A clearer vision for Main Plaza
Mayor Phil Hardberger appears set to turn back the clock with plans to reinvigorate Main Plaza; approximately 100 residents turned out last week to view preliminary sketches of a renewed Plaza de las Islas that could again be the heart of the City, a place that caters to people, not cars.
Larry Clark of Bender Wells Clark Design showcased design ideas taken from places such as New York City; Stockholm, Sweden; Portland, Oregon; and Cuzco, Peru. The goal is to “create a successful, well-used place,” and to “start with the place and let it drive the design.”
|Plaza de las Islas, or Main Plaza, could be transformed from a nondescript town plaza to a major connection between the San Antonio Riverwalk and the west end of downtown, where Canary Islanders settled in 1731 and formally surveyed the town. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)|
In the 1700s, freshly arrived Canary Islanders designated this one-acre plot to be the centerpiece of a formal town square, with a cathedral nearby. Now Main Plaza is surrounded by asphalt and parking spaces, squared off by Commerce, Main, Market, and Soledad streets, midway between San Fernando Cathedral and the San Antonio River flood channel. On a typical morning, locals lounge around the fountain or under a few trees. Thursday afternoons, a small band of war protesters gathers and Food Not Bombs feeds the hungry.
Conceptual drawings illustrated the new face of Main Plaza if the City closed the four streets around it and connected it to the San Antonio River, which is slated to have a pedestrian bridge as work continues on the nearby Alamo National Bank building.
Imagine a Xochimilco-style barge floating past sidewalk cafés and curio shops. An information office and more stores could spring up at street level where the river meets Commerce and Soledad streets. The plaza could expand to three acres if it were connected to the church, the river, and the Bexar County Courthouse to the south, with a variety of seating and gathering arrangements in the park.
”This is an exciting time for San Antonio,” wrote Mayor Hardberger in a letter read by Councilman Richard Perez. “This meeting is vital to making this project work ... I ask that you have an open mind and that you take the long view.”
Several businesses, including the powerful Frost Bank, which has a downtown office near the Plaza, have opposed Mayor Hardberger’s plan, contending it would hurt commerce in the area. However, few detractors appeared to attend the meeting.
“We want a community vision to come out of this,” said Clark.
Spurred by several contested primaries, Democratic voters outnumbered their Republican counterparts by nearly a 2-1 margin in Early Voting. According to the Bexar County Elections Department, when polling places closed on the last day of Early Voting on March 3, 16,226 voters identifying themselves as Democrat had cast their ballots, compared to 8,576 who registered as Republicans. Polling places with the highest turnouts included Crossroads and South Park malls, City Public Service, and the McCreless and Las Palmas libraries, where 1,200 to 2,300 votes were cast.