Can a community plaza truly be a public gathering space if it's surrounded by a permanent barrier? That’s the question community members are asking about Plaza Guadalupe, the historic outdoor event and performance venue on San Antonio’s Westside.
Avenida Guadalupe Association, the nonprofit that contracts with the city to program and maintain the plaza, set up a chain-link fence around the plaza more than two years ago. The fence, Avenida officials said, was meant to discourage vagrancy and crime.
But many area residents said the fence also reduced plaza access for the public. They also say the city and AGA both could do more to maintain the venue, and make it a place for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy at any time.
Plaza Guadalupe has played host to its share of special visitors, such as the late Pope John Paul II and, more recently, former Mayor and Obama cabinet secretary Julian Castro, who announced his White House bid there in January. The plaza is also the site for regular community events, such as the annual Diez y Seis de Septiembre celebration and occasional free movie nights for the family.
Yet, some say Plaza Guadalupe is often overlooked when it comes to the city government spending money to preserve the venue in a neighborhood known for both its strong cultural ties and its socioeconomic challenges.
So, when the city recently revealed a proposed design for enhancing Plaza Guadalupe, it incited passionate debate among Westsiders and other advocates.
The latest city-supported design proposes bringing down the chain-link fence and replacing it with different types of fencing around the plaza’s perimeter. “Fencing,” in this case, could be in the form of landscaped partitions and decorative wrought-iron fences and walls — all to help heighten security around Plaza Guadalupe without making the venue feel restrictive.
Still, the plaza would remain open around the clock, with main entry points from Guadalupe and Brazos streets. The plan also envisions a barrier around the plaza playground, something very much wanted by the community. Additionally, the proposed project also involves upgrading bathroom access to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plaza could get a shade structure, too, if enough money is leftover.
City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who represents the area, said ensuring proper access and safety has long been the top priority for Plaza Guadalupe in her mind. But they also are a starting point, she added.
Writing an op-ed in the San Antonio Express-Newsearlier this year, Gonzales said simply removing the existing fence alone will not address problems around the plaza. Nor would spending little or no money for some kind of upgrades or security, she added.
She and others also implored the city and AGA to make it easier to program events at the plaza. As a result, the city announced it will decrease fees and provide rental waivers to urge greater use of the venue.
The city’s Historic and Design Review Committee will review the plaza plans in April. Following approval, the city will start the permitting phase the following month, and any approved construction will begin this summer.