If you have been downtown recently, perhaps to catch a show at the Magik Theatre, you may have noticed that Hemisfair is in the process of being redeveloped. The park, which had seemed sort of hollowed out ever since the end of HemisFair ’68, is coming to life again with new projects that hope to bring families, businesses, and events back into a revitalized neighborhood with housing, hotels, restaurants, and places to play.
The first section of Hemisfair to be redeveloped is Yanaguana Garden, an active play area for families. Heather and I recently toured the almost-ready play areas and learned about some of the activities that will be happening during grand opening weekend, October 2–4.
Yanaguana Garden is in the southwest corner of Hemisfair, at the corner of Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. and South Alamo St. Some of the elements are familiar, including a handful of historic houses that date back to before the 1968 fair, when this area was a Southtown neighborhood. The historic homes are being restored and, by the first quarter of 2016, will house businesses including a coffee and juice bar, a paleteria, a restaurant serving barbecue and local flavors, a bar with local beers, a bike shop, and classroom space for Magik Theatre. The Tower of the Americas dominates the skyline; the redevelopment of Tower Park, the area around the base of the tower, is scheduled for completion in 2020.
What’s new in Yanaguana Garden are the outdoor play areas, including challenging play structures, mosaic art, a splash pad and sand pit, and game equipment.
The new play structures, like the ones in the West Yard at the DoSeum, invite children to take (manageable) risks and build confidence. The net play structure, for example, invites children to climb high, but has ropes to catch them if they slip.
There are also accessible disc swings and play structures for young children. This elegant wooden fort is reminiscent of the old wooden fairytale playscape.
Three mosaic-covered structures, inspired by a Payaya Indian origin story, are destined to become classics. The story goes that a blue panther chased an anhinga bird, and the water drops that shook off the bird’s wings formed the San Antonio River and the lush life around it.
One long bench features the anhinga bird, and another bench has spirals and waves to represent the Blue Hole, the spring that is the source of the San Antonio River.
The blue spiral mosaics continue at the splash pad.
Nearby, a sand pit has a water source so that kids can build sand castles.
Places for games are built into Yanaguana Garden. The play square is inlaid with giant checkerboards for checkers and chess. There are sturdy, built-in tables for normal-size chess, ping pong, and foosball, plus a bocce court. Chess pieces, paddles, balls, and other equipment will be available for rental.
The park includes lawns, plazas, and promenades for picnics and concerts. Kid-friendly public art by local artists makes the park unique and inviting. There are permanent restrooms nearby.
Grand opening weekend will be a great time to visit Yanaguana Garden because of all the free activities. Friday, October 2 will be an already busy day in Southtown because of First Friday, a monthly arts/culture/food/drink happening in King William. At Yanaguana Garden in Hemisfair, families can enjoy food trucks and a beer tasting and create upcycled crafts with Spare Parts Studio.
Saturday, October 3 is the date of the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:00 A.M., but the main attraction for families will be a full day of concerts, activities, and games.
On Sunday, October 4, the artists who helped create the public art in Yanaguana Garden will visit their creations and lead families in related crafts, such as building kite-making kits at the Kite Table. There will also be fitness activities and healthy foods.
Free parking is available at a few lots south of Cesar Chavez, and there are paid lots north of Cesar Chavez, as you can see on the map. (Source: Hemisfair on Facebook.) The park’s hours will be 7:00 A.M. to midnight. Bring your own picnic and snacks, but outside alcohol is prohibited.
I am grateful to the Hemisfair Conservancy and the many donors who are making this transformation possible. My kids are going to love Yanaguana Garden, and I hope yours do too.