greyhound.

"(Maverick Plaza) will be the place for people who want to have a champagne toast and enjoy libations with the fireworks," Fleming said.

There is also the Bud Lite DJ Lounge where attendees can enjoy disco and soul music by DJs Soulstairs, funk music from Adam Madrigal and the sounds of the Chulita Vinyl Club, an all-female collective with a record collection that spans everything from your abuelos' dance records and classic hip-hop to Selena and Ramon Ayala.

“We expect a big crowd at the plaza, but there will still be space for dancing," Fleming added. Attendees should be prepared to show their IDs at the plaza entrance. Because of TABC laws, children under 21 will not be permitted to enter the cocktail area, even if accompanied by a parent. | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

Floating artwork by Jeff Zischke of Scottsdale, Arizona, illuminate the side of the Instituto de Mexico during Luminaria Nov. 10 at Hemisfair. View more photos. Rados | SAHeron

2018 was a year of constant change. With all the global issues, sometimes it’s hard to think local and be present. Looking through my pictures over the last year with the San Antonio Heron has me sentimental and grateful. San Antonio has a cultural identity unlike any other. San Antonio is a city where each person plays a part in the great symphony. From artists to activists, this city bleeds humanity from every pore. From one proud San Antonian to another, Happy New Year! — V. Finster, Heron contributor

Artist Adriana Garcia was commissioned to depict San Antonio’s 300-year history at San Pedro Creek Culture Park. Here, she works in her home studio. Read her story. V. FINSTER | CONTRIBUTOR
Robert Torres (left), 59, and Cesar Laijas, 56, share a laugh at the Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 23 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center. The two single men have become friends the past four Jimenez dinners. "We're just single men who have been by ourselves," said Torres, who brought additional condiments and several turkey tchotchkes as decorations. V. FINSTER | CONTRIBUTOR

The Hays Street Bridge continued to be a symbol of changing neighborhoods as some community members of the Dignowity Hill neighborhood fought a proposed development next to the bridge. V. FINSTER | CONTRIBUTOR

Sophia Torres, 83, reacts to a presentation on the Alamo master plan June 19 at the Ron Darner Park Operations Headquarters on the West Side. V. FINSTER | CONTRIBUTOR

Models walk the runway during Runway En La Calle at the 10th annual Una Noche en La Gloria Oct. 20 on Guadalupe Street. View more pics. Rados | SAHeron

Peter Czuprynski climbs a wall in late July as Armadillo Boulders rock climbing gym opened in Tobin Hill. V. FINSTER | CONTRIBUTOR

People dine on the River Walk during the annual Ford Holiday River Parade the night of Nov. 23. View more photos. V. FINSTER | CONTRIBUTOR

Soap Factory residents Anthony Dempsey (from left), Dennis Dahms and John Q. Pardini discuss what they describe as poor management during a July 11 meeting at Columbus Hall across the street. Rados | SAHeron
By around 9 p.m. Nov. 23, the crowd at Travis Park had thinned out some. But people were still taking photos of the H-E-B Christmas tree throughout the night. V. FINSTER |


Having to shoot many assignments, because the Heron is a start-up and our freelance budget is thin, I gained a new appreciation for the difficult job photojournalists take on every assignment. — Ben Olivo, Heron editor

Thousands of artists participate in the 15th annual Chalk It Up on Oct. 13. View more pics. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Indhu Masanam (from left), Vyshnavi Nelaturi and Madhuri Chundu release diyas during the 10th annual Diwali festival Nov. 3 at Hemisfair. View more photos. Rados | SAHeron

Twenty five or so community members attended the third public meeting on the future of Guadalupe Plaza on Oct. 29. BEN OLIVO | HERON
Mini Christmas trees are placed in front of the Alamo in protest of the 50-foot tree's relocation to Travis Park last year. BEN OLIVO | HERON
The clouds were particularly cool as Oct. 25 came to a close. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Members of the Central Catholic High School JROTC carry the Stars & Stripes down Houston Street during the Veterans day Parade Nov. 10. View more parade pics. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Ben Carrington, (left) dressed as "Whomp" from Super Mario 64, takes a picture with a fan as Mike Bosque, dressed as Gir from "Invader Zim," looks on at San Japan Sept. 1 at the convention center. More San Japan pics. BEN OLIVO | HERON
The moon greeted San Antonians late afternoon on Dec. 20. BEN OLIVO | HERON

A procession during the Dia de los Muertos festival makes its way through La Villita Oct. 27. More photos. BEN OLIVO | HERON

A couple walks their dog on the Museum Reach by the Pearl on Dec. 23. Watch: Museum Reach Christmas tree light show and other holiday scenes BEN OLIVO | HERON | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook


The San Antonio Heron is seeking two journalists to help produce content as we enter 2019.

