Hemisfair's civic park delayed because of 'unforeseen situations'

by Ben OlivoMarch 6, 2020
Hemisfair park photographed in March of 2020 from the corner of Market and Alamo streets. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
Hemisfair from the perspective of South Alamo Street. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

It's been more than four years since Hemisfair's Yanaguana Garden opened on the south end of the park, the first phase of the long-awaited redevelopment of the old park that stood largely dormant since the '68 World's Fair. But Hemisfair is supposed to be more than a modern playground and collection of shops. So much more.

Hemisfair's second phase, called civic park, is due to be developed on the corner of South Alamo and Market streets, where a large fenced-off greensward has sat untouched in recent years. The plan is for two developments—a hotel and an apartment building, both with retail on the ground level—to enclose a series of promenades, courtyards and green spaces. Estimates put the public-private project, some 14 acres, between $250-$300 million, making it perhaps the most ambitious development in San Antonio's history when you consider the cost, scale and location.

Here's a rough sketch:

HERON | GOOGLE

There was a time Hemisfair planners said construction of the civic park would begin in summer 2018. Then it was 2019. Now we're almost a quarter into 2020, and there are no signs construction will start any time soon.

So what's the hold up?

"We are in active real estate negotiations and are unable to comment or provide details at this time," according to a statement released by Hemisfair, otherwise known as HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corp., a governmental nonprofit the City Council created in 2009.

That's about all the update Hemisfair officials are giving about the civic park, towards which $60 million in public dollars are being invested, including $21 million from the voter-approved 2017-2022 bond program.

In a brief interview, Hemisfair Chairman Rod Radle was equally as opaque.

"There have been some unforeseen situations, which have prohibited us from moving at our original timeline," Radle said this week before forwarding any detailed questions to Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar, who declined to be interviewed for this article.

The delay has caught the attention of some of the tax payers who voted for the project during the last bond election.

"As a citizen that voted to dedicate money to this project, I think that we deserve to know what the status is on the project," Jesse Garza, a downtowner whose family regularly visits Yanaguana Garden, wrote to the Heron recently.

Negotiations

Part of the hold up may be finding a new housing developer.

David Adelman, whose company AREA Real Estate completed Hemisfair's first development last year—a 151-unit mixed-income apartment building called The '68—is in line to build the park's second housing structure.

Last month, Adelman said he was negotiating to assume the lease on the residential portion of the five-acre northwest corner development at Alamo and Market. Adelman would replace NRP Group, a Cleveland-based developer with a strong presence in San Antonio, which was first tapped to build the housing.

The plan is for a housing developer to construct 385 apartment units, with retail and perhaps some office, on Market. Meanwhile, Zachry Corp. would build a mixed-use hotel development on Alamo, across from the Palacio del Rio Hotel, which the company's founder H.B. Zachry built in 1968 for the World's Fair. The hotel cannot exceed 200 rooms.

Combined, the two developments are estimated to cost $200 million. They'd enclose the civic park, nine acres of promenades and courtyards and green space that would blend into destinations east such as the Tower of the Americas and Yanaguana Garden.

In 2017, the City Council awarded Zachry Corp. a 50-year lease (with options that could extend the agreement another 47 years) for the hotel and residential segments of the northwest section. Read the lease agreement. Soon after, it was announced that NRP Group would sub-lease and build on the housing portion.

NRP Group did not respond to an interview request for this report. Zachry Corp. through a spokeswoman, said, "We are in active discussions with all parties to the development, and we will be in touch when we have something to announce."

But first, parking

According to Adelman, the park's underground parking structure is being redesigned. The parking is the first step before the green space and the buildings can be built at Alamo and Market.

In previous interviews with the Heron, Andujar said an underground parking garage, between 800 to 1,000 spaces, would be built with entrances on both Alamo and Market streets. It's unclear whether an underground parking garage is still the plan for the northwest sector of Hemisfair.

Adelman, who completed The '68 apartments in July last year, said the original underground parking garage design was not economically viable.

"So much was under ground and under the park, and it was cost prohibitive," Adelman said.

Funding

In previous interviews, Andujar said Hemisfair's civic park portion of the northwest zone would cost between $58-$63 million. It's being funded by $21 million from the 2017-2022 bond program; $18.1 million in 20-year bonds that will be repaid using longterm ground lease revenue from the hotel and residential developments; and about $20 million in hotel occupancy and sales tax rebates that are afforded to public entities if a hotel, such as the Grand Hyatt, is built within 1,000 feet of a convention center, according to state law. The Hemisfair Conservancy, a nonprofit entity separate from the Hemisfair park entity, is also raising funds to supplement the civic park.

The first phase of Hemisfair, the $8 million Yanaguana Garden, opened in October 2015. Hemisfair planners have begun the planning for the final phase, an area around the Tower of the Americas, but so far that phase only has $5 million from the 2017-2022 bond program.

Related
» Worskshop spurs ideas for Hemisfair’s Tower Park
» How The ’68 at Hemisfair will offer true affordability to some
» The new federal courthouse’s impact on Hemisfair
» Hemisfair’s grand park construction begins this summer

Contact Ben Olivo at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

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