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To Talk or Not to Talk: HemisFair and Convention Center designs

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Proposed north entry redesign for the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

Taken together, the joint public input processes for both HemisFair park and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center remind us of that Best in Show quote: “We could talk or not talk forever and still find things to not talk about.”

On the “talk forever” side is the HemisFair redesign, which will eventually allow for an 18-acre park on the site that’s now best known for the Tower of the Americas and the annual Luminaria arts festival. Since late 2010, the HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation has hosted meeting after meeting for interested citizens to re-envision the underutilized space.

Most recently, earlier this month HPARC gathered a moderate-sized group to discuss the civic park aspect of the plan. A kid- and arts-oriented swath, the so-called Plaza de Artes, on the southwest corner of the site, went through the input-process last summer, this week City Council will consider authorizing various related design and construction contracts.

“This is a party that we’re having,” said HPARC director Andres Andujar, by way of introducing the civic park conversations, which would be “more spiritual than spatial.” Tables of participants pawed through photos gathered by the HPARC committee of famous parks throughout the world to choose what appealed most, and then presented their opinions, in rapid-fire fashion, to the entire room.

The table we sat at included State Rep. Mike Villarreal (who carried the controversial bill to fast-track HemisFair development by not bringing it to a public vote), WestEast architecture firm Design Director Ignacio Aliaga, COSA staffer Mary Yturri, and HPARC facilitator Michele Jacob, among others. We favored open, flexible greenspace and trees for shade, as long as it came with some water conservation features. We couldn’t quite agree on whether any sort of business development, be it mostly residential housing (intriguing to Villarreal, to help “people the park”) or multiuse retail (favored by Aliaga to provide a more European feel), would be appropriate, although concession kiosks, public art, and outdoor markets appealed to all of us.

There seemed to be no real consensus among all of the tables as to whether multiuse development would be desirable at all — although city leaders may prefer that it fall into the “not talk about it forever” category, given that they pushed for the above-mentioned fast-track, no-vote option regarding the issue of private development on public land in this specific instance.

Andujar never addressed private development plans directly, although the master plan prominently displayed throughout the evening showed three unmarked beige rectangles, one attached to the new western edge of the convention center, one bordering Market and one bordering Alamo. Those who have seen a site plan before quickly identified the rectangles as buildings. The one attached to the convention center seems ideal for the rumored hotel that caused Rep. Villarreal to attempt to implement deed restrictions in his legislation’s language. The other two would likely be a mix of residential and multiuse retail.

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