Here are two contract positions we're hoping to fill sooner than later:

» Reporter (part-time): We need a detail-oriented self-starter who can cover a variety of stories: from neighborhood issues to new restaurant openings to government meetings. The candidate must be available to work 20 hours during the week with the possibility of weekend assignments. As the Heron grows, this position will be among the first to become full-time.

This job is less about getting scoops and more about having a drive to fully understand how the downtown area is changing, and why. To get to that level of understanding, it will take a lot hard work on the part of this reporter—asking tough questions of prominent elected officials, talking to people in the neighborhoods, and reading many boring reports and studies.

The Heron very much attempts to gather all the facts and viewpoints, and present them in an objective way so that we're not swaying the reader in either direction; they decide on their own how they feel about the topic. We're just the conduit between the newsmakers and the reader.

A journalism school background with some photo and video skills are strongly recommended.

This work is good for a minimum of three months. If the Heron continues to grow as it has, again, the job will become permanent.

This is a perfect opportunity for a young reporter looking to gain valuable experience and skills while learning the craft of journalism and helping a budding news organization reach the next level.

» Freelance photographer: We're also looking for a J-student who can shoot a variety of assignments from weekend festivals to council meetings. The candidate can expect an average of five assignments per month, $100 per assignment. As the Heron grows, there is potential for more assignments. Therefore, we're looking for someone who is available a minimum of two days during the week, and most weekends.

All interested candidates should their resume and clips to editor Ben Olivo:

210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

Notice how the river barge's underwater lights glow, but the ones that hang from the trees do not. BEN OLIVO | HERON

The River Walk doesn't glow as it once did this time of year.

This isn't a matter of taste, but a matter of fact.

What I'm unsure about is whether we as San Antonians have come to accept inferior Christmas lights on our River Walk. I feel we have acquiesced to these specs of light, these LEDs, that have hovered so feebly above our River Walk the past eight years. I fear we'll never go back to the glowing incandescents that once cascaded down the tree branches like strings of fire.

I hope I'm wrong and that we haven't acquiesced, and that a fire still burns inside us as a city. I hope we haven't become accustomed to these LEDs as being pretty because they are something and something is better than nothing.

This could be true. What's definitely true is that San Antonio used to have a higher standard for what Christmas is supposed to look like for a downtown. We haven't met that standard in years.

Wait, hold on. You don't have the slightest clue what I'm talking about? Let's go back to the beginning of the "decade of downtown."

. . .

You don't have time for a long history lesson, so let me show you. The River Walk Christmas lights used to look like this:

View this post on Instagram

There are just a few dates left to see the beautiful holiday lights on a @paesanosriverwalk dining cruise. It is a romantic and amazing way to see the lights so don't miss out! Visit our website for details and to book!

A post shared by The San Antonio Riverwalk (@sariverwalkfun) on

Then Mayor Julián Castro wanted to become president of the United States. So he changed the River Walk's Christmas lights from warm incandescents to lame LEDs.

That's exactly what happened. I will gladly debate anyone who wants to challenge my recollection of these events. While mayor, and as a rising political star, Castro stuffed many feathers in his cap before leaving San Antonio. And hardly anyone on the City Council challenged him because they wanted to score political points with the future president—or somebody really important—of the United States. Literally, in the days before leaving for D.C., as if he was in one of those cash booths where the bills blizzard around, he did this. Now the River Walk Christmas lights suck for no good reason.

If my crystal ball worked properly, and I told Castro back then: President Barack Obama will bring you to D.C. to serve as his housing secretary. Then, Hillary Clinton is going to consider you as her running mate two years later, but she'll choose a person from Virginia, instead. But you'll still be all but guaranteed a high-level position in her cabinet. And that will set you up for your own run at the White House when Hillary terms out.

Oh, never mind. Donald Trump ...

Then he'd laugh in my face.

But Donald Trump did happen, and now Castro sits on the sidelines and there's no good reason why we need crappy Christmas lights on the River Walk anymore.

. . .

The San Antonio River Authority, which manages the Museum Reach's River of Lights, knows how to do a proper Christmas lights display. BEN OLIVO | HERON

I tell almost anyone who will listen: Our objective at the Heron is to present all the facts and all the viewpoints in a pattern of on one hand, on the other hand, on one hand, on the other hand until we've run out of facts and viewpoints to share, and then it's on you to decide how you feel about the issue.

