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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

During his table’s presentation, architect Mark E. Kellman pointed out that as currently sited, the two buildings running perpendicular to each other on Market and Alamo would inhibit views and access to the civic park from downtown. When, after the presentation, we asked him more about his opposition to any “vertical edges” in the park, and a nearby HPARC volunteer informed us in a panicky voice that those brown rectangles were merely sites, not necessarily buildings.

Thing is, while Andujar didn’t mention the rectangles in this particular meeting, in talking to him afterward, it became clear that multiuse development is already an integral part of his plan, whether San Antonians ask for it or not. “It’s going to be very expensive to do everything [with HemisFair],” Andujar told the Current after the meeting, “the City cannot pay for it all.” In his vision, revenue from multiuse development leases will funnel back into paying for the park, its programming, and its maintenance. Andujar will be the first to say that this is a novel concept, and he claims no other park in the world is following this model. Maybe that’s because they adhere to the whole “public” aspect of public parks. What will happen, though, if SA residents sell themselves on big dreams for the space, but don’t want the accompanying multiuse funding source? That’s another thing we’re not talking about…yet.

Compared to the neighboring Convention Center plans, however, HemisFair seems like an open book.

Last week, city council got a largely aesthetic-based update on the $325 million Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center expansion, a project that’ll add 600,000 square feet of new space, allow San Antonio to brag about having the largest ballroom in Texas (if that’s a thing) and supposedly boost hotel occupancy and tourism – a claim that, historically, seems questionable.

Talk of canopies, colors, and “integrating the urban core” filled the B session meeting room Wednesday afternoon. A Power Point slideshow illustrated the sleek, modern design proposed by join-venture team Hunt-Zachary Corporation. But councilmembers didn’t blindly accept the shiny new schematics, instead pouncing on designers for lack of public inclusion.

Diego Bernal of District 1 began the charge, saying that while “8,000” meetings have been held around minutiae of HemisFair Park — down to, “the blades of grass” per square foot — the convention center project has comparatively received paltry public input, despite being publicly funded out of the 2012-2017 City Bond.

“I think there is sort of an expectation that there’s some play here, that if there is some part of the design that people don’t like, the council or maybe even the public, would have an opportunity to affect it a little bit,” said Bernal. “Because I think to say ‘here’s what you’re getting and this is it’ … I think that’s somewhat of a surprise.”

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