San Antonio, Hemisfair officials clashing over plans for Park Police HQ

The city and Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp. are clashing over a proposal to move Park Police headquarters into an empty building close to the Tower of the Americas, near where the nonprofit envisions a park with a mix of uses.

Park Police are bursting at the seams of their current headquarters, an 8,000-square-foot building at Hemisfair that has mechanical, plumbing and air-conditioning problems, city officials contend.

“It’s very overcrowded and it’s just not large enough for what we have there,” Parks Police Captain Brady Wise told the city’s Public Safety Committee at a meeting Tuesday.

City officials are proposing relocating operations for Park Police, which patrols local parks and trails, to an adjacent 24,000-square-foot building owned by the city.

But Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corp., which is responsible for revitalizing the site of the 1968 World’s Fair, is pushing back.

The nonprofit wants to build a roughly 5.5-acre park south of Tower of the Americas. It’s expected to include projects that could feature housing, entertainment, retail and offices, according to documents on its website.

A map shows where Park Police headquarters is currently located and where the city is proposing moving the headquarters.

A map shows where Park Police headquarters is currently located and where the city is proposing moving the headquarters.

Courtesy of the City of San Antonio

In a letter to the committee, redevelopment corporation board chair Cara DeAnda said board members are concerned about the headquarters proposal’s effects on park plans as well as a lack of public input, an accusation that city officials dispute.

“This proposed Park Police headquarters relocation will present significant and detrimental impacts on Tower Park’s design, connectivity development and financial sustainability,” DeAnda wrote.

Board treasurer Steve Yndo, a local developer, also voiced opposition.

‘Lower-value use’

The relocation “violates one of the most basic principles of value creation, both in real estate and in the development of a city. That principle is you don’t locate your lower-value uses on your most valuable real estate,” he said during the meeting. “I’m not saying that public safety and the Park Police are low-value uses – obviously they are not – but the facilities that they occupy are.”

He pointed to public safety facilities in west downtown, a barrier to development on the near West Side.

“Locating the Park Police in Hemisfair is emblematic of the some of the poorest decisions made in San Antonio’s past,” Yndo continued in prepared remarks, which he did not have enough time to finish reading at the meeting. “At a time when San Antonio needs to safeguard its historic assets and its sense of place in order to enhance our quality of life, and to compete economically with other cities, the Park Police use at Hemisfair would take us in the opposite direction. Instead of an urban park that rivals those of other great cities, we would have yet another example of an expedient solution that results in a mediocre and underperforming public space as collateral damage.”

There was also “little to no public input” on the project, he added.

A new headquarters for Park Police has been in the works for several years and was part of the 2017-2022 bond program.

The city was originally going to pair Park Police offices with a San Antonio Police Department substation but officials could not find a site that was big enough and within the city’s $20.6 million budget for it, Razi Hosseini, director of the city’s Public Works Department, said at the meeting.

They decided to split the project and construct a substation on St. Mary’s Street and spruce up a bigger building at Hemisfair for Park Police.

Quicker, less expensive

The Park Police building would suit current and future staffing and renovating it is less expensive and quicker than constructing a new facility, Hosseini said. About $500,000 has already been spent on the $4.8 million project.

The proposal was discussed at city meetings, he said, including Audit and Accountability Committee meetings, and officials worked closely with HPARC. They realized two weeks ago that the nonprofit is against it, he added.

“They weren’t crazy about the project, but they were not against the project either,” Hosseini said.

Some City Council members raised concerns during Tuesday’s meeting.

District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran questioned Park Police headquarters not being combined with a substation and voiced concerns about the cost of renovating a building that will house only 137 employees. Considering the funds that have already been spent, “For us to be told that HPARC just voiced their concerns now is troublesome,” she said.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez said he heard months ago that HPARC was not in favor of the project and noted that problems at the current Park Police headquarters will need to be addressed at some point. He said he does not support the proposal.

The Public Works Department put out a request for proposals for the building’s remodeling in April and City Council is expected to vote on a contract for the project in November. Construction is anticipated to start in December and conclude a year later.

Hemisfair redevelopment

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