We don't do the opining.

Except today. I must break this self-imposed rule because downtown San Antonio's Christmas is not what it used to be. You will never know how I feel about the Alamo plan or housing incentives or scooters (at least not anytime soon). The current LED Christmas lights? This one time, I will tell you my business, Kay.

They must go.

. . .

I think you officially become a crusty old journalist when you start referencing the past.

That said, I wrote this same column in 2012, a year after Castro made the switch from incandescents to LEDs.

There was much more conversation and controversy back then concerning the lights.

Castro's justification for the change was that it was a green, cost-saving measure for the River Walk. However, after I did the calculations, the savings was infinitesimal, something like $2,000 from one year to the next. This, after the project was nearing $1 million the first two years.

The first year, in 2011, the city purchased LEDs you could probably see from the moon they were so bright. They wrapped them around the tree trunks, instead of draping them down from the river's tree canopy. Where the glowing incandescents emitted a warmth, the purpleish lights around the trunks to me resembled an icy forest. Many people likened them to Vegas. And besides, squirrels had chewed through the wires causing outages throughout the river, which cost the city even more money.

In the end, the change was largely panned, the people (and the squirrels) won, and the city switched back to hanging the lights the next year.

Except, instead of going back to incandescents, they stayed with the LEDs that are there today. Where the incandescents gave off a reddish color, the new strands had odd non-Christmas colors such as yellow and blue.

The most important point I made then remains true today.

These LEDs don't reproduce well in photos. They don't pop like the incandescents did. The underwater lights of the new barges glow beautifully. Or, if you go to the river down by the Pearl, those lights pop and twinkle off the water's surface in Vincent van Gogh fashion. Perhaps those are LEDs, and perhaps they are made by a company other than the one that provides the River Walk its bulbs. I haven't bothered to research this piece that much. All I know is that those pictures look great, and the River Walk doesn't.

We must fix this. We must not forget.

The River Walk is supposed to be the backbone that ancillary Christmas lights displays complement. Instead, I find myself visiting other parts of downtown for holiday magic, such as the Pearl and the Christmas tree light show at the lock and dam. Shoot, even the candy cane colors of the unfinished Frost Tower radiate in a way worthy of pictures from multiple angles.

The River Walk was once this way.


. . .

Setting It Straight: A caption in a previous version of this piece attributed the Museum Reach lights by the Pearl to the Pearl. They are managed by the San Antonio River Authority. A previous version of this article misspelled the name of former President Barack Obama and Vincent van Gogh.

Editor's Note: Since spending nearly $1 million the first two years, the city's lights expenditures have leveled off. The cost to install, remove and replace the LED lightbulbs is about $10,000 more than it was before the switch in 2011—roughly $85,000 a year. The city says it can't calculate the energy savings, because the Christmas lights share the same meters with other power users, such as bridge lights, street lights, etc. Although, one would think you could take the monthly totals from the relevant meters, and subtract the non-holiday month averages from the holiday months to determine how much wattage the LEDs are using, and, therefore, saving compared to previous years.

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

The TCU band arrives at last year's Alamo Bowl pep rally at Arneson River Theatre. COURTESY ALAMO BOWL

Whether you prefer to watch college football from stadium seats or on TV, there's plenty to eat, see and do in the days leading up to the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday.

Valero Alamo Bowl
» No. 24 Iowa State vs. No. 13 Washington State
» 8 p.m. Friday
» Alamodome, 100 Montana St.
» Get tickets

This year, Iowa State Cyclones (Big 12) take on the Washington State Cougars in the Alamodome. Expect the respective fanbases to be perhaps a little more lively than others in recent years.

"The amount of interest from (these fans) is unlike anything we’ve seen in the last 10 years," said Rick Hill, VP of Marketing and Communications for the Alamo Bowl. "They fill the hotels and stay out late."

Washington State last played at the Alamo Bowl in 1994, while Iowa State will make its first appearance this year. Event officials estimate out-of-state fans will make up more than two-thirds of total Alamo Bowl ticket sales.

If you're looking to take in the Alamo Bowl sites and sounds, here's what you need to know:


As of Wednesday morning, general admission tickets at Ticketmaster start at $25, and are also available via third-party vendors like Ticketmaster and StubHub.

