Turning over a new leaf
Construction begins on downtown San Antonio’s $27 million ‘central park’
It’s official: The groundwork has been laid for the emergence of the grande dame of San Antonio parks.
On Wednesday, January 26, community leaders — witnessed by 200 excited area residents — broke ground on Civic Park at Hemisfair, San Antonio’s central park, marking the beginning of 18 months of construction that will result in a world-class public greenspace.
“When the community came together in 2012 to envision the master plan for the Hemisfair redevelopment, they could not have foreseen a global crisis that would impact the way we gather for Fiesta and other major celebrations,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg says in a release. “Urban greenspaces have become even more essential to the mental well-being, physical health, and connection of our residents. Hemisfair’s Civic Park is the great gathering place our city needs.”
The groundbreaking signifies the beginning of the first phase of transformation on the voter-approved park project, which was initially supposed to begin last fall. Civic Park Phase I, which features 5 acres of public parkland, including a shaded promenade, the Shallows water feature, and the Great Lawn for large events capable of hosting 15,000 people, is slated to open by fall 2023.
Additionally, the park will eventually offer free public Wi-Fi, with the aim of increasing community broadband access, and also feature an expanded public restroom with a universal changing station for individuals with special needs.
The City of San Antonio Public Works Department contracted Skanska USA Building Inc. to construct the $27 million park, which city manager Erik Walsh notes will be built with the “resilience and health of our residents in mind.”
Landscape architecture firm GGN designed the park with the goal of highlighting the region’s natural rock formations and water sources, sustainably utilizing treated, recycled water that will travel through channels into shallow, interactive pools.
“We spent a lot of time listening to San Antonians and working to understand what is unique about this city,” says David Malda, design principal at GGN. “Civic Park’s design relates to the broader stories of land and water that are at the heart of this region, all of which come together to shape a park that is all about San Antonio while offering something very new.”
The hefty cost of Phase I of the project was somewhat offset by philanthropic contributions that augmented public and private funding for first-phase construction, including a $1 million donation from the Mays Family Foundation for the creation of the Peggy Mays Garden. The garden encompasses an area between Civic Park and Yanaguana Garden, which opened in 2015 as the first of Hemisfair’s three planned public parks.
According to a release, the Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Community Bond Committee recommended $18 million in the 2022 municipal bond to complete construction of Civic Park Phase II. That phase is expected to include the Source Plaza entrance adjacent to the Torch of Friendship, a zocalo with a built-in terrace that can host community performances, and the Mural Plaza at the river level of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.
Pending approval of that funding, Civic Park Phase II at Hemisfair is estimated to be completed in late 2024. There are already plans for the NCAA Men’s Final Four celebrations to take place at Civic Park in early 2025.
Phase III, Tower Park, the third planned public park at Hemisfair, is slated for construction in 2023, pending funding.
“Civic Park was designed by and for the San Antonio community, after months of public engagement to develop the Hemisfair master plan and years of witnessing its success at Yanaguana Garden,” says Cara DeAnda, chair of the board of directors for the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation. “We’re grateful to our partners at the City of San Antonio, GGN, and Skanska for working with us to deliver on our promise of creating one of the world’s great public places.”