San Pedro Creek's Extreme Makeover, Part 1 | Texas Public Radio

San Pedro Creek's Extreme Makeover, Part 1

Sep 9, 2014

The San Antonio River Authority is executing another massive project based on one of the city’s waterways.

Coming on the heels of its now five-year-old Museum Reach, and its nearly finished Mission Reach transformations of the San Antonio River, the San Antonio River Authority will soon exercise that authority over another of the city’s smaller waterways.  

“The San Pedro Creek improvement project starts at the tunnel inlet that is very close to Fox Tech High School and goes all the way down to where San Pedro Creek has a confluence with Alazan Creek,” said SARA's Suzanne Scott.

This part of San Pedro Creek is at the western part of downtown, running south parallel to IH-35/IH-10. As to the improvements SARA is looking to make, the graphics they’ve created are pretty stunning. The before and after visuals are comparable to the Museum Reach. The current state of San Pedro Creek isn't good.

"The creek is essentially a drainage ditch. It is a concrete-lined drainage ditch," Scott said.

Scott isn’t being uncharitable. It’s often described that way, as Precinct 2 County Commissioner Paul Elizondo tells it.

“Well, let’s take what is essentially a ditch — ugly ditch — and turn it into something that the community can be proud of," Elizondo said. "San Pedro Creek is the actual foundation of this community. A lot of people believe that this community started on the San Antonio River. No, it actually started on San Pedro Creek.”

Elizondo’s been championing the possibilities of a San Pedro Creek restoration for a long time, and now it appears its time has come. As to how much it’ll cost and where that money comes from:

"Bexar County is the funder," Scott said. "When we did the preliminary engineering report the project estimate was $175 million, which included the original areas, plus this added section for the flood control. Of that $175 million the county has allocated $125 million. The gap that is in the math is obviously the right of way cost. And there’s a little bit of an opportunity for the city to come in, and some private investors, to make the rest of it." 

The preliminary engineering report determines if what is wanted to be done can be done, and at what general cost. The right of way cost she references is the cost of the land right up next to the creek. Much of it doesn’t belong to the city, as she explained.

"Yes, the right of way along this creek is very tight. The property abuts right up next to the creek," said Scott. "There’s many parking lots, there’s businesses, there’s just all kinds of property that comes right up to the edge, so we are working very closely with the property owners on this project."

That land could cost a lot of money on a project like this. But Scott said those owners also have some incentive to donate property.

“But they also know that if they have this linear parkway right smack through their hotel property, it would also provide their guests, the opportunity to connect to downtown, to the Mission Reach," Scott said. "It would really be a great place to market these hotels for guests to come and stay.”

To complicate matters substantially, Scott said the aesthetic improvements they’ve designed aren’t actually the main reasoning for the project.

“Bexar County made it very clear in this project that the primary driver was flood control improvements,” Scott said.

And here’s why: Through this project the city hopes to pull 41 acres out of the current flood plain and open them up for further development. That will create a lot of new tax dollars. But to narrow the flood plain, a lot of questions needed answers, as Scott detailed.

"Okay, what do we need to do? Do we need to widen? Do we need to move bridges? What do we need to do in order to bring that property in?” Scott said.

That preliminary engineering report gave them most of the answers. She said the citizen input and design process has begun.

“We are in the design phase right now,” Scott said.

Tomorrow on the San Pedro Creek project, Scott talks specifics on what the design team has begun creating.

"I think the idea that you’re starting to hear here in these concepts is that there’s always going to be a low walk, and an upper walk. So that if you want to stroll by San Pedro Creek,  you can either go on the creek level, or you can be higher, on the street level.