Getting there

VIA will offer roundtrip Park & Ride services from Crossroads Park & Ride (151 Crossroads Blvd.), Blossom Athletic Center (12002 Jones Maltsberger Road) and Madla Park & Ride (1584 Cantrell Drive). Purchase a $5 roundtrip ticket using cash, credit or the VIA goMobile app. The VIA Prímo (Route 100) will also detour to serve the Robert Thompson Transit Center at the Alamodome starting three hours before kickoff and ending one hour after the game.

Lyft is offering discounted rides to and from the Alamo Bowl and official events at the following locations: Alamodome, Marriott Rivercenter, Sunset Station, the San Antonio International Airport and La Villita. Enter code ALAMOBOWL18. (Limited availability).

For more parking and travel info, click here. For questions about parking, or to purchase a parking pass, call (210) 704-6387.


Some prohibited items are obvious (weapons), while others maybe not so much (helium balloons). There's also a whole list of bags you can't bring into the dome, including purses and clear backpacks. View the complete list here (scroll to "What items are prohibited in the stadium?").

The schedule


Rudy’s Bar-B-Q Pep Rally
5 p.m. at the Arneson River Theatre
Get ready to cheer, clap and show your team spirit—or, watch others show theirs—during Rudy’s Bar-B-Q Pep Rally, held at the Arneson River Theater. The teams and cheerleaders will make a grand entrance on river barges, while the pep bands will play to see whose fans can cheer loudest. "Our signature (event) is the Pep Rally on the River Walk," Hill said. "It’s something no other city can offer. ... There’s a reason ESPN airs the pep rally segment every year.”


La Villita Village Tailgate
11 a.m.- 3 p.m. at Maverick Plaza
This car-free tailgate will be filled with barbecue, an interactive video game truck and live music by the Bobby Joe Harlow Band.

Cyclone Spirit Rally
12:30-3:30 p.m. at the Henry B. González Convention Center (Halls 2 and 3)
Be part of the official Iowa State pep rally, complete with the Cyclone cheerleaders, school band and a visit from the teams.

Bowl Bash
7 p.m. at Marriott Rivercenter
Fans can attend this party before the big game that's complete with gourmet food stations, open bars, fan activities, live music and casino games. Limited number of tickets are sold. Call (210) 704-6391 or click here for more info.


Tailgate Town
The Alamodome parking lots will open for tailgating at 10 a.m. All Alamodome parking passes must be purchased ahead of time, but the public is invited to walk and rideshare to the event, meet with other fans and enjoy samples of Kiolbassa sausage.

Fan Zone
2-8 p.m. Sunset Station
Test your football skills, get your face painted, buy some merch, or get your food or drink on before the game kicks off at 8 p.m. | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

If you haven't seen the Christmas tree light show at the lock and dam on the Museum Reach, well, here it is. The five-minute display syncs Christmas-y patterns and colors with classic and modern holiday tunes. Now, if we can get something like this throughout the river ...

And here what the rest of downtown looks like all dressed up for the holidays.

Merry Christmas!

Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

This rendering shows the 100 Labor Street project from the perspective of the Lavaca neighborhood. COURTESY ALAMO ARCHITECTS

Designs for a $45.6 million mixed-income apartment project north of the Lavaca neighborhood, which would be the fourth in the area by the San Antonio Housing Authority, received conceptual approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday.

The project will consist of 215 apartments, a pre-cast parking structure, and four retail spaces on two parcels at the corner of East César E. Chávez Boulevard and Labor Street. The development also includes 11,000 square feet of amenity space for its residents, as well as the public.

A five-story brick-clad facade will face Hemisfair and the rest of downtown to the north. The development's height reduces as you head toward Lavaca's single-family homes. Labor Street will turn into a mini commercial corridor with the project's four retail spaces and a public courtyard. Four two-story townhomes are also included and will face Garfield Alley.

SAHA expects to break ground on the project, which it's calling 100 Labor Street, for now, in August 2019, and be completed in April 2021.

SAHA is pursing a HUD 221 (d)(4) loan to help fund the project, which the housing authority will own outright, officials said. Franklin Development is a partner, and will build the complex and manage it the first few years.

What's AMI?
The area median income for a family of four in the greater San Antonio area (including New Braunfels) is $66,800. Here's how it breaks down for lower-income households:
» 80% - $53,440
» 60% - $40,800
» 50% - $33,400
» 40% - $26,720
» 30% - $20,400
Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

100 Labor Street will offer 80 percent market-rate apartments, and 20 percent affordable—28 rented to households making 30 percent of the area median income (AMI), and 15 to people making 50 percent AMI. The affordable units are made possible by a federal voucher program called Project-Based Section 8 Rental Assistance.

