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Decade of Downtown

Will efforts to revitalize the city core draw locals back or simply extend the Disneyfication of the River Walk?

Photo: Photos by Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Photos by Michael Barajas

HemisFair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation CEO Andres Andujar

Photo: , License: N/A

Current plans for HemisFair call for the demolition of the west wing of the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center, seen here, to make way for a large, open park on HemisFair’s northwest corner.

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Councilman Bernal said he understands the price tag may make some nervous. “I just don’t think anybody can really look at those numbers and feel that comfortable,” he said. “I know that people find it scary and troubling that we’d have to essentially demolish half of HemisFair, and I’ve asked [planners] if there’s a cheaper or different way to do this. They’ve repeatedly told me there’s not.”

The plan for the park also stretches outside HemisFair’s footprint. Among other things, it calls for a virtual reinventing of the Durango Boulevard and Alamo Street thoroughfares, or as the plan puts it, “humanizing” those streets by removing medians and widening and landscaping sidewalks to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. The city’s currently gathering proposals for plans to completely redesign the streets around the park, and in one recent presentation, planners interspersed photos of Durango’s current state with the street view of a pristine Parisian boulevard. The HemisFair plan will also aim to reinstate Goliad Street as an artery snaking through the heart of HemisFair Park, emptying out eastward and running underneath I-37.

The concept for HemisFair fits into the puzzle of another, similar dream for downtown — the one laid out by VIA early this year to revamp the city’s transit system. Planners are hoping VIA’s own goal to institute streetcar lines running north-south and east-west across downtown could help connect and draw people to HemisFair. The plan calls for one of those lines to hang east onto the new Goliad Street, running through the park and ending at the Robert Thompson Transit Center near the Alamodome. That plan also ties into another of VIA’s goals, to reconnect other parts of the city to downtown — a multimodal transit hub proposed for the west side of downtown. VIA’s is another big-ticket plan that would hinge on serious community buy-in. The agency projects streetcar lines would cost at least $20 million per mile, while light rail, another option VIA says it’s considering, is tagged at $50 to $90 million per mile. VIA’s board plans to vote on its own long-term plan next week.

As it stands, Durango Boulevard and a line of buildings that cross along the south end of HemisFair effectively act as a barrier separating the Southtown and Lavaca neighborhoods from downtown, planners noted. Local stakeholders involved in HPARC’s visioning identified a list of problems with the park’s setup, chief among them being a disjointed layout that isolates the park, and a lack of green space. Parking woes also dog the park, according to the planners — a chief complaint after Luminaria was relocated exclusively inside the HemisFair this year.

According to the most recent plan, the line of federal buildings, including the courthouse, along HemisFair’s southern edge would eventually vacate. Planners also hope to relocate UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures somewhere else inside the park, likely forming a cultural center comprised of the institute and two other current HemisFair occupants, the Instituto Cultural de México and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. That plan is still relatively hazy.

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