"That voucher doesn't travel to other developments or other properties," said Tim Alcott, SAHA's Real Estate and Legal Services Officer. "That voucher is tied to that property."

The voucher pays for a third of the rent.

Alcott said the quality of 100 Labor Street will be that of a typical market-rate development.

"When you walk in this, it has very high amenities," Alcott said. "And it will be built in a way where people don't know that there's any affordability in there at all."

SAHA President and CEO David Nisivoccia said 100 Labor Street will provide downtown workers with more affordable housing options.

"It provides them a firm foundation to have stable housing and to have a stable job," Nisivoccia said.


Nisivoccia and Alcott said community meetings with the Lavaca neighborhood have been ongoing for years over this project. The housing authority tried to find a balance between the affordability-market rate ratio offered at 100 Labor Street with the mix offered at SAHA's neighboring projects.

For example, there is the 100-percent affordable Victoria Plaza, an older nine-story building for seniors and disabled people that is currently undergoing a $17 million renovation just south of the 100 Labor Street properties.

The 245-unit Hemisview, which faces Chávez Boulevard, offers 25 percent affordable units, while the 210-unit Refugio Place offer 50 percent affordable. There's also the 28-townhouse Artisan Park.

"We're always trying to be a good neighbors," Nisivoccia said. "We believe the amount of affordable units we'd be offering is sustainable for the housing authority. It is also something the neighborhood has gotten behind and advocated for in our plans and discussions with them. It was warmly received by 95 percent of the crowd at (the last) public meeting (in November)."

Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, president of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood likes how the development blends in, and that it's mixed-income.

"This will have a lot of public area," she said. "The bottom area is meant to be restaurant space, and retail space with some kind of plaza setting."

Nisivoccia said there's still room for a fifth development on a large parcel of land between Refugio Place and Lavaca. In February, SAHA will be posting a request for proposals for a development partner for that project.


Contact Ben Olivo: 210-421-3932 | | @rbolivo on Twitter

Maverick Plaza, one of four enclosed plazas at La Villita, is due for a $12 million makeover. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Unlike Alamo Plaza or Main Plaza, Maverick Plaza is more of an event space than a gathering place. When there isn't a private event or celebration such as A Night in Old San Antonio (NIOSA) or Dia de los Muertos happening, the plaza is a desolate space tourists traverse to find the shops at La Villita.

A year ago, the City Council agreed to lease the plaza for 49 years to Grupo La Gloria, a restaurant group lead by prominent chef Johnny Hernandez. The plan: to transform sleepy Maverick Plaza into San Antonio's next culinary destination—a $12 million makeover that will result in new Mexican, Spanish and German restaurants with outdoor patios; new pavings and furniture; outdoor kitchens and kiosks; more trees; better lighting.

It’s designed to tell San Antonio's rich history through food and programming and to draw pedestrians into the seldom-used plaza.

"In my agreement, we said we would curate food history through our food and beverage program and cultural events," Hernandez said. "That's what is driving the heart and soul of La Villita—the food and art."

But a few big questions linger a year after the city and Hernandez reached an arrangement.

Will there be enough space left over for large events or concerts after the renovations are completed? Conceptual drawings show the three restaurants and their 352 combined seats consuming Maverick Plaza's margins, leaving only the center for future events.

How much of the programming will Hernandez control—and of that programming, from which events will he pocket the profits? How much profit does Hernandez and his partners expect to make on the restaurants?

Perhaps most important to Fiesta-goers: How will NIOSA be affected?

"We really don't have any details," said Susan Beavin, president of the San Antonio Conservation Society, which puts on the four-day event at La Villita every year. "We don't even have renderings. They're really just (concepts) for future restaurants."


» Download the La Villita lease agreement between the city and Grupo La Gloria signed in May.

» Download a draft of the lease agreement approved by City Council on Dec. 14, 2017.

» Download the 64-page Maverick Plaza Master Plan, Oct. 7, 2017 (10MB)


The vision


Here's a quick look at the major upgrades planned for Maverick Plaza. The restaurant construction and build-out will cost approximately $7.6 million, which Grupo La Gloria is funding. The $4.4 million in public upgrades, which include demolition of the 1970s limestone walls that surround the plaza; and the installation of new pavers, furniture, and other features; will come from the city's Inner City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ). TIRZ funding also includes $600,000 to be distributed over seven years to support programming.

The project is expected to be completed in July 2021.



The Faville House (circa 1855) will become Acequia, a Spanish restaurant by chef Elizabeth Johnson, owner of Pharm Table. The restaurant will interpret this region's indigenous ingredients—such as mesquite, nopal, agarita, chile pequin and pecans—as well as ingredients introduced by the Canary Islanders when they arrived in San Antonio in 1731. An enclosed porch will be built into the plaza. The plaza's limestone walls will be torn down, and an outdoor patio will face a promenade along Alamo Street, which will be reconstructed from Market Street to Chávez Boulevard using bonds dollars. The restaurant's interior will be decorated "in the style of an Iberian cottage and will serve Spanish cuisine within its cozy stone rooms," according to the master plan. Acequia will include 74 indoor seats and 202 outdoor seats.



This two-story Mexican restaurant, which Hernandez will lead, will be constructed anew on the southeast corner of the plaza—one story facing the plaza and two stories facing Nueva Street—and will be made to look like the historic buildings inside La Villita. The structures currently in that quadrant—the '70s walls, the restroom building—will be razed. The new building's exterior will be plaster accented by D'Hanis red brick. The interior "will reflect the elegance of a Mexican hacienda with beamed ceilings and tiled floors." In it, Hernandez will serve flavors of the "Mesoamerican cultures of the Maya, meticulously exploring its evolution through the prism of Spanish colonization." The unnamed restaurant will include 150 indoor seats and 56 patio seats.



The plaza's concessions building will be torn down and replaced with a German restaurant, microbrewery and beer hall operated by Cured owner and chef Steve McHugh. "Its central space will open to the roof rafters and be tall enough to contain the vats and tanks of a microbrewery, which will be publicly displayed." The restaurant will also use the neighboring Gissi House, 250 King Philip, a mid-19th century structure originally located in the HemisFair '68 area that was dismantled and rebuilt at La Villita in 1969. Outside will be a 94-seat beer garden. Inside, the restaurant will have 132 seats.



Seating will surround the fountain at the plaza's center, which may be replaced, according to the master plan. Four trees will also be planted around the fountain. Fountain seating will be available for people who purchase food from kiosks and demonstration kitchens dotted throughout the plaza and on the Alamo Street promenade.


Thirty angled park spots will be carved out along Nueva Street.



Alamo Street will be turned into a complete street, meaning it will be made to serve pedestrians, cyclists and motorists equally, using $9 million from the 2017-2022 bond program. The promenade (shown above) will also be revamped so that it blends in with Maverick Plaza on one side, and across Alamo toward Hemisfair on the other side.


The process

Soon after Fiesta ends next year, the city will begin preliminary infrastructure work on Maverick Plaza, which is home to NIOSA's Frontier Town—the biggest moneymaker of the festival's 14 sections spread throughout La Villita.

Based on a presentation to the council last year, the design of the plaza and the restaurants was supposed to happen between January and December of this year, but the work is just now getting started.

In 2017, Fisher Heck Architects completed a 64-page master plan of the plaza, which shows renderings and conceptual drawings of the entire plaza, including the restaurants. The document is more concept and historical context, than concrete plan.

Hernandez confirmed that Grupo La Gloria recently hired Fisher Heck, again, and MP Studios Landscape Architects to begin the actual design, and that work has now started. Final designs are expected to be completed in November 2019.

Between now and then, the city plans to invite the public to share feedback during open events, but neither Hernandez nor city officials could say when the public meeting process would start.

The City Council approved the lease on Dec. 14, 2017. The lease was signed in May. The architect team was just selected.

So, what's been going on throughout 2018?

Grupo La Gloria has been "doing research and fact finding to understand the history of the space, and we will be designing something that is in line and respects everything about it," Hernandez said.

Chef Johnny Hernandez at what one of the outdoor kitchens may look like. LA VILLITA MASTER PLAN / FISHER HECK ARCHITECTS

Part of Hernandez' charge is to keep in the spirit of Mayor Maury Maverick's Oct. 12, 1939 ordinance, which restored La Villita from the slum it had become. In the ordinance, Maverick said La Villita "shall not and must not be a restoration and reconstruction of the dead past, and a ghost village for the mincing walk and dusty ways of scholars, but likewise for the average living citizen."

Maverick Plaza wasn't always Maverick Plaza. That corner of Alamo and Nueva street was home to commercial buildings for decades.

In the early 1970s, "Maverick Plaza was created as an outdoor venue for parties, conventions and other gatherings," the master plan reads. It was walled with limestone in keeping with the tradition of enclosed plazas that prominent architect O'Neil Ford, who Maverick tapped for the restoration, applied at La Villita. Those others plazas are Plaza Nacional, Plaza Juarez, O'Neil Ford Plaza.

"This year the city was focussed on so many other things, we didn't necessarily feel that Johnny Hernandez needed to be rushed," District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said. "The place is still active and open. When things are ready to go, we expect to move quickly."

Treviño said he was confident a public process would start "very soon," and added that Hernandez played a key role in San Antonio securing UNESCO's designation as a Creative City of Gastronomy—one of only two in the U.S. (The other is Tuscon, Arizona).

"Of course, any time you're talking about city property and city assets, we should always have a way for the community to understand what's going on, and where we are in that process," Treviño said.

As part of the lease, Grupo La Gloria's rent starts at $100,000, which will fund the plaza's maintenance and programming.

Recently, the Heron filed an open records request seeking Grupo La Gloria's business plan and pro forma for the project—to see what the organization's return on its $7.6 million investment looks like. Grupo La Gloria has challenged the request with the Texas Attorney General's office.

The Maverick Plaza strategy is the latest in an effort by the city to bring sustained life to La Villita.

In recent years, city officials attempted a similar plan, which would have brought more restaurants inside La Villita. In 2014, for example, the city proposed converting a two-story building, used by the Little Church of La Villita for its food pantry program, into a restaurant. But that suggestion was quickly shot down, and the distribution service continues to this day, Arthur Flores, food program minister for the church, said.

The other shop and gallery owners were forced to reapply for their leases. Some did. Others didn't and just retired. Currently, the city is close to leasing two of the last three available of the 24 city-manage buildings at La Villita—the Hessler House and the Dosch-Rische House, both of which face Presa Street.


The programming

The Dia de los Muertos festival drew thousands to La Villita this year. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Unlike the lease agreement the city made with the state and the Texas General Land Office over Alamo Plaza, city officials insist Maverick Plaza will remain in full control of the city, even with Hernandez as its tenant.

[ Editor's note: The Heron requested interviews with the city about Maverick Plaza, but none were granted. All correspondence was done by email with Center City Development and Operations Spokeswoman Kelly Saunders. ]

The city says it will partner with Grupo La Gloria to activate Maverick Plaza.

The lease that was ultimately signed in May, however, does not explain how that partnership will work.

Hernandez can close the plaza and Arneson River Theatre for eight days of the year for private events, according to the lease. Otherwise, the lease appears to provide Grupo La Gloria with full control of the plaza’s programming.

"Tenant hereby covenants and agrees to engage in regular public programming of Maverick Plaza including the newly constructed educational kitchens," the lease reads.

No further details are included in the document. It mentions that the "terms and conditions of such public programming shall be governed by a separate Operational and Programming Agreement to be entered into by Landlord and Tenant."

But that agreement has yet to be drafted.

"The Operational and Programming Agreement has not been written or negotiated yet, and so we have no responsive records for that request," the Center City Development and Operations Department wrote in a recent email.

Then there's the question of space. The conceptual drawings in the master plan show much of the plaza's current footprint taken up by restaurants or their outdoor patios.

Hernandez acknowledged that some events traditionally held at Maverick Plaza may have to find new homes, such as Hemisfair across the street.

"Great events grow and evolve," Hernandez said. "Hemisfair is going to be a great place to see events that have outgrown La Villita."

Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar agreed.

"As La Villita transforms itself ... there will be events that may no longer be appropriate because they are too large for the space, and so the natural expansion for those types of events would be for Hemisfair," said Andujar, who cited the Diwali festival as an event that originated at Maverick Plaza before moving to Hemisfair.


Some of these uncertainties weigh on minds at the San Antonio Conservation Society, the organization behind NIOSA, by far the largest event held a Maverick Plaza, and La Villita as a whole, every year.

Every Fiesta, the conservation society uses Maverick Plaza for its Frontier Town area of NIOSA. Parts of Nueva and Alamo street, just outside the plaza, are shut down for its NIOSA's Clown Alley and French Quarter sections, respectively.

The uncertain outlook for NIOSA is reinforced by the fact that CPS Energy has put the circa-1959 Villita Assembly Building, home to its Sauerkraut Bend hall, and its Navarro building, which serves as one of NIOSA’s four entrances, up for sale.

"It’s not just Maverick Plaza, but the CPS building ... La Villita Assembly Hall—all up for sale,” Beavin said. “If someone came in and decided they wanted to buy it, and not lease it to us ... that could be a problem.”

Every year, NIOSA raises more than $500,000 for the city—nearly $200,000 feeds conservation efforts through the La Villita Fund, and the rest for NIOSA's logistical expenses such as the hiring of police, Beavin said. It's also the conservation society's main fundraiser, which benefits building development and educational educational outreach programs, for residents, tourists and school-aged children.

Beavin said the conservation society's strategic planning committee is looking at all the options regarding NIOSA's future, "particularly during the construction period."

Heron editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report. | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

transparency awards

these big projects getting discussed in design review committee, and then when they go to the big HDRC board, they are passes on consent without discussion

hdrc — Design Review Commission
ccdo — cchip — no txp
mayor ron nirenberg no return calls

bond website
brockhouse (no executive session)
sandoval ()
trevino returns calls

Grace Rose Gonzales (left) and Adrianna Swindle (second from right) with Latinos in Architecture discuss Plaza Guadalupe at El Progreso Hall Tuesday night. BEN OLIVO | HERON

Tuesday night at El Progreso Hall on the near West Side, volunteers with the local chapter of Latinos in Architecture (LiA) showed 50 or so community members two design concepts for Plaza Guadalupe—one with a fence surrounding it, the other without.

LiA discussed the possibility of having a fence that would "soften the edges" facing El Paso Street, which faces the neighborhood behind the plaza, and having a see-through fence facing the busier, more commercial Guadalupe Street, so passersby could see events or activities happening inside. It's ultimately up to city officials and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales to decide.


Other recommendations were gleaned from feedback community members gave at four previous meetings. For example, they recommended the Avenida Guadalupe Association, which leases the plaza from the city, involve the community in cleaning the plaza daily. They suggested users advocate for more funding for the plaza.

Programming should run the gamut from flea markets on the weekends to substance abuse education programs to live music, they said.

They also recommended access to the restroom be improved for wheelchair-bound users, and that the restrooms themselves be upgraded. More signage, shade at the center of the plaza, and improved seating should be added, they said.

While presenting all concepts, LIA emphasized wanting to ensure the plaza be a fun space.

The group will submit its plans to the city, and the Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO) and Councilwoman Gonzales' office will look over the plans, and review feedback gathered at the public meetings this year, in January. But no timetable beyond that has been worked out, CCDO Interim Assistant Director Veronica Garcia said.

Gonzales told attendees she preferred some type fence or landscaping around the plaza—something not too imposing. She was particularly adamant about putting up a fence around the playground, and said other more basic upgrades should also happen as soon as possible.

“There’s no need to delay on bathrooms and lighting,” Gonzales told the room.

The city has about $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds allocated for Plaza Guadalupe.

She suggested the city consider redesigning the plaza as a way to avoid having a fence—a $1-$2 million type of project that could potentially be funded in the next bond program.

“I won’t be here for your next bond,” Gonzales said. “If we start it, it will more than likely be moved on by whoever replaces me in the next two years.”

Estefania Barajas, a member of Latinos in Architecture, goes over her groups' feedback Tuesday night at El Progreso Hall. BEN OLIVO | HERON

After LiA's presentation, the meeting broke into small discussion groups, which were to be lead by questions handed out on comment cards. Some groups followed the format, others had more open discussion as some attendees peppered LiA members about the plans' specifics, and the overall process involving the city.

“People who don’t know the neighborhood see the fence and think it’s a bad neighborhood,” Brenda Gomez, 44, said.

There were seven discussion groups, each consisting of five to eight people. Almost every single group member agreed that there should be no fence at all, but some were willing to compromise to have a fence around the playground for the children.

Yolanda Sosa, 69, said she was for the fence because it would allow the plaza to stay safe and clean -- especially for the children.

“A fence isn’t going to take (the issues) away, but it will help,” said Sosa.

The Avenida Guadalupe Association erected the fence around Plaza Guadalupe in August 2016 as a way to deter drug and prostitution activity.

The public discussions about Plaza Guadalupe's future began in April after some community members, lead by the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, criticized the 24/7 fence. The city eventually opened up the plaza 10 6 p.m. daily, and began hosting movie nights, as a way to activate the park immediately.

The next one is "The Polar Express," which will be screened 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, at Plaza Guadalupe, 1327 Guadalupe St.

Neighbors sound off on Plaza Guadalupe before final plan is unveiled in two weeks